Do you ever pick up a document and read it through and then think ‘what was that all about?’
When we learn to write at school our first sentences are very simple and then we progress to using more complex structures and an increasingly wide vocabulary. This trend can continue until we develop our writing style into something quite indigestible.
An Academic Style of Writing
In academic circles I think there is a tendency to write in a complex style and to dress up ideas to look as clever as possible. I saw a step change in my daughter’s writing as she moved from A level to university; her essays became more verbose, the language more complex and I had to concentrate harder to understand them! You can see why this style of writing becomes the norm if you think it will impress the tutors and gain you the best marks (and of course enable you to achieve your word count.)
Business is Different
In business we need to make our writing clear and focused in order to get the message across and achieve our objective. We need to strip off a few years of our education and get back to a simpler style. So how do we avoid the pitfalls of giving our readers indigestion?
Here are ten tips to help your reader to read, understand and digest your message.
1. Define the purpose of your written communication and identify the readers and what they need from you.
2. Plan your document before you start writing.
3. Give your document a clear structure that will enable your reader to find the information they need. The structure is like a road map that helps your reader to navigate around easily. Different readers will want to read different parts of your document.
4. Use titles and headings to tell readers what is coming – this will enable them to relate this topic to existing or related knowledge and will increase absorption, understanding and retention of information. In a larger document a summary and an index help the reader find the parts he or she needs.
5. Give the most important information first. Most of us are very busy and may not read a whole document, so important messages need to be at the top of the text.
6. Break your document into digestible chunks. Section and paragraphs can be used to break up the text.
7. Bullet points are an excellent way of helping readers to take in key points.
8. Keep your sentences reasonably short – an average of 20 words. Varied length and structure help to make the writing interesting. With very long sentences the short term memory gets overloaded and by the time you reach the end of the sentence, you have forgotten what came at the beginning, so you have to re-read it.
9. Wherever possible write in the active voice – it gives your message more impact and makes it easier to absorb.
10. Use simple words and cut out redundant ones. Go through your text after you have written it and look out for words that can be eliminated.
Enjoy your writing!
A New Management Pocketbook for you to Enjoy
The Writing Skills Pocketbook describes a 3-phase approach to planning, preparing and polishing written communications for the modern business world.