If you want to write clearly, you must know what you want to say. This may seem obvious but it’s surprising how many writers forget this point.
As the writer, you must know what you’re trying to say.
Unless you know what your message is, there’s very little chance that the reader will know.
That means you have to think about your point before you even start writing.
Different writers have different processes to discover what they want to say. Some people may plot an outline first; others may prefer to write freely to help them process their thoughts and arrive at their point (but at some point, you do need to use a logical eye).
You also need to organize those thoughts in a logical way at some point.
It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you know exactly what you’re trying to express.
Beware: Your topic is not your point
By the way, your point or message is not the same as your topic. Your topic is generally what you’re writing about. For example:
Your topic: "gender gaps in employment among people aged 45-54 in Japan" Your point: "The employment gender gap among highly educated people aged 45-54 in Japan discourages women from attending university."
The topic doesn’t take a stand—but your point does.
How can I tell that I know what I want to say?
You can easily practice making sure you know what you’re trying to say. Here are some ideas:
⯈ Write a tweet
One exercise is to write a tweet summarizing the main point of your paper/article.
You could break it down into two steps:
- State your main point.
- Answer the question: “so what?” (Why should we care about your point?)
The character limit for Twitter is currently 280, but if you’re up for the challenge, aim for even less (imagine you need some space to add a URL, tag someone, and add some hashtags 😉).
A side note: There’s a 2019 study that looked at what happened when Twitter increased its character limit: “How character limit affects language usage in tweets.”
⯈ Write a “deck”
A deck is a summary that comes under the headlines of articles and tells readers what the article is going to say.
The general recommendation for decks seems to be to keep it very brief, 15-20 words.
Again, focus on the key message.
⯈ Write each paragraph as one sentence
You can also try summarizing every paragraph in your document.
This doesn’t just give you practice identifying your point. If you try this after you write your draft, it will help you review the flow/logic of your work.
⯈ Write subheadings for your article
Like summarizing each paragraph, you can also write subheadings for sections of your work.
Make sure you don’t just write the topics (see the warning above!). Make each subheading a declarative statement (if you can. I know you can’t always do this).
If you write the subheadings before writing the content, it can serve as a form of outlining what you want to write.
Or if you do it after you’ve drafted your article, you can check if the paragraphs in each section actually make up a coherent point.
Forcing yourself to strict word/character limits is great practice in stating your most important message in simple language.