Express your meaning
Express what you really mean
Clear writing means that the reader (e.g. your marker or reviewer) is able to get a meaningful message or main point that matches the intended meaning of the author (you). When you write clearly, your writing conveys your main point with as little ambiguity as possible.
An effective strategy to express your main point is quite simple:
- First, ask yourself what you really mean to say or write, and then say it out loud or write it for yourself, without worrying about sounding academic.
- Then see if you can find that point expressed in your draft. If not, write it down. Make sure it is explicit and expresses what you really mean.
- Re-draft and clarify your writing so that the main point flows with the rest of the text.
The writing expert Linda Flower has created a useful acronym to describe the main point. She calls it WIRMI, which stands for “What I really mean is…” (Flower, 1993). You can think of WIRMI as the key point or message you want to communicate, and of the text as a “fleshing-out” of that point or message.
“WHAT I REALLY MEAN IS …”
(Linda Flower, 1993)
In the writing process, WIRMI corresponds to the ‘inside voice’ or a thought bubble of what you are really wanting to say.
Academic writing can be challenging, and it is easy to lose clarity in your writing when you focus on academic jargon and complex ideas. You may have a main point, but it is easy for that main point to get lost.
One way to keep track of your main point is to listen to your ‘inside voice’. Look at your draft and ask yourself “What do I really mean to say here?” Then say it out loud or write it down. You may find it useful to make a note in the margin or your draft, or simply say what you think out loud.
Once you have expressed your main point in your own words, you can adjust and rewrite it, so that it conforms to the requirements of academic language.
|First draft of a text||Student thinking out loud when reading their draft||Second draft of a text, which includes a clear WIRMI (What I really mean is …)|
|A major reassessment that could lead to big changes in the Victorian secondary school education system is beginning, prompted in part by newly developed teaching platforms that are boosting the schools’ capacity to provide flexible and student-driven learning in the digital space.||Yes, there is a major reassessment going on because we have all these new teaching platforms, and we need to make sure that students succeed in the digital space—but what I really mean is that the current system is all over the place and with another set of rules things will be confusing for teachers as well, and that is why the Department of Education will need to lead this process but also collaborate—so what I really mean is the Department will collaborate with secondary schools.||The Department of Education will collaborate with secondary schools to ensure that learning in the digital space is accessible and student-driven.|
It is quite OK for your meaning (WIRMI: “What I really mean is …”) to be vague, inelegant or messy in your first draft.
A clear WIRMI expressed in a clear text is nearly always the result of re-drafting (and re-drafting and re-drafting). The key thing is to get it out in writing. You can always edit and redraft later.
Once you learn to express your main point or WIRMI, you will find that it can be scaled to any size. You can express your main point in sentences and paragraphs (micro level), but also in sections, chapters, or the document as a whole (macro level).
If you draw your main point as a map or an outline, it can provide you with a big-picture overview of an entire assessment, thesis, article or a book, as in the image below.
Mapping out your WIRMI can be even more valuable when you feel overwhelmed by the complexity of your writing project and feel like you have lost your main point. The example above is an outline of how you can begin mapping the WIRMI in a research thesis, but you can apply a similar approach when writing essays or literature reviews.