Secrets to writing clearly

Good writing brings everything into focus. You get the wide view and the details. The secrets to writing with clarity work equally well whether the content is simple or complex.

Be specific 
The next time you find yourself struggling to understand something someone else has written, take a closer look. Often the reason is that they have used vague words.

Most messages can survive one or two vague words. Although the message will be weaker, the meaning will be conveyed. But if you use too many vague words, the meaning is likely to be lost entirely. You can think of it as fog. Non-specific words like “it”, “they” and “others” fog the message. Try to replace those words with something stronger.

For example:

Weak: It may be necessary to assess how the current portfolio of products adds value to others.

Strong: We may need to assess how the current portfolio of products adds value to our customers.

Be concise 
Clear writing does not waste words. This means avoiding redundant words, empty words and excess words. The quickest way to determine if a word is unnecessary is to remove it. If the sentence still makes sense, the word was unnecessary.

All writers can miss opportunities for trimming. I find that it helps to turn it into a game. You might enjoy that too, and I bet if you decided to challenge yourself, you could remove at least 10% of the words in anything you have written.

For example:

Redundant Words: “each separate incident” can be changed to “each incident”

Empty Words: “actually”, “a bit”, “seem” and similar words can be removed

Excess Words: “in close proximity” can be replaced with “near”

Use active verbs 
Verbs are the muscles of language. They get things done. While it might have worked in Shakespeare, the weakest of all possible verbs is “to be”. You’ve probably heard about avoiding the passive voice. I agree that the active voice is usually best.

But there’s a simpler way to make your writing clearer. If you can change “it was”, “there are” and similar constructions of the “to be” verb to a more active verb, your writing will be tighter and easier to understand.

For example:

Not active: There were a great number of customers in the lobby.

Active: Customers filled the lobby.

Be consistent 
Business writing often relies of specific terms used within the organization or the industry. The first time the term is used, explain what it means. You may even want to add it to a glossary. After that, be careful to always use the same term. This is a simple habit that makes an enormous difference. 

Why make your readers learn multiple terms when a single term will do? Even the most technical content is clearer when terms are used consistently.

Target the message 
Of all the secrets, this may be the least obvious. Yet, it is also the most powerful. Be clear about who you are writing for and what they need to know. Stick to those parameters religiously. If you do that well, your writing will be clear. Readers don’t have time for extra information.

The measurement of clarity is really a measurement of usefulness. You need to be specific, concise and consistent in your business writing, not to follow rules, but to be helpful. Information that is not helpful is little more than noise.

Using active verbs makes your writing more powerful. Targeting the message lets your readers know you will not waste their time. All of this builds trust. Writing clearly is not just about words. It’s about relationships. Make yours strong.

© Debbie Bateman 2018. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

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