Five Secrets to Clear Writing

Ever wonder how the professionals do it? I recently interviewed 10 of them, and here’s what they told me.

If you’re interested in hearing our conversations, you can join us in the telesummit, Unlocking the Secrets to Clear Writing, the week of July 25th.

For more information and to register, please visit: And for a speaker schedule and biographical info, see

1) Write about complex topics through the lens of real human beings.

Michael Lemonick

Write About Science (Or Any other Subject) with Clarity

Michael Lemonick has written three books—The Georgian Star, Echo of the Big Bang and Other Worlds. All have been praised for their lucidity, and all feature the scientists who have made the discoveries.

Mike and I spoke about the ways that readers resonate with other human beings. By foregrounding the scientists rather than their discoveries, he captures the reader’s attention and draws them into the story while helping them interpret the scientific data in light of the scientists’ own reactions.



2) Know your subject inside and out.

Wildlife biologist Su Jewell has likewise written three books, all of which feature parts of the American southeast in which she has lived.

Su Jewell

Turn Your Passion into a Freelance Career

She shared with me the challenges of freelance writing as a hobby rather than career, one of which is research. While knowledge of your subject matter seems like a no-brainer, many writers are asked to expound upon subjects on which they have only a peripheral knowledge.

Research data, while it has become faster and more readily available, has also become less detailed. And it is the dedicated writer who will spend time in libraries, searching through specialized databases, and conducting field research with people and places to be sure her descriptions are accurate and compelling.

3) Write in plain English.

Cheryl Stephens

Use Plain Language to Communicate with Respect

Cheryl Stephens is the founder of Plain Language Association International and author of Plain Language in Plain English. She and I discussed several ways that authors can make plain language a daily habit, the first of which is to consider your audience.

Cheryl also suggested using headlines and subheadings to help your reader scan the text. She and I agreed that pronouns keep the writing personable. And short sentences work best, especially on the internet.



4) Be conscious of your sentence structure.

Cheryl Glenn

See Grammar from the Inside Out

Cheryl Glenn is the professor of rhetoric and composition at Penn State, and author of Hodges Harbrace Handbook as well as numerous studies of rhetoric, democracy, and women.

Cheryl and I discussed the various types of sentence structure and how women can familiarize themselves with their own style. She suggested that writers study their own habits to achieve balance. And she emphasized keeping subjects and verbs close to one another and at the front of the clause. 


5) Read widely.

Bethanne Patrick

Read to Become a Better Writer

In a lively and delightful conversation, Bethanne Patrick shared her love of all things bookish. And she reminded us that the best way to become a good writer is to remain a passionate and devoted reader.

These are just the highlights of conversations that I am sure you will want to hear for yourself. Please join us, the week of July 25th, on Unlocking the Secrets to Clear Writing. For more information and to register, visit

And for speaker schedules and biographical details, check out


  1. These are five strong tips that any writer could greatly benefit from using. I love that not only did you provide the tips but you also provided the people behind the insight. This was a very well put together article. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ruth Tappin says

    Great tips, Michelle! You made a great point about reading more. My son was always a lazy reader, but after he graduated from officer’s training school in the National Guard he finally took my advice and started reading a wide variety of books – from the classics to pop culture…and his writing took off like a rocket! It is never too late to start reading – it really makes a huge difference! Great site!

    • You know Ruth, I’ve always wondered whether those who love language, love to read, and are naturally good writers because they love language. OR, do those who read a lot learn to love language and then become good writers? I guess it’s a sort of chicken-and-the-egg kind of question. But there’s definitely a connection between reading and writing. Thanks for sharing about your son. Take care-Michelle

  3. Anna Biunno says


    Regarding your chicken-and-the-egg question, there is a paper, “Writing to Read” by Steve Graham and Michael Hebert, that provides evidence on how writing can improve reading. It’s from the perspective of students who gain knowledge through the act of writing. It might provide insight into Ruth’s son.

    The paper concludes:
    “This study shows that students’ reading abilities are improved by writing about texts they have read; by receiving explicit instruction in spelling, in writing sentences, in writing paragraphs, in text structure, and in the basic processes of composition; and by increasing how much and how frequently they write.

    Our evidence shows that these writing activities improved students’ comprehension of text over and
    above the improvements gained from traditional reading activities such as reading text, reading and rereading text, reading and discussing text, and receiving explicit reading instruction.
    The empirical evidence that the writing practices described in this report strengthen reading skills
    provides additional support for the notion that writing should be taught and emphasized as an integral part of the school curriculum. Previous research has found that teaching the same writing process and skills improved the quality of students’ writing (Graham and Perin, 2007a; see also Graham, in press; Rogers and Graham, 2008) and learning of content (as demonstrated in Graham and Perin [2007a] and Bangert-Drowns, Hurley, and Wilkinson [2004]). Students who do not develop strong writing skills may not be able to take full advantage of the power of writing as a tool to strengthen reading.”

    There are several caveats attached to this conclusion, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless. I realize that I’ve flipped the idea on its head since we’re discussing the writing process, but the two (reading and writing) seem to be so tightly intertwined that they deserve a closer look.

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