SAT Test Prep


Lesson 8: Write Clearly

Use Natural Language

Good writing follows more rules than conversational speech does, but this doesn’t mean that good writing is stiff and unnatural. Convoluted and abstract language doesn’t make “better” writing. Although you should avoid wordiness and egregious grammatical errors, natural language is always better than overly formal language.

This sentence is far too stiff and unnatural:

An individual person’s lack of tolerance and inability to appreciate and even enjoy different aspects in other individuals is a concept that negatively affects the ability of a community to avoid hatred and establish the environment in which we would like to bring our children up.

It is much more effective when phrased more naturally and concisely:

We create a much more peaceful society when we learn to appreciate the differences in others.

Use Personal and Concrete Nouns

Is the following sentence easy to understand?

My concerns in general center on numerous omissions of relevant facts and quotes, which had the effect of diminishing the extent of the apparent support of free expression, and the force of the moral arguments for free expression, and of enhancing the support of those who are vigilant against dangerous speech, and obscuring the more extreme arguments made on their behalf.

No. Why not? Just look at the nouns:

My concerns in general center on numerous omissions of relevant facts and quotes, which had the effect of diminishing the extent of the apparent support of free expression, and the force of the moral arguments for free expression, and of enhancing the support of those who are vigilant against dangerous speech, and obscuring the more extreme arguments made on their behalf.

These nouns are all impersonal and abstract, so they are hard to relate to. Personal nouns refer to the things in your readers’ common experience, things that they personally understand. Concrete noun s refer to things that can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched. Of course, if you are talking about ideas, you will need to use abstract nouns, but don’t use any more than are necessary. Not many people can keep track of 18 abstract and impersonal nouns in a single sentence. Here’s a good revision:

Somepeople have left out relevant facts in this discussion, and have therefore minimized how much people support free expression and maximized how much people want to eliminate offensive speech. They have also ignored or obscured the crazy and illogical arguments against offensive speech. In fact, the majority of Americans support free expression, and regard it as a moral necessity.

Without question, this conveys the author’s ideas much more clearly and effectively.

Minimize abstract and impersonal nouns. When they pile up, your thoughts become hard to follow.

Eliminate Jargon

Jargon such as win-win scenario, thinking outside the box, bulletizing the issues, targeting a goal, bottom line, downside, facilitate, prioritize, optimize, time frame, mutually beneficial, parameter, utilize, etc. annoys good readers, particularly when simpler, more common words suffice.

Practice 8: Write Clearly

Clarification Practice

Rewrite the following sentences to eliminate stiffness, vagueness, and jargon.

1. The concept of competition is an essential element with regard to the ability of society to encourage people to achieve excellence.

2. The consideration of all ideas of our employees is done by our management with the thinking that only the most quality concepts will elevate to the forefront.

3. A concern in the general population with regard to the ability of the government to optimize the positive use of federal funds has accelerated in recent times.

4. When one is placing the emphasis on the deterioration of the individual concern for others and personal moral responsibility, the role of social institutions is ignored.

Check your answers with the answer key at the end of the chapter.