Our Editor-in-Chief Rachael Bull provides a handful of quickfire ways to improve your writing.
I recently talked about why we need to embrace more authentic, ‘human’ communications and ditch business speak. For good.
While it might be tricky for people to figure out what their authentic voice is (we can help you with that, by the way), there are a few techniques you can follow that will improve your writing toot suite.
Because one thing’s for sure. If your readers don’t immediately understand what you’re saying – what you’re asking them to do – you’ve fallen at the first hurdle. No whizzy marketing plan, white paper or sales presentation is going to work if your content isn’t clear. Aside from helping you get the results you’re after, clear writing will save you time and money. In fact, poor writing is costing businesses billions every year, as I’ve talked about before. And it makes you look great, too.
Shall we begin?
1. Keep it clear and concise
Everyone is busy. We’re all fighting for attention. People want information quickly and they want to understand it straight away – not after they’ve read it three times. So don’t use 10 words when five will do. Don’t dance around your ideas. Be ruthless. Cut the crap and get to the point. Instead of ‘in relation to’, why not ‘about’? Or why not swap ‘for the purpose of’ to ‘to’? It’ll save you and your readers a lot of time.
2. Use everyday language
Next up, use everyday language. When you’re writing, ask yourself this – ‘Would I say it like this at home?’ A useful tip is to write it as you’d say it. And let’s all stop throwing in ‘business speak’ words because we think they make us look good. They don’t.
Don’t use jargon. Don’t overload your content with industry-specific words, assuming that people will understand them. Instead of ‘expedite’, just say ‘hurry’. Instead of ‘termination’, just say ‘end’.
3. Avoid lengthy sentences
Most, not all, sentences should sit under 20-25 words. A good rule of thumb is to try and stick to one idea per sentence. If you find yourself chucking in semi-colons to break up your sentences (*shudders*), the humble bullet list is your best friend.
But it’s an art, not a science. Sometimes long sentences work incredibly well, whereas other sentences are far better when they’re short. Like this one. So, mix it up. Vary your sentence length. When you read it, you’ll know if it flows nicely. Read it out loud and, if you have to take a breath mid-sentence, you’ve gone too far…
4. Use the active voice, not the passive
‘A decision was made.’ is a classic example of the passive voice. It’s vague, direct and no one has a clue who’s doing the deciding. It’s a classic politician’s tactic. Anyone remember ‘Mistakes were made’? People often use it as they think it sounds authoritative and official, but it just makes text longer, more laborious and impersonal. To me, it just feels like a way to hide from what actually happened.
The active voice, on the other hand, gives your writing direction. It helps you focus on the doer, rather than what was done. When you write in the active voice, it’ll be shorter, easier and more engaging to read and there’ll be a more personal feel to it. That’s a good thing.
5. Choose verbs over nouns
Last but not least, the verb/noun debate. A quick English lesson: verbs are doing words, nouns are things. So ‘solution’ is the noun to the verb ‘solve’. The nouns – aka nominalisations – make it sound like nothing is actually happening. They hide any action. And, to make it worse, people often put the passive voice and nouns together. They’re a heinous combination, making your writing dull, heavy going and burdensome.
Instead, opt for the verb form of the word. ‘Use’ instead of ‘utilisation’, ‘grow’, not ‘growth’, ‘consider’ rather than ‘consideration’. It’ll make the world of difference to your writing.
So there you have it – a handful of my quickfire ways to improve your writing so that your audience do what you want them to do. It’s useful to spot the unclear writing habits you’ve picked up over the years so you can keep your eyes peeled and nip them in the bud.
And if you want some help with your company’s content or improving your team’s writing skills, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy to help.