It can be hard to be clear, even when we think we’re being crystal clear!

Case in point: I’m reading Nature’s Best Hope about planting native plants, shrubs and trees to provide critical food sources. I like to throw out trivia from the books I read when talking with my youngest because she likes to share this trivia with others in her age group, who are the ones more likely to listen. (It’s all part of my plan to save the planet.)

So I mentioned a mind-blowing fact from the book: 90% of insects only eat one kind of plant.*

Emma asked me, “So what’s the plant?”

(Insert confused expression on my face here.)

Say what?

What I meant was 90% of insects have only one kind of plant specific to them that they can eat. What Emma heard was 90% of insects all need the same kind of plant.

And yes, when I thought about what I had said, Emma’s interpretation made sense.

It took me quite a few words to explain what I meant, and I had to give an example: the Monarch butterfly can only eat milkweed—that is the one plant.

Clarity can be hard!

She’s a smart kid. Once I explained it more clearly, she did understand and later texted me about sharing the fact with others. I accomplished my goal. But I was surprised that it was so easy to say something I thought crystal clear and then realize it could be taken in such a different way. It was a reminder to me that clarity is sometimes elusive no matter how clear we think are.

Groucho Marx long ago gave us a famous example of this kind of confusion when he declared he shot an elephant in his pajamas.

That might be funny, but this happens in our writing at work all the time. Why?

First off, because we are going too fast. And secondly, because it’s simply easy to be confusing. We are clear what we mean in our heads so we don’t stop to realize it might not be clear to our reader.

What’s the solution?

The solution, dear reader, is once again this: Slow down to write carefully and then re-read what you wrote before sending it.  

And here’s good news: You can both slow down to be clear while also speeding up the process of writing. See these 5 tips to learn how.

*If you’re wondering why this fact matters, here’s why in a nutshell, with apologies for author Douglas Tallamy for dumbing it down so much: Birds need caterpillars to feed their young. Caterpillars need a certain kind of native plant to exist. Therefore, if you don’t have the native plant for the caterpillar, you don’t have the bird.

Photo by Pixabay:

Sharon Ernst is a freelance editor and writer at, a teacher and coach at And a farmer and planet saver at