Get to the point.
We all know what poor writing looks like, but do we know what actually makes writing good?
Good writing is one of those things you really notice in absentia; the fact is, we take well-written documents for granted. It’s not until we’re handed 10 pages of poorly written drivel that the virtues of good writing come into focus. There’s no doubt about it, when something is not well written, your clients notice.
These days, we write text messages to mum, quick emails to colleagues and the odd half-baked, hastily typed status update on social. So when it comes to writing a 20 page professional document, you’ll probably need to switch gears. You may not even realise your writing is convoluted. It probably reads well to you. Grappling with unnecessary jargon goes with the territory in your industry, but assuming your clients can similarly connect the dots is a common faux pas. It all comes back to clarity and readability. Put simply, readability is the quality of your writing. If readability is high, people can understand your sentences; your writing is clear and direct. If readability is low, well…. the struggle is real.
That big, unnecessarily annoying word? It means don’t use big, unnecessarily annoying words.
‘The finest language’, George Eliot famously said, ‘is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.’ When writing a structured document, there is nothing gained from excessive wordiness. Using short succinct sentences will ensure you’re getting to the point without dragging your reader along for a ride.
See the difference here:
Unclear: I will try to eliminate all of the unnecessary words from the sentences that I am writing.
Clear: I will eliminate unnecessary words from my sentences.
Why speak like a politician when you can just get to the point? Cut those sentences in half and get to your point quickly and clearly.
Use a thesaurus
Thesaurus.com is your friend! Your goal is not to produce a Pulitzer-winning piece of prose. Fancy schmancy words won't deliver more clarity to your document. Use simple and precise words to construct sentences that convey your point. After all, getting your point across is the ultimate goal here.
Another thing to keep in mind, and we can thank Ernest Hemingway for this one; people prefer reading positive adjectives, rather than inherent negatives. So instead of ‘inexpensive’, use ‘affordable’. Think about this in terms of what something is rather than what something isn’t.
This will keep your tone active and engaging, while avoiding double-negatives that muddy the clarity of your writing.
“Your goal is not to produce a Pulitzer-winning piece of prose”
Tone down the jargon
Think about who your audience will be. If it’s unlikely to be business peers, cut out any profession-specific language that will confuse or mislead your reader. Nobody wants to feel stupid when they are reading someone’s writing. Don’t insult your reader’s intelligence by using business jargon they are unlikely to understand.
If certain business terminology is unavoidable, ensure you explain every element to maximise your reader’s understanding of the phrase. Any acronyms need to be spelled out. Don’t alienate them from what you are trying to say: the document is intended for them, not you!
Spell and grammar checks
Your reader’s eyes will be drawn to any incorrect spelling. Trst us.
A spelling error will interrupt the flow of your sentence and distract from what you are trying to say. It also looks unprofessional.
Make sure your writing has been checked for spelling, especially of key terms that appear in your document. A quick spell check of your document will enormously enhance the quality of your document. You’d be surprised how small typos can build up. You’ll also probably find you’ve missed full stops, capital letters and apostrophes. Make sure you’ve checked for the correct your/you’res and there/their/they’res. It sounds simple (and it is!) but when you’re in the flow of writing, typos happen!
It’s always a good idea to let people proofread your writing so you can get feedback on how it reads to fresh eyes. It’s easy to get caught up in he writing process, so taking a step back and getting feedback is important. You might find it’s also helpful to read back sentences aloud to hear how they sound. This should point out any grammatical errors. If your sentences are 3 lines long, you can probably cut them back, or add grammatical cues to enhance their readability.
Nobody’s writing is perfect, and there are always ways to enhance clarity and readability of a document. Keep this in mind the next time you’re writing a structured document. The only way to get better is to practise. Keep writing and keep checking and you’ll be amazed at the improvement of your writing clarity.