Given that our writing is competing for attention, it is sensible to write as well as possible. You can’t go too far wrong with adopting these tips.
- Know what you want to say
This may be a statement of the obvious, but we have all read emails, papers and blogs which are ambiguous or seem to have lost their way. For instance:
“For the second time in six months, a patient has died because of defective equipment.”
The writer is unlikely to have meant that the patient has died twice. If the sentence had started with the key point “A second patient has died…” the remaining words would have fallen into place.
- Write simply
This is not to suggest that you should write like a five-year old, but rather to write short words and sentences that are easy to read. Rarely does a long sentence convey information more effectively than several short sentences. In the words of Mark Twain:
“Use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.”
- Be concise
Every word in every sentence should contribute towards meaning. Words which do not add to meaning should be deleted. For example:
“There have been some problems in the production department recently and I would like to propose some means by which they could be solved over a period of some four weeks but no longer.”
” would be better expressed as:
“I propose a four-week programme to solve the recent production department problems.”
- Be clear
Ensure that you do not hide your key messages in the body of your text, and take care that you convey your information in the right order. For example:
“There has been a paradigm shift in the way that analysts go about their processes which has led to an improvement in output.”
The key point is output. Paradigm shift is irrelevant in this context and so the sentence could be rewritten as:
“Output has increased owing to analysts’ new processes.”
- Write correctly
Grammar gives the writer a framework within which to work. Spelling is helpful to everyone and punctuation gives readers signposts. The problem with grammar and spelling mistakes is that they distract the reader and reduce your credibility. There is a lot to be said for getting it right.
- Write in the active voice whenever possible
Both active and passive sentences convey action, but active sentences are more persuasive, decisive and confident. For example:
“Market research information is obtained via researchers’ telephone surveys.”
is written in the passive. Alternatively, you could write in the active:
“Researchers obtain market information by telephone.”
The passive voice is more appropriate when you do not know or do not wish to mention the subject, or where the object is more important (to the reader) than the subject.
‘We will install an EDM system with an energy efficient power pack next week. Our project manager will oversee each part of its deployment.’
Or you could write the first sentence in the active and the second in the passive because the object is more important to the reader than the subject:
‘We will install an EDM system with an energy efficient power pack next week. Each part of its deployment will be overseen by our project manager.’
Lead with benefits
Benefits are advantages of relevance to the buyer. Customers buy benefits. They do not buy features. For example: A feature may be a powerful microprocessor on your computer. The benefit is that your applications – Word, PowerPoint and Excel – run quickly.
Whether you are proposing a concept, idea, service or product, always lead with benefits and support those benefits with features.
- Use attractive words
Words that evoke interest and excitement can turn dull sentences into appealing ones. These words work well in advertising:
- Link to your heading
Ensure that you fulfil the promise of your heading from the first sentence of your first paragraph. If your heading is “Answer to the Problem” your first sentence needs to provide the answer or to explain how you are going to provide the answer to the problem. Your first few words must have a direct relationship with your heading.
- Create impact
An appealing heading motivates people to read the rest of your writing. Where you have the opportunity to choose a title, try something which will grab attention.
“Strategy to Boost Growth” is more interesting than “This Year’s Plan.”
By Richard Walker, director, Walkerstone