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Toward Clarity: Three Tips for Better Writing

Here are three tips you can apply to improve your prose right now.

Skyliner by Martin Fisch (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Building on Cheri‘s previous work, we’ve got three more ideas to help you identify needless phrases and excise cruft to create clear, original prose.

1. Excise “at the end of the day…”

New here? Looking for more tips on how to improve your writing? Check out our previous articles in the Language and Grammar category.

Looking for inspiration for daily writing practice? Check out our writing prompts.

How many times have you seen this phrase, “at the end of the day,” used to introduce a summary, or preface an important point, often with resignation? “at the end of the day” is a classic example of “throat clearing,” where a writer uses a phrase to work up to their main point. The phrase has been so overused in speech and in print it’s become a cliché. In the spirit of “omitting needless words,” excise “at the end of the day” from your speech and writing. Get straight to the point. Readers and listeners will appreciate your respect for their time and attention.

2. Avoid clichés like the plague

As you develop your voice, clarity follows originality. Sometimes, if we’re tired, or feeling a little lazy, we might resort to a well-worn cliché like the following to make a point:

Don’t upset the apple cart.

Let’s get down to brass tacks.

She sticks out like a sore thumb.

Avoid clichés like the plague.

But, what do you really mean to say when you use a cliché? Is it truly the accepted meaning behind the cliché? Instead of using an old, tired phrase to convey your idea, choose clear, plain language:

Don’t upset the apple cart. (Maintain the status quo.)

Let’s get down to brass tacks. (Let’s get to the point.)

Her hairstyle sticks out like a sore thumb. (Her hairstyle is unique.)

Avoid clichés like the plague. (Avoid clichés.)

3. Beware of redundancy

Redundancies are sneaky and require vigilance. To help expose redundancies, consider the purpose of each word you write. Are two words doing the same job? That’s a redundancy.

Consider, “past history” or “exact same” or “plan ahead.” Both words in each pairing say the same thing. For concision, choose one. To help you to identify redundancies, here’s a list of 200 common ones.

Have you fallen into any of these writing traps? I do, all the time. True confession: on composing the redundancy section I had originally written, “extra vigilance” and “both words in each pairing say exactly the same thing.” Whoops.

That’s why self-editing is as important as composition in the writing process.

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  1. this made me go back and edit my most recent post. i knew i left a word or two there that was not really necessary but i was so stubborn. this article made me feel ashamed! i will bookmark it. thank you!

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    1. Oh gosh. I didn’t mean to shame anyone — just to raise awareness of some writing pitfalls! I’m guilty of using redundancies too — as noted in the second-last paragraph of the post. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. At the end of the day these tips could improve my blog! I’ve never seen anyone put that in a blog but I’m going to keep my eye out for redundancies and cliches in my writing; anything that makes my blog flow better is great so thanks for the tips 🙂

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  3. I love this article, so simple, clear and true… I knew most of the tips but they are always good to remember because we fall so often into that trap !!
    Could I translate this in french for my french readers? Of course there will be a link to your blog 🙂

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  4. Absolutely! Self-editing is vital. If someone is taking some time to read your blog then do them a favour and cut out the unnecessary; the end result is usually a better blog post.

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  5. The challenge I face is that certain clichés and redundancies are my voice. That is how my mind expresses the thoughts I write. My writing becomes the sound of me. No smarter, no less smart. Some of those violations of “proper” journalism are me. I repeatedly ignore the grammar suggestions to maintain my voice and retain my journalistic imperfections.
    Thanks for the advice that triggered my thinking this through.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great article – I tend to do a lot of these.

    I have to get into the habit of writing more to the point. I have a tendency to faff around with words because I love them so much.

    I always get irritated by seeing redundancies in writing, but I fall back on them myself when I’m tired or lazy (e.g., all the time), so don’t have permission to get narked about it.

    Thanks for the tips/links and reminders.

    Elena

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  7. I enjoyed reading these tips and look forward to utilizing them when writing future papers for my classes. Often times I feel that added “fluff” shows the reader that you are unaware of what it is you are trying to get across. The knowledge that you may have on the topic is hidden by your repetitive and overwhelming use of Google synonyms and compound sentences! There is a big difference between writing stylistically and faking it.

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  8. Great tips. I should keep this stuff in mind as I post since I keep having to go back and revise several times.

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  9. Saying (I mean – a known phrase) is like a word – it is a public agreement to describe something, to convey a thought. When misused or overused, it becomes cliché. If used in moderation and in a right place, it makes text clear and lively.

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  10. Thank you so much for your advise. The pages you recommend are great. For me, it is fantastic to learn more and more. To write is a new adventure and I feel very happy doing it but sometimes I dont feel confident enough..Thank you so much!!

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  11. Great blog! I am a communication major with an emphasis in public relations, and I often edit my friend’s assignments. I become so frustrated with cliches and redundancy in their submissions. I always remind people that concision is key when it comes to crafting great papers.

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