In writing, style refers to how something is said or expressed. It is how a single sentence is put together and how all the sentences work together in a piece. It is word choice and tone. It is the crafting of ways to package meaning and message so that they have the desired effect on an audience. One of those ways is through clarity. According to nineteenth century poet and critic Matthew Arnold, "Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style."

You must have something to say; no sort of style can compensate for lack of content. But as you work with your content, as you draft and revise, remember that the best style is not only appropriate for its purpose and audience but clear.

That doesn't mean that your writing—or the presentation that results from it—need be drab or dry. Instead, as William Strunk, Jr., emphasizes in Elements of Style, "A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

To make every word tell, cut the ones that don't.


Qualifiers—words meant to increase or decrease the quality they modify—can often be omitted. These include kind of, sort of, a lot, a little, essentially, truly, really, fairly, actually, basically, very, rather, and just. If they are not necessary to establish meaning, omit them.

Redundant expressions contain deadwood that compromise clarity and directness. Exact same? Added bonus? Advance planning? Redundant.

Stock phrases add words but little meaning. "Due to the fact that" can be replaced by "because." "It is important that" can be reduced to "must" or "should." Clear them out for clarity.


If you've heard or read a phrase or saying many times before, try not to use it. It's become a cliché, a term so overused that its meaning is lost, diluted, or ignored. At the end of the day? No good deed goes unpunished? It is what it is? What goes around comes around? Time will tell?

Writer George Orwell offers strong advice on this point: "Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print." Instead, invent your own. Or offer a concrete, precise description rather than a vague phrase.


Examine grammatical constructions for unnecessary words. "All of the time" can become "all the time," "most of the customers" can become "most customers"; "a few of the reasons" can become "a few reasons."

Beginning a sentence with "It is" or "There are" weakens the sentence because the added words shove the subject and verb to the middle without adding meaning. As much as possible, do without such filler-like constructions by going straight into the subject and verb of the sentence.

Attending to your writing style circles back to concern for your audience. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you're writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your reader will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an ego maniac or a chowderhead—or, worse, they will stop reading you."

That's some clarity.