I’ve been reviewing a lot of material lately to suggest improvements for concise, engaging writing and clear messages. Regardless of the author and document (briefs, letters, guidelines, reports, updates) a lot of the same issues come up.

So here’s a quick reference list to help you get the year off to a positive start and turn your written work from blah to brilliant.

1. Know the purpose of your document

Before you start writing, ask yourself:

  • Why am I writing this—what are we trying to achieve?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What is important to the audience—what is the most relevant information, what do they already know, and what do they need to know and/or do?
  • What structure, language and style are most appropriate to engage the audience?

This will help you write with precision, clarity and appropriate style.

2. Use active voice rather than passive voice 

Put the ‘who’ first.

  • Active voice is shorter, clearer and more precise. It clearly states who did what.
  • Passive voice is harder to understand because it starts with what was done, and is often less clear about who did it. Passive sentences are also usually longer and more complex.

For example:

  • Data analysis was performed by the team to understand the problem. (passive)
  • The team analysed the data to understand the problem. (active)
  • The initiative was launched by the minister. (passive)
  • The minister launched the initiative. (active)
  • The decision was made to establish a new panel. (passive)
  • We decided to establish a new panel. (active)

3. Write clearly and concisely

Write more like you speak.

  • Read your text out loud. Does it sound natural and flow easily or is it stilted and unnecessarily complex and formal?

Use every day words.

  • Avoid (or explain) jargon, bureaucratic language and uncommon words.

Don’t turn verbs into nouns.

For example:

  • the provision of (noun)
  • provide (verb)
  • the facilitation of (noun)
  • facilitate (verb)
  • the implementation of (noun)
  • implement (verb)
  • consideration of/give consideration to (noun)
  • consider (verb)

Remove unnecessary words.

  • Often words like ‘that’, ‘in order to’, ‘there is/there are’ are not needed.
  • Keep it simple and direct. For example, ‘we progressed the development of’ could be changed to ‘we started’, ‘we refined’ or ‘we developed’.

Be specific.

  • Use information and examples that are relevant, specific and meaningful for your audience.
  • Provide context for assertions, figures and statistics.

Use shorter sentences.

  • Aim for one idea per sentence.
  • Split long sentences into two shorter ones.
  • Use bullet points for long lists.

Break up your text with headings and subheadings.

4. Structure your information for logical flow 

Start with the most important information for your purpose and audience and then summarise necessary background information.

Keep related content together.

  • Remember, chronological order is not always the most relevant or logical flow.

 

‘Easy reading is damn hard writing.’

Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

Cinden Lester has more than 25 years’ experience as a professional writer, editor and communications specialist. She worked as a broadcast journalist, in private sector marketing and public relations, and in government communications before establishing her own Canberra-based communications consultancy in 2000.

Contact Cinden if you’d like help with your communications.

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