Clean Writing: The Secrets of Clear Sentences

a pen and a sheet of paper

Many amateur writers (fiction and non-fiction) believe that good writing is all about writing beautifully. And beautiful means complex, right? Hence facepalm-inducing attempts at sophistication: overly long, complex sentences, 7-syllable words carefully unearthed from a thesaurus, weird synonyms to avoid repeating the same word twice and everything else that differentiates purple prose from the way sane people speak.

The matter is, in English essay writing, just like in verbal communication in general, complexity is never a good thing. Clean and simple sentences are the way to go. In order to learn how to write good essays you have to learn how to write good sentences. Even if you carefully plan your essay, prepare all the necessary information and check all your facts it still will be a rambling mess if you don’t know how to get your sentences straight. So let’s take a look at how you can make your sentences better.

Passive Voice

Almost all authorities agree that writing sentences in passive voice is almost never justified. It makes speech cumbersome and hard to understand, bloats up sentences, unnecessarily complicates their structure. However, it doesn’t mean that you should mechanically eliminate passive voice whenever you encounter it – sometimes such attempts can make a sentence look even worse.


Another scourge of amateur writers: they think that the more words they use, the more vivid the idea gets. In reality, it is vice versa: a succinct sentence always transfers meaning better than a five-line monstrosity with multiple clauses. Never use ten words when you can use one.

Of course, some students resort to wordiness as an easy way to get to their word limit – but trust us, tutors are not stupid, they know what you are doing and are not happy about it. So make sure every word in a sentence serves a particular purpose and cannot be dispensed with.

Do Away with Nominalizations

Nominalizations are verbs that were made into nouns by adding –tion to them. Sometimes you use them unconsciously, sometimes because you think that it makes you sound more serious and science-y. What you actually achieve is that your sentences lose dynamism – so when it is possible, avoid using them and make it a general rule to put actions into verbs whenever it is possible.

Avoid Meaningless Nouns

Some students are capable of writing paragraphs upon paragraphs of filler without saying anything of consequence. One of the easiest way to do it is to gorge your writing on vague words like ‘aspect’, ‘factor’, ‘sphere’, ‘area’, ‘consideration’ and suchlike. “His consideration of the underlying factors influencing the area of activity he was engaged in” sounds very impressive without going to the trouble of meaning anything. Avoid these words and stay to the point.

Eliminate Wordy Turns of Phrase

Phrases like “in the event of”, “considering the fact that”, “notwithstanding the fact that” and suchlike serve no other purpose but to increase your word count and make your writing look scientific. What it succeeds in is making your writing look inane and inflated.

It may be difficult to keep sentences clean and simple – but it surely pays off.

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