Dealing with ambiguity in writing
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Dealing with Ambiguity in Writing. The aim of this tutorial is to help you recognize ambiguous writing and learn how to avoid ambiguity in your own writing. Go To Next Slide.

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Dealing with ambiguity in writing

Dealing with Ambiguity in Writing

The aim of this tutorial is to help you recognize ambiguous writing and learn how to avoid ambiguity in your own writing.

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Ambiguity in writing can be either intentional or unintentional. Intentional ambiguity may be used to mislead a reader or might be necessary due to the context or subject matter. Unintentional ambiguity should always be avoided and can be with care and practice.

This chapter focuses on two major types ambiguity: semantical ambiguity and syntactical ambiguity. Understanding the differences between these types will help you identify ambiguity in what others write and to avoid including unintentional ambiguity in your own writing.

In the following examples, identify the ambiguity and decide how the claims can be re-written to get rid of the ambiguity.

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This morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. unintentional. Intentional ambiguity may be used to mislead a reader or might be necessary due to the context or subject matter. Unintentional ambiguity should always be avoided and can be with care and practice.

Who was wearing the pajamas?

The hunter or the elephant?

This is a syntactical ambiguity

that can be cleared up grammatically.

This morning, in my pajamas, I shot an elephant.

Though you could probably tell from context what the author meant, there is no reason to unintentionally make such a mistake.

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Our mothers bore us. unintentional. Intentional ambiguity may be used to mislead a reader or might be necessary due to the context or subject matter. Unintentional ambiguity should always be avoided and can be with care and practice.

Are our mothers really that boring?

This is a semantical ambiguity. The word “bore” has more than one meaning and it is not clear in this case which meaning is intended.

Our mothers gave birth to us.

Unlike the last example where it was fairly clear what the author meant, this case really was ambiguous. Our mothers who gave birth to us can be boring.

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While backpacking in Peru, the Incan ruins unintentional. Intentional ambiguity may be used to mislead a reader or might be necessary due to the context or subject matter. Unintentional ambiguity should always be avoided and can be with care and practice.

captivated my imagination.

This sentence is syntactically ambiguous. Because of faulty sentence structure, the passage misleadingly suggests that the ruins were backpacking through Peru.

While I was backpacking through Peru, my imagination was captivated by the Incan ruins.

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Sign in front of a vacant lot: “Fine for littering.” unintentional. Intentional ambiguity may be used to mislead a reader or might be necessary due to the context or subject matter. Unintentional ambiguity should always be avoided and can be with care and practice.

Does the lot owner want your trash or not?

This is a semantical ambiguity. The word “fine” has multiple meanings.

Fines imposed for littering.

This is the end of this tutorial.


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