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 use more complex structures and increasingly wide vocabulary. This trend can continue until we develop our writing style into something quite indigestible.
In business we need make our writing clear and focused in order to get our 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 for helping 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 and find the information they need. Different readers will want to read different parts of your document.
4. Use titles and headings to tell the reader what is coming – this will enable the reader 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. If you use 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 makes your message more impactful and your message easier to absorb.
10. Cut out redundant words and use simple words. Go through your text and look out for words that can be eliminated.
These ten tips are just the start – to find out more and learn how to write more easily and with greater enjoyment, join one of our workshops and read our book “Writing Skills Pocketbook” by Stella Collins and Beth Curl.
Enjoy your writing!