How to Improve Clarity in Communication in 5 Steps

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Finding how to improve clarity in communication is critically important these days since 26% of people feel that business communication, both with their employees and with their customers, has declined during 2021.

Communication is the successful exchange of information and/or ideas between two or more people either through written, other visual, or spoken form. It is also one of the most important skills in the workplace and in life, and yet communication breaks down daily to varying degrees of consequences. As such, learning how to improve clarity in communication needs to be emphasized and increased for projects, meetings, and instructions to work and harmonize well. This article will be mainly talking about how to improve clarity in communication in writing, but most of these tips will work for spoken communication as well.

The 5 parts of how to improve clarity in communication are:

  • Plain Language
  • Visual Aids
  • Examples
  • Keep the Audience Interested
  • Minimalism/Brevity

Communication Elements

How to improve clarity in communication starts with knowing elements of communication: planning, experience, written, and feedback.

Planning

Know your message that you are trying to convey. Some people outline or summarize the main points ahead of time. Then, the writer organizes the main ideas in a logical manner (chronologically, in order of operations, in order of severity, etc.) to guide their readers through the ideas. The ideas should contain as relevant and detailed information as possible as the topic and purpose of the communication requires. (I.e. A recipe for a sponge cake should list exact amounts of ingredients and how to prepare them but not list what can be served with the sponge cake. That can be placed elsewhere along with different variations of the cake.)

The writer should try and keep the information and ideas as concise as possible. Too much information will leave their reader lost and overwhelmed, and redundant information just frustrates the reader, so keeping the writing as minimal as possible is helpful and user friendly.

Experience/Expertise

A person’s experience and expertise show their skills and knowledge of their field, which should show in their writing. ‘Write what you know’ is good advice since less guess work is involved, and, in general, writing should be those that know things (information, facts, procedures, etc.) share that knowledge with those that don’t know or just have a basic understanding of the subject.

If your writing includes what you think is true, make sure to include references that support your thinking. In this way you are using their experience and expertise to make up for your lack of it in this subject. When writing about things you suspect but are not proven or suggested by other people, make clear what is your evidence and other facts that caused you to come to this suspicion/hypothesis. Above all, be honest about the relevant unknown parts of the topic and information and even ask for readers’ and your peers’ opinion on the parts of the topic that are fuzzy to you.

Written Elements

The first part of writing is the words the writer uses. Which words are used and where can change the meaning of a sentence or even make it no longer true. Wise writers pick their words carefully and use helpful adverbs and adjectives to add important details to support the points and clarify their writing.

A writer’s tone can be hard for readers to discern unless the writer is clear and does not expect the reader to read their mind about the writer’s intent and meaning. Tone is usually conveyed through the words the writer chose, but the organization of phrases, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs also contribute to a writing’s tone. Even how you start a sentence changes the tone of your writing.

Lastly, a writing style also denotes what type of writing a document is written in and has a specific tone compared to other writing styles. Writing style guides or styles manuals are established sets of rules for formatting writing and citations. Writing style guides are made to make writing consistent across fields of work; they also establish rules that writers follow. The most commonly used writing style guides are MLA, APA, Chicago, and CSE. This is not even close to all writing style guides (the New York Times has its own style, for example), but they are the most commonly used writing style guides across most major industries.

Feedback

Feedback is the communication of someone’s reaction or thoughts about your actions or words. Communication is a two-way process; someone says something and the other person(s) thinks about the topic and points and sends/speaks their thoughts about the speaker’s idea/information. Usually, this process repeats multiple times; this can be referred to as discussion.

A discussion is not an argument (unless you mean the logical and philosophical definition ‘a series of statements that make up a conclusion’); the purpose of discussion is to further someone’s or society’s understanding of a concept or topic. At most, discussion can be about how someone feels about something or someone; it should not be a heated discussion meant to vent frustration and anger that may hurt someone’s feelings.

Comments and replies to posts and other comments are a good way to get feedback on online written works. The hitch is that good feedback is hard to give, let alone write. Good feedback is constructive, giving tips on how to improve and hone your skills and information while also stating what you did well. A constructive comment is carefully thought out with the original writer’s or speaker’s feelings and purpose in mind.

Feedback can also come from ‘contact us’ forms or emails. This method is good if you want to speak to the sender privately without other people getting involved. If there is something you know someone got fundamentally wrong in a speech or post, it may be best (and more polite) to message them privately so they can acknowledge their blunder and fix it without being called on in public for it.

How to Improve Clarity in Communication

How to improve clarity in communication is through using plain language, visual aids, and examples; keeping the audience interested; and using minimalism and brevity.

Plain Language

The first part of how to improve clarity in communication is using plain language. Plain language is content that is written to ensure that the reader can easily scan a document,  understand its main points, find specific details quickly, and use the document as intended. It includes using active voice, using second person, using bulleted lists, and avoiding jargon and slang.

Unless you are writing fiction, history, or poetry, generally you should always use active voice and present tense. This means to name the person (at least by their job) who is doing the action currently. The main exceptions are when: 

  • You don’t want to blame someone: The coffee machine is broken – passive voice – vs. Sam broke the coffee machine – active voice.
  • You don’t know the person involved: The street was paved. (How many people know their local street paver?)
  • The reader cares more about the object, action, or other details rather than the person involved: The COD final draft was sent to the New York publisher yesterday.
  • Using active voice or present tense is otherwise confusing: Driving home for ten miles, the cat greeted us when we came home.

When possible, use second person in writing instructions and manuals. Use ‘you’ and avoid using words like ‘the user’ or ‘they’ when addressing your primary audience. This also makes your writing more friendly to your readers. The main exception is when you are writing a formal document; use your company’s or client’s desired style for this. Use bulleted and numbered lists to organize lists of information. Keep the indent of these lists consistent to help guide your reader through your document. Only use numbered lists when there is a reason to do so, like when the information is presented chronologically or steps of a process need to be done in a specific order.

Unless you are writing for veterans in the field that know exactly what you are talking about, don’t use jargon, slang, or lingo that the readers may not know. Having to look up words just irritates readers. If you must use them, define them clearly in a way that is easy to find and go back to when readers have continued reading the document.

Visual Aids

The second part of how to improve clarity in communication is using visual aids.

Use images to reinforce facts, topics, and other information. Images include cartoons, graphics, graphs, and photographs (yes, stock images too). Since most people are visual learners, use beautiful yet relevant images to reinforce ideas of the text. It is best to use/make your own to avoid copyright and make your site unique. Whatever images you use should be large and clear without being garish or overwhelming. If possible images, particularly cartoons and graphics should be flatter rather than 3D; this makes the image smoother and more a part of the overall design.

For extra information, key definitions, or elaborations you want to draw the reader’s attention to, bordered boxes of information helps critical points stand out from the rest of the document. They should not interrupt the flow of the organization and should be to the side of the main text, perhaps with an icon to show what kind of information it contains.

Infographics show information in a visually appealing and memorable form. Usually rectangular, they explain concepts that may be hard to understand or comprehend. One of the infographic features is that they rely on visuals so people are more likely to remember them. Another of the infographic features is that they are easy to share as well, making them user friendly as well as SEO and digital marketing friendly.

Examples

The third part of how to improve clarity in communication is using examples. Use examples to help illustrate your points. These can be a specific kind of object or process to support your explanation when you are talking about the broad kind of object, process, idea, etc. You can also use a common idea, object, or process to better explain a complex and/or unfamiliar topic. Examples can also help writers go into more detail about a topic.

Keep the Audience Interested

The fourth part of how to improve clarity in communication is keeping audience attention. You could write the best written paper ever and still no one would actually read it if they find it boring or too much like a textbook. There are a few ways to help get and keep readers or listeners attention.

Starting with a story is an excellent way to start a document or speech as long as it is not too long. Human beings are keyed into listening to stories, particularly if they are lively or unique. Stories can help you add pathos (emotion/feeling) to your communication (and ethos (credibility/believability) too if it is something that happened to you). There is a reason most charities and nonprofits use this technique in their advertising. Just make sure your story is relevant and ties into your topic.

girl with laptop and four people looking over her shoulder

Using statistics gets people’s attention because they sound important and add ethos and logos (logic) to your conversation, speech, or document. Statistics help answer questions like ‘why should I care’ or ‘how big a problem is this’. Make sure you cite where you got your statistic.

Most people like to laugh, and adding humor to your document/speech increases your ethos and pathos (and logos too if your joke is relevant to your topic and clever). Making a joke about your topic tells people that you know the topic well and/or understand what people who are new to the topic may be thinking or feeling about the topic or a specific statement. However, don’t try and force a joke just to add humor; this makes you seem unprofessional and will cause you to lose your ethos.

Minimalism/Brevity

The fifth part of how to improve clarity in communication is using brevity. Minimalism is a design style that has little or few elements in a design. It has the added benefits of things clashing or going wrong when there are fewer parts total. Helpfully, this makes these designs easier to put together and are more easy to use. Minimalism causes users to find key things easier and creates a more relaxed and comfortable feeling for users.

For web designers and content writers, minimalism in websites and documents causes less work and maintenance due to less items to make, design, and sustain. It also helps SEO for Google by causing Google’s algorithms to be able to access and access sites better. You can make your writing more minimal and brief by:

  • Eliminating unnecessary phrases and clauses,
  • Avoiding redundancies,
  • Shortening sentences and paragraphs,
  • Staying on your topic, 
  • Focusing on the key ideas and points.

Summary

Communication is the successful exchange of information and/or ideas between two or more people either through written, other visual, or spoken form. It is also one of the most important skills in the workplace and in life, and yet communication breaks down daily to varying degrees of consequences. As such, clarity in communication needs to be emphasized and increased for projects, meetings, and instructions to work and harmonize well. The 5 parts of how to improve clarity in communication are:

  • Plain Language
  • Visual Aids
  • Examples
  • Keep the Audience Interested
  • Minimalism/Brevity

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