by Barbara McNichol
Translation: avoid the needless use of complicated words in your writing.
It can be easy to lose sight of your intent as a writer.
Lots of common mistakes are made when you’re writing everything from daily emails and memos to persuasive articles or nonfiction books. As a result, your readers can lose the message in the tall weeds.
There’s little point in spending energy putting your thoughts in writing if nobody reads them and gets inspired to think, feel, or do something—right?
I was reminded of this after working through the first few chapters of a new book I was editing. I’d made so many changes, the draft was littered with markings.
Discouraged when he saw so many edits, my client asked, “But what did you think of the message?”
In truth, I did connect with the writer’s content. But I got mired knee-deep in the swampy weeds of his writing style, and I knew his audience would, too.
Have you experienced that, too? If so, how can you increase readability in your writing? How do you chop down those weeds to create a clear line of sight for your readers?
Here are my 5 writing tips to keep you (and your audience) out of the tall weeds:
1. Think Twitter.
Write short words and limit the number of words—preferably fewer than 21 in a sentence. Your audience is used to consuming content on social media feeds. They’re paying attention, but you have to share your message in a way that matches their reading expectations.
Keep your writing to one major point per paragraph and one major concept per chapter if you’re writing a book. Don’t try to get your entire message across in one paragraph. Give the reader a chance to digest an idea, concept, or a call to action. And remember, no more than 21 words in a sentence!
3. Spare the sauce.
Don’t be heavy-handed with adjectives and adverbs—the descriptive words. Use them sparingly so the strongest, most salient ones will stand out in the crowd. Your reader’s time is valuable, especially in an email or memo. Don’t waste it; chisel the point clearly!
4. Don’t be afraid of a breakup.
It’s a good idea to break up large blocks of text. It gives your readers “mental white space” to process what they’ve just read. Use sub-headings that indicate what’s coming next. This helps them scroll down quickly until they find the topic area that interests them most.
5. Mind the view.
Don’t change the point of view within a paragraph. Jumping from “we” to “you” is confusing. If you have to shift the pronoun reference, simply start a new paragraph. This gives your readers a chance to adjust their point of view and keep them on track.
Bonus writing tip: Read your writing aloud and be prepared to edit as you go. The ear is an excellent self-editor. When you hear what you wrote, you’ll trip on sentences that “looked” fine but ended up sounding stilted and too wordy. Listen to yourself.
You don’t need to “flower” your language to make your point. If you’re writing poetry, well, get as creative as you like.
Brevity is bliss.
Do you have questions for me about how you and your team can learn to be better communicators? Contact me.
I have a question for you, because I’m always curious to learn new writing tips: How do you like to boost the readability of your writing? Let me know!
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