by Barbara McNichol
No matter what your written message—a sensitive email, a report, a proposal, even chapters in a book—you aim to make it easy for readers to understand. But how can you ensure what you actually write is what you intended?
Ignore this question at your peril. No matter how busy you are or how quickly you want to advance your projects, slow down. When you rush to action, you risk having to redo, revise, and explain. That doesn’t save you time!
Turn These Writing Tips into Habits
What can you do improve the readability of your message as you write it? Turn the following five tips into strong habits:
- Write short words and limit the total number in a sentence. No more than 21 words per sentence is a good rule of thumb.
- Include one major point per paragraph and one major concept per chapter. Don’t try to do too much in either one.
- Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly so the strongest, most salient ones can stand out in a crowd.
- Break up large blocks of type with subheads—enough that readers can skim the subheads to quickly find what they’re looking for.
- Don’t change the point of view within a paragraph (e.g., switching from a “we” to “you” orientation). When you have to shift the viewpoint, start a new paragraph.
Always Proofread Your Written Message
Most important, always proofread your own message and, if possible, have a colleague check it, too. As you reread it, ask: “Is this exactly what I intended?” If not, rework it until you’re satisfied your message can be easily understood by others.
The benefit to you? You will save time in the long run.
What proofreading habits are most effective for you? Share them here.