To Make Writing Clearer, Use Flesh-and-Blood "Characters"

Probably the best book on writing expository, professional prose is Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, by Joseph K. Williams and Joseph Bizup. The first lesson is "characters as subjects." What does that mean?

Williams and Bizup explain that readers prefer to read about people rather than things, especially when those things are abstractions. What that means is that if you want to write clearly, your grammatical subjects should normally be people, or as Williams and Bizup put it, flesh-and-blood "characters." 

To see what this looks like in practice, consider the following sentence:

In a situation where the economy is in recession, inflation is below target, and the policy rate has been lowered to its effective lower bound (ELB), macroeconomic stabilization by means of conventional monetary policy becomes more challenging. 

Now, there are a few things that make this sentence less clear than it could be. One is the long dependent clause at the beginning. Another is the grammatical subject. First of all, the complete subject is long: macroeconomic stabilization by means of conventional monetary policy. Second--and relevant to Williams and Bizup's first lesson--the simple subject is not a person but an abstraction: macroeconomic stabilization

The first step to making this sentence clearer is to replace the abstract subject with a flesh-and-blood character. Is there a flesh-and-blood character who conducts monetary policy? Yes: a central banker. Let's make central bankers the subject of the sentence. Revising accordingly--admittedly a more complicated process than I can show here--we might come up with something like this for the opening sentence:

Normally, central bankers turn to conventional monetary policy to stabilize the economy. 

We now have a flesh-and-blood character as our grammatical subject, making the sentence much easier for most readers to understand.