Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Five Questions About Clarity (Butterflies and Wheels)

One of the most important criteria for thinking and communicating is clarity. Check out this excellent, brief interview with Nigel Warburton on the nature and importance of clarity. I like his five tips for improving clarity:
  1. Care about being understood.
  2. Read George Orwell’s essay ’Politics and the English Language’ (1946). It has excellent practical advice about writing to be understood.
  3. Use examples. These can be highly imaginative and creative. This will force you to think through what you mean by generalisations and will also help your readers to understand what you mean. If you want your writing to be impressively obscure, don’t descend from abstraction and use as much jargon as you can.
  4. Know what your conclusion is, how your reasons and examples support it and your response to obvious counterarguments and counterexamples. If you don’t know that, how can you expect your readers to work out what you are saying?
  5. Don’t bullshit. Most people know when they are doing it. If you don’t, you are probably in the wrong subject.
You can read the whole interview here.

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