In their book Writing That Works
, authors Joel Raphealson and Ken Roman suggest that it’s not enough to write so that your readers can understand you: “Careful writers are ever alert to the many ways they might be mis
For example, a student paper begins:
“My mother has been heavily involved with every member of the California State Legislature.”
Some readers might misunderstand the nature of the energetic mother’s civic involvement.
Ambiguity can also result from a single sentence trying to do too much work.
Here’s an example from a report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC):
“It would be prudent to consider expeditiously the provision of instrumentation that would provide an unambiguous indication of the level of fluid in the reactor vessel.”
If you break that idea into two sentences, and simplify the language, you might end up with something like this:
“We should make up our minds quickly about getting better gauges. Good gauges would tell us exactly how much fluid is in the reactor vessel.”