- Write not just to be understood, but so you cannot be misunderstood. Readers can’t hear your tone of voice or inflection, they can’t see the expression on your face or your body language, and if they become confused they can’t interrupt to ask for clarification; so you have to be much more precise in writing than you do when speaking.
2. Use impact words, they’re more meaningful than their generic equivalents.
“smashed” is stronger than “broken”
“thrilled” is more descriptive than “happy”
“weary” is more emphatic than “tired”
(Always have a thesaurus and a dictionary within reach, and reach for them often.)
3. When you find yourself using the word “very,” take the time to find a single, more descriptive word.
“magnificent” is more impressive than “very good”
“sweltering” is a vast improvement on “very warm”
4. Make your writing human rather stuffy and institutional.
Don’t say: Say:
further notification will follow I’ll keep you up to date as things
in due course develop
give consideration to consider
during the course of during
5. Avoid flowery prose. A person’s desire for possession of material goods will, from time to time, overwhelm one’s innate sense of prudence may be a very elegant sentence. However, you have a far better chance of being understood if you say, Greed often prevails over common sense.
6. Anytime you catch yourself writing “in other words,” whatever came before didn’t make your point, so it has to be to be re-written. If you don’t use words that create clear images in the minds of your readers, they’ll come up with their own; and the images they conjure up may not be the images you’re trying to convey.
7. Get rid of trite phrases, the overused expressions which, although meaningful at one time, or in a particular context, have, through overuse, become meaningless generalizations.
Examples of trite phrases currently popular:
at the end of the day
tone at the top
thinking outside the box
in terms of
ahead of (or behind) the curve
8. It’s usually more effective to talk about what you’re for rather than what you’re against, so any time you have a choice it’s better to be positive than negative. Readers relate more favorably to positive messages than to whining and complaining.
9. Be specific; generalizations are dull, boring and uninformative. “We had 32 texts, 20 emails, 12 telephone calls and 8 letters” is much better than “we had numerous responses.”
10. The active voice is always more powerful than the passive voice. (Anyone who doesn’t know what this means has to brush up on grammar).
11. Verbs should be as close to their nouns as possible.
12. A few short sentences are usually more effective than one long, drawn-out mind boggler. But, keep in mind that it’s important to vary the length of your sentences.
13. When you use a pronoun be sure there’s no mistaking its antecedent.
14. A paragraph should deal with just one topic. As with sentences, paragraphs should vary in length and not be too long. Any paragraph containing more than ten lines runs the risk of losing the reader’s attention. Every now and then a one-sentence paragraph can be used effectively for emphasis.
15. Be sure there’s variety in the opening words of your sentences and paragraphs. Four consecutive sentences or paragraphs beginning with the word “I” will likely be seen as indications of both pomposity and laziness.
16. Get to your point right away. No one is going to concentrate through four or five paragraphs before finding out what the communication is all about.
17. When dealing with more than one topic, ensure that each is developed fully with adequate examples, arguments, reasons and illustrations before moving on to the next one. But don’t overload your writing with more evidence than your readers need in order to understand your points; one strong example is better than ten wishy-washy ones.
18. Don’t ramble; move in an orderly, logical, non-confusing way from your opening to your close. You can never go wrong by using Kipling’s “six honest serving men” (who, what, where, why, how and when). Then take it one step further by answering the skeptical reader’s “so what?”
19. If there’s a reason to use jargon or buzzwords, by all means do so; but if there’s even a remote possibility that your reader won’t know what you’re talking about, define each term when you first use it.
20. Edit ruthlessly. If it’s a long document it’s best to set it aside for an hour or two before editing. If you can’t set it aside for that long, at least leave it long enough to leisurely fetch a coffee or check your messages before starting to edit. For long documents be especially critical of the opening and close; the opening because at that point you probably hadn’t warmed up, and the close because by then you may have become tired and less vigilant. Anything you write while tired, angry or bored needs to be brutally edited. It’s always a mistake to send off a communication written in anger without setting it aside until you cool off.
21. Double-check all names, numbers and quotations.
22. When you think you’re finished, go over it one more time.