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The Mayfield Handbook of Technical & Scientific Writing
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Section 1.1.2


Strive for clarity in your writing. Clarity, which refers to ease of understanding, is a special problem in science and technology writing. Specialized languages, mathematically detailed analyses, and complex conceptual schemes can make technical subjects hard to grasp even when prepared by skilled writers and read by expert readers. You can increase the clarity of your material in several ways.

At the level of the whole document, you can promote structural clarity, making it easy for the reader to get the large picture. Use abstracts and other forecasting strategies such as introductions that state the purpose and scope of the document. Tables of contents, problem statements, and even strategic repetition also promote structural clarity. Graphs and tables, effectively designed and placed, help focus and clarify information. Descriptive titles and frequent subject headings guide readers and help keep the large picture in focus.

Stylistic clarity is promoted by simple, direct language. Simplicity in language is obtained with directly worded sentences. Using simple sentences and avoiding overloaded sentences and excessive nominalization also contribute to clarity. Word choice is a factor in stylistic clarity: use simple language wherever possible to counteract the abstract, highly specialized terms of science and technology.

Contextual clarity, in which the importance, authorization, and implications of your work are made available, also contributes to ease of understanding. All work has a context, and your readers want to understand what the context of your document is. What prompts you to write? What is your purpose? Whose work precedes or has influenced yours? What is the organizational and intellectual context of your problem? You answer those questions in introductions and problem statements and in your citations and other references.

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