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4 Effortless Tips To Help You Write Without Ambiguity

4 Effortless Tips To Help You Write Without Ambiguity

When you write your entry for an essay competition, it’s important you lead the judge or, in some cases, the readers to comprehend only what you intend. This implies not giving room for more than one reasonable interpretation of your expressions.

Does this make any definite meaning?

That’s exactly what it means to write without ambiguity. It’s to express your points in crystal clear, easy-to-understand sentences which leave no room for vagueness or uncertainty.

Most times, ambiguity creeps into essays with the writer oblivious of them. This is truer in no milieu than Nigeria, a nation of non-native speakers of the English Language. Do you find that people often draw reasonable deductions from your expressions other than the meaning you intend to convey?

Stay calm! You aren’t alone. Everyone does. Some grammar tips are provided below to help you write without ambiguity, or more aptly, with lesser ambiguity.

1. Use Proper Antecedents for Pronouns

Everyone knows that a pronoun represents a noun or nouns in sentences to avoid redundancy. But how often do we see pronouns pointing to no identifiable noun in particular?

The correct usage of a pronoun would leave no one in doubt about the particular noun – the antecedent – it represents. If the antecedent the pronoun replaces isn’t crystal clear, use the noun itself rather than the pronoun, even if you end up with a seemingly redundant sentence.

It’s ambiguous for instance to write:

After the discourse between the Manager and the Secretary, he proceeded to the lavatory and cursed the day he first met him.

(In the above, we aren’t sure who the “he” and “him” each refers to).

This uncertainty can be sidestepped by rewriting the above to read:

After the discourse between the Manager and the Secretary, the Secretary proceeded to the lavatory and cursed the day he first met the former.

2. Use Only Explained Acronyms

Acronyms are words or letters formed from the first letters of the words that make up the name of a thing. Some of them are quite notorious, enjoying universal intelligibility. Examples are UN, ICT, ECOWAS, AIDS, etc. For those that aren’t well-known, it’s crucial you spell them out in full the first time you use them.

So it would be unconscionable to write:

Pressure groups including the SNG, the YFD and the NLC took to the street protesting the increment in the pump price of petrol. The protest led by the NLC matured into a mob causing security lapses.

To eschew all traces of vagueness, simply write:

Pressure groups including the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), the Youth For Democracy (YFD) and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) took to the street protesting the increment in the pump price of petrol. The protest led by the NLC matured into a mob causing security lapses.

3. Avoid the Dangling Participle

When you start a sentence with a participle, the other part of the sentence should start with the noun or pronoun the participle describes. Failing to appropriately complement the participle and what it refers to, makes the participle dangle…and that’s a fine way to create ambiguity or gibberish.

So, it’s not cool to say:

Shocked to the marrow, fears gripped the woman.

Or:

Driving recklessly on the busy road, the dog was hit by a vehicle.

Instead, say:

Shocked to the marrow, the woman was gripped by fears.

Or:

Driving recklessly on the busy road, the driver hit the dog with his vehicle.

The rule is: the doer of the action in the participle (e.g. “Shocked to the marrow”) should be the first thing you introduce after the participle.

4. Write Short Sentences

There is a tendency to end up with clumsy and ambiguous expressions when you choose to use long sentences jam-packed with many clauses and ideas. If you’ve read a court judgment before, you’d know that a single sentence can contain over 300 words and run into pages, and yet be unambiguous. But this is only one exception to the rule.

In “Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail” of April 16, 1963 you’ll find a sentence containing an incredible 310 words. Sounds ingenious, but that’s not what you hope to win an essay with.

The longer the clumsier is a rule very true of sentences. Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to tell an entire story in only 6 words. With admirable simplicity, he wrote:

For sale: baby shoes, never used.

Can you emulate him?

Don’t say:

I bought a shirt with white buttons which has red parches and a large collar.

Which has white parches, the shirt or the button? We don’t know. So break the sentence into two to read:

I bought a shirt. It has with white buttons, red parches and a large collar.

Now you can write clearer and tell the judge to mark your essay only what you intend. Have you found this helpful and interesting? Then subscribe to our newsletter with your email to get more cool updates. Also remember to leave your comments below.

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About Muhammed Abdullahi Tosin

Writer. Difference Maker. Entrepreneur. Author, Your Right To Write & Vertical Writing. Winner, 11 Writing Prizes.

Comments

  1. Yusuff olayode says:

    A reasonable piece…..

  2. Cool stuff. simple, instructive, and educative.Thumbs up.

  3. cletus okosun says:

    Nice one. Thanks to you.

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