A sentence can be unclear for numerous reasons.  Here are four common mistakes:

  • Word choice – This could mean using technical language or trendy buzzwords, but many times writers use everyday words and still provide a blurry picture:

a virtual knowledge transfer event was actually just a webinar.

We deliver flexible knowledge services to telecommunications companies. (What are those?)

  • Syntax – When words are arranged in a manner that deviates from standard sentence patterns, readers will be confused.

The host can direct you to the Lobby of the North Building as well as the attached maps.

The intended meaning was that either the host or the attached maps could direct the reader to the lobby.

  • Misplaced modifiers – We think of modifiers as one-word adjectives or adverbs, but a modifer also can be a  clause or phrase that is functioning as an adjective. When that modifying clause or phrase is not near the word it is referring to, the meaning can be ambiguous.

One container of counterfeit circuit breakers could find its way into as 15,000 homes – of unknown origin and performance capabilities  –  so there is a lot at risk.

It appears that the homes are of unknown origin and have unknown performance capabilities. The phrase set off by the dashes modifies (describes) the circuit breakers but is misplaced. It should be positioned closer to circuit breakers.

  • Lack of specifics – We sometimes leave the reader to guess.

The event was well attended (How many people were there, a dozen? 100?)

It will negatively impact customer service. (How?)