Are You Confusing Your Readers? Avoid These Pitfalls


One of my greatest weaknesses in life is one of my greatest strengths as an editor: I’m easily confused. If I had a nickel for every time I said, “Wait, what?” while reading an article, I’d have a sum easily calculated by someone less easily confused.

My innate talent for dazed disorientation allows me to serve as the lowest-common-denominator reader. The floor. The “If I get it, everyone gets it” reader.

So I know a thing or two about the writing habits that confuse people. Here are some pitfalls to avoid if you want everyone, even me, to understand your writing: Watch for unclear antecedents. Don't put an organization's initials in parentheses after its full name. Don't use dashes or semicolons in a way that makes your sentences too long. Watch out for needless words and vague nouns. I discuss these in more detail in my recent column.

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