some tips for clarity and sundry things

Writing is just as difficult as reading. Or maybe I should say it the other way around: reading is just as difficult as writing.


It is in your interest to control the reader’s understanding. Not in a nasty way, but you do not want the reader to run off with the text by misunderstanding your intentions. You want, surely, as much as is possible at least, to be in control of the meaning of what you say. You want to say what you mean and mean what you say. Your sentences therefore have to be effective in conveying what you want them to convey.


One thing that really helps is to use one sentence to say one thing only. Or, if you must stuff a sentence with more things to say, then at least make sure that those things are related in some way or another and properly distinguished at the same time.


A great tip from journalists is: Be careful with the passive tense: “The museum was visited by us.” It makes things sound inevitable, beyond control and in the worst cases just boring and passionless. That is not always the impression you want to leave behind. Much better to use the active tense: “We visited the museum”.

When you are trying to convey your opinion about something, do not be afraid to use the first person singular: I. That does not mean you should be too generous with yourself and begin every sentence with “I”. But when it is important to prevent any misunderstanding, or to prevent gross generalisations there is no sin in making sure that your reader understands that the thought, opinion or deed is yours.

Try not to repeat words too often.

“Ititis” is a dangerous disease. As a rule it is better to explain what it is you are talking about.


Use paragraphs to order and distinguish the building blocks of your overall argument into the separate issues which have to be dealt with.


Remember to keep to the issue. It is not helpful to the reader to confuse him with your enthusiasm about things that do not help your argument or your description.


When you make a proposition, prove or support it by citing a pertinent and provocative example.


Re-read what you have written. Let others read it. Does the text say what you think it says, or will the reader be able to misunderstand you?


When answering a question or a brief, do not allow all sorts of irrelevant information to crowd in on your essay. Keep to the point. Use that point or brief consciously as your main selection principle. In order to decide whether to include or exclude information ask yourself this question: Is this information directly relevant to my task? And if it is, ask yourself this next question: Have I explained its relevance adequately?


Spelling errors and grammatical errors, faulty bibliographies and incomplete title pages will not be tolerated and will without fail result in the essay being returned for correction.


Worry about mixed metaphors, mixed tenses, mixed persons singular or double as well as split infinitives and sentences ending with prepositions and all the other things that people working with language have to worry about but do not let it get you down. Personally, I have found that some metaphors mix wonderfully well.


Much more important than spelling and grammar is that you enjoy what you set out to do. Learning is a magical activity that everyone does in a very haphazard way. Really it is a form of play. Only by playing with your subject, teasing it, learning the rules, trying them out, testing them, seeing what the limits are and how you can extend them, only then will you really get the full educational value out of any project. Remember that lecturers and tutors are able to feel far more generous to students who are able to show that they have enjoyed a project by exploring it to the full and by active inquiry and enthusiastic engagement.


The ability to play is what children and the best architects, the best writers and the best businessmen have in common. So enjoy your projects.