While many people might consider the “what?” question to be more important than the “how?” question, how information is presented will greatly determine whether or not the message will be understood or accepted by listeners or readers.
Along these lines, this piece will address some communicative habits that prevent clear and successful spoken and written communication. The readership will be better off for it, if these tips are duly noted and factored into their linguistic habit.
First off, every smart speaker or writer must cut the clutter. In the words of William Zinsser in the text on “Writing Well”, the American writer says “we are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon”.
This is the sense in which the word “clutter” is conceptualised by the writer. A good writer or speaker must strive to cut out any portion of a speech or writing that is vague, repetitious or pretentious. Simply put: go straight to the point. You will likely achieve your communication goal when you do so.
To cut the clutter, the first thing to do is to try reducing long clauses to shorter phrases. Sometimes, using a clause does not convey the message better than using a phrase, as the example sentences below show:
The man who has been in the auditorium is a lecturer (wordy).
The man in the auditorium is a lecturer (concise).
No meaning is lost when the clause “who has been in the auditorium” is reduced to the phrase “in the auditorium”. In consequence, conciseness is achieved when phrases are preferred to clauses, as elements of additional information.
Also, conciseness can be achieved when phrases are reduced to words, especially when such words convey the ideas contained in the phrases.
The person at the end of the line should bring the register (wordy).
The last person should bring the register (concise).
The students from the department of political science will come in now (wordy).
The political science students will come in now (standard).
The sentences are sharper and clearer when phrases are replaced with words. Note, however, that this should only happen when such a concise form achieves the communicative purpose of the longer sentence.
Moving on, there is the need to avoid cleft sentences. Cleft sentences are complex sentences that have meanings that could be expressed by simple sentences. They are mainly “there” and “it” clauses, as the examples below show:
It is Kemi whom we are looking for (wordy).
We are looking for Kemi (concise).
It was from Bola that I heard the news (wordy).
I heard the news from Bola (concise).
There is a lawyer in every family (wordy).
A lawyer is in every family (concise).
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Not only that, one wonders if anyone is “hungrier” by being “really hungry” or if anyone is “more tired” by being “very tired”.
This stresses the need not to overwork intensifiers such as “very”, “really”, “totally” and the like.
In addition, other adjectives and adverbs must be used sparingly. Gartside (1972) advised that adjectives which denote “kind” are more likely to be correctly used than adjectives that denote “degree”.
For specifics, it sounds more meaningful to write about a “social” problem, “unexpected” danger and a “train” disaster” than to talk about a “real” problem, “substantial” danger and a “major” disaster.
What is more, adverbs such as unduly, definitely and relatively are actually not doing anything in the phrases “definitely harmful”, “unduly prolonged” and “relatively few”.
Finally, I wish to express that there are situations where one has to use politically correct language, even when it is longer.
Politically correct words are used to substitute less respectful terms. For instance, notwithstanding the length, to say “people with special needs” would be better than saying “the handicapped”.
Also, it is better to say a group of adults do not have formal education than to refer to them as being uneducated or unschooled.
I will end this piece with the words of A. Pope that: words are like leaves; and where they most abound, much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found. Keep it short and simple!