Because you know what you are trying to say, it is easy to write sentences which can be read more than one way. In a church bulletin, the secretary wrote “For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery in the south wing.” Another wrote, “Because of the large number of requests, we will hold baptismal ceremonies near the north and south entrances. Children will be baptized at both ends.”
Ambiguity can be avoided. A small number of careless word choices cause most of the potential misunderstandings.
Pronoun references are frequent offenders
Ambiguity results when a pronoun can refer to more than one noun. The reader may be able to determine the intended meaning, but careless writing is never highly respected.
Ambiguous: Some families use corporal punishment to discipline their children. They should learn more appropriate behaviors. (parents or children?)
Clear: Parents, in disciplining children, can learn techniques which are more effective than corporal punishment
Insure that pronouns cannot be misread.
Dangling modifiers are awkward
Modifiers are words, phrases or clauses that add description to other words. A dangling modifier is placed so that it can accidentally be read to describe a different word than the writer intended.
Dangling: While driving down the road, the tree fell on Kevin’s car.
Was the tree was driving down the road?
Dangling: Lying on the intestine, the surgeon spotted the missing forceps.
Was the surgeon lying on the intestine?
Clear: While Kevin was driving down the road, a tree fell on his car.
The surgeon spotted the missing forceps lying on the intestine.
Be sure that modifiers describe what you intend for them to describe!
Eliminate pretentious diction:
Pompous or flowery writing, writing that is inappropriately elevated and wordy, results from writers choosing to use multisyllabic words or complicated phrasing when simple words and phrases are more clear, concise, and communicative.
Use this: Her thoughtfulness influences the way her friends live.
Do not use this: Her vigilant attention to the well-being of others profoundly influences the personal life-styles of all those fortunate enough to be included among her friends.
Eliminate pretentious diction by reading your papers aloud and listening for phrases that you would not use when speaking.