Clarity and Precision

Aristotle once said that for writing well in any tongue one should speak as the common people do and think as wise men do. This piece of advice still holds good. A simple expression and clear thinking are the two most important virtues of effective writing. Whatever is your business or profession one should cultivate a clear and plain style. The reader should have no difficulty in understanding what the sender means.

Matthew Arnold rightly advised: Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can, that is the only secret of style. When you write a letter you certainly have something to say and you certainly wish to say it clearly. Here are some suggestions that will help you in achieving clarity and precision.

Practical Hints:

1. Before expressing a thought on paper, roll it in your mind so that it crystallizes and is shorn of all ambiguities. Clear thinking and clear writing go together.

2. Choose short, common and concrete words. Avoid jargon and slang. Every word you employ should help you in conveying the meaning you have in mind. The primary criterion should be its effectiveness in a given context. If two words convey more or less the same meaning select the one which is more common. ‘Buy’ house and free for example are more common than purchase residence. Again ‘Received your letter’ is more precise than ‘Received your communication’. Communication may be oral or written further there are several forms of written communication such as letter, report, memorandum, etc. Similarly, Thank you for your letter of 28 July is more precise and concrete than Thank you for your letter of 28 ultimo.

3. Arrange your words well. Very often you will find that, if you have chosen the right words, they can be arranged easily. Put or phrases carrying the desired emphasis in the beginning without, of course, breaking the rules of sentence construction.

4. Do not tire the reader with long and involved sentences. Do not throw a challenge to him: Here is what I have written try to find what it means. It is discourteous and self-defeating. If you find you have slipped into writing long and involved sentences (running into six or seven lines and having a number of conjunctions) revise your draft. Spilt them up into several short sentences.

5. Generally a business letter contains only one main idea or thought or one piece of information. However if your letter deals with a number of points, express each of them in small and distinct paragraphs. Long paragraphs will bore the reader into skimming through your letter.

Above all, remember that writing effective business letters is an acquired skill, and acquiring skill, it involves a lot of hard work. Practice will give that natural ease of expression which distinguishes effective correspondence.