When you don’t have much time
You’ve written a report or a proposal, and you need to send it out ASAP. In a better world, you would have time to check with other experts and get a professional edit, but the clock is ticking. The report or proposal has to go out now.
You have a good grasp of spelling and grammar. A lot of your professional life is spent writing. Your main goal in revising is to increase the impact of your ideas. Here are six ways you can increase the power of your writing when you have to work alone and have limited time:
1. Focus on the core idea
Pretend you know nothing about the subject. Now, read what you wrote with one simple goal in mind: find the core idea. Make sure the core idea is stated clearly in the first paragraph. If you’re not sure of the core idea or it seems more complex than a single concept, go through the draft and circle the main points. Then, summarize the key concept behind those points. That’s your core idea.
It’s tempting to think the most important task in revising is to work on word choice and sentences, but the message is more essential. Perfectly worded sentences that do not focus on a core idea will achieve little. If you have time for no further revisions, do this one.
2. Follow the logic
Now that you’ve zeroed in on the core idea, check the logic. Jot down the points that support the core idea. Have you left anything out? Would an example make something clearer? Is there tangential information that can be removed or saved for a different document?
Perhaps you need to adjust the wording or break information into numbered points to help your readers follow the logic. Link each point to the next by showing how they relate to one another. Guide your readers through the information. Your proposal or report will have more impact as a result.
3. Limit each sentence to a single idea
Now that the focus and structure of the information is solid, it’s time to start revising at the sentence level. Many sentences that are difficult to read contain too many ideas. Limit each sentence to one point. This simple strategy can do a lot to improve clarity.
4. Identify the agent of action
A common habit in business writing is to not include an agent of action. This sentence is an example: “The construction site was inspected.” We don’t know who made this happen and we don’t care very much for that reason. Notice how the revised sentence with a clear agent of action has more impact: “The safety officer inspected the construction site.” Whenever possible in your sentences, identify the person or thing that performs the action.
5. Remove noun clusters
Business writing often explains complex ideas. To be accurate, writers sometimes string together nouns as a description. This is an example: “security policy orchestration software.” Noun clusters are hard to understand and frustrate your readers. An imaginative person might briefly entertain the notion that the previous example refers somehow to music. Always be clear. Look for a briefer description or break the series of nouns into an explanation of what they mean. For example, you could rewrite the earlier noun cluster as follows: “software that orchestrates security policies.”
6. Trim the excess
Always use as few words as possible to explain an idea. Delete redundant words like the ones found in “actual fact”, “major breakthrough” and “still remains”. If a phrase isn’t necessary to convey the meaning, remove it.
When you have limited time, make the revisions you do count. Focus on your core idea and support it with logic. Then clean up your sentences by following the tips in this blog. Let me know how it goes.
© Debbie Bateman 2019. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.