by Barbara McNichol
Whether you’re writing an email, an article, a report, or a proposal, never leave your readers guessing what you really want.
Specifically, they shouldn’t have to wonder about these two critical components of communicating:
- Why have you told them this information?
- What are they are supposed to do with it?
It’s easy (and lazy) to say, “Give clear instructions and point readers to their next action.” But here’s a more concrete method.
Use a planning tool called Setting Your Objectives that echoes the traditional journalism basics: Who, What, Why, Where, When, and How.
Before you write the first sentence, answer each of these questions on paper as they apply to the written piece you’re crafting. The more detail the better . . .
WHO: Target Audience—Who will read this? What do you know about them already? Who will be affected by what your message says?
WHAT: Message or takeaway, including call to action—What do you want the reader to do, think, believe, or remember as a result of reading your piece? E.g., Attend this important meeting. Consider this point of view. Review this proposal. Refund my money.
WHY: Purpose and benefits—Why do the readers need this information? What’s in it for them? Why should they care?
WHEN & WHERE: Logistics—What details need to be spelled out? If it’s an event or meeting, specify the time, location and other essential facts.
HOW: Style and tone—How do you want your reader to “hear” you? E.g., polite, apologetic, excited, firm, demanding, laid back, urgent, or something else?
Once you’ve thought through all of these, it’s smooth sailing. Why? Because your brain has already included the critical points and especially the two we started with:
- WHY you have told them the information
- WHAT they’re supposed to do with it.
By consistently using the planning tool Setting Your Objectives, you’ll find you can craft your pieces more quickly and more completely every time.
How do you ensure your writing is communicating with your readers? Learn more at www.WordTrippers.com
By Howard Robson, Guest Blogger
Great bloggers neither leave their content unpolished nor do they publish before their work is wholly refined. To bring traffic to your website and enlarge your targeted audience, it is essential to respect the proofreading process.
Whether you’re working on a paper, blog, article, e-mail, or other essential document, always be sure to proofread it and make sure it delivers the proper message. Here are seven ideas you can apply.
- Change Your Mindset
If you are always grumpy about revising your work and find no fun in it, your results will show it. You might lose readers, which won’t help in the long run. Here’s how to adopt a growth mindset:
- After you’ve created your piece, take time to reflect on your work. Is there anything you don’t feel unsatisfied about? Are you content with delivering this message to your niche? Is your grammar correct?
- If you have unanswered questions, write down ideas to address them. What would you like to improve, how, and in what time frame? Set goals and deadlines, then start working on them.
- Treat yourself kindly and take regular breaks. Nobody can work non-stop! Work 50 minutes, then take a 10-minute break. During your free time, meditate, dance, read, listen to classical music, or do something that loosens you up. Avoid getting sidetracked into social media.
- Practice Makes Perfect
Become a better proofreader through practice. When you don’t have any assigned tasks, write! Yes, simply write down your thoughts using the best language you can.
Dan Creed, content writer at AustralianEssays, shares this opinion: “You could write about your day, your plans, your goals, or anything else that goes through your mind. Search for synonyms for words you are displeased with. Rock that learning curve!”
- Reading Is Essential
To improve your writing skills, allocate at least 15 minutes a day or more to reading a well-written article. Sign up for The Economist, HuffPost, The New York Times, or any magazine that’s attractive to you. Pay attention to the writer’s approach and style. That will inspire you to progress—in both your proofreading and your writing.
- Find a Proofreading Buddy
Identify a colleague you can reach out to. Work with a person who’s specialized in your area of interest. You can trade tips, exchange ideas, and do each other’s proofreading projects. Help that person help you.
- Write Down Your Common Errors
Design a “mistake list” and go through it every time you’ve finished writing an article. For instance, I know that “affective” and “effective” are two words I always mix up, so I include them in my list. Every time I use these words in my articles, I check twice to see if I got them right. Use your mistakes as learning tools. (Excellent resource: Word Trippers Tips)
- Be Patient
Take things step by step, and don’t rush when you write, polish, or proofread your piece. Remember, you are not done until you’ve revised your content to your satisfaction. Be patient with your learning process. Read and write daily, and you’ll make fewer mistakes, write better (and faster!), and have more free time.
- Ask for Help
Don’t hesitate to get help if you need it. Ask your colleague or even a professional editor to re-read your piece after you’ve polished it and proofread it yourself. Take the feedback you receive into consideration and learn from your errors.
To become a great proofreader, I suggest you set a positive mindset, practice reading and writing daily, find a proofreading buddy, ask for help when needed, and be patient and kind with yourself.
What additional ideas do you have that would improve the proofreading process? Share them here.
by Lynne Franklin (used with permission)
Here’s the truth. No one wants to read what you write. Everyone is time-starved. For many, the best moments in the day are when we see an email we don’t have to read and can hit “delete.”
Because we’re overwhelmed, we write something, give it a quick look, and then hit “send.” We forget that we’re writing to persuade people to do something – not noticing that what we’ve created just made it harder for them to agree with us. One of our chief sins is …
Kill the Clichés. When you use these, you scream, “I have no original thoughts! I’m doing this on autopilot.” Why would anyone want to read further – let alone care what you think?
Make a better choice. Switch “at this time” to “now.” Change “attached please find” to “here is.” Drop “it has come to our attention” for “we understand.” You’ll notice this already makes your writing more succinct, which you’ll need to …
Stop Droning On. It’s neuroscience. Once a sentence passes the 25-word mark, you can’t remember the subject. (Or maybe you just no longer want to.) Aim for an average of 10- to 12-word sentences in reports and speeches, and eight-to-10 words in emails.
Don’t think that commas, dashes and semicolons can save you. It’s true: the first two give your readers a place to take a breath in their minds. But don’t abuse this tactic. Cut that longer sentence into two. And generally avoid using semicolons. They mostly confuse people – and could lead to arguments with English majors (who will be happy to tell you when you’ve used them incorrectly).
Watch the length of your paragraphs. Few things are as discouraging as seeing one that goes on for 20 lines. I once reviewed a document with a 265-word sentence, in a paragraph that lasted a page (single-spaced). I was the only person who read it. While I forgot the subject 10 times, I remembered the ire it engendered.
Get to the Good Stuff Fast. Before you begin, consider what your readers know. If you must, reference important shared knowledge quickly. But spend most of your time on new ideas. Telling people what they already know – at length – bores them or makes them think you’re talking down to them. They’ll either stop reading (because they’re not learning anything) or get angry with you.
A colleague once explained it this way: “Reading his writing was like taking the local versus the express bus.” Most non-engineers don’t need to get into the weeds on the hows or whys of something. Focus on what’s in it for your reader, then decide what to keep or junk.
It’s a Conversation
Read Your Writing Out Loud. Watch for the words that stumble off your lips – or when this is language you’d never ordinarily use. (“Pursuant” anyone?) Change those kinds of words.
Often your writing is the conversation you have with someone on screen or paper before you have the conversation on the phone or in person. Don’t bore them. You’ll miss the chance at that second conversation – and getting what you want.
What ways do you avoid boring your readers?
Do you want to be More Valuable to your company or your clients? Your writing qualifies you for hiring, for retaining, and for getting promoted. But writing is the gateway to rejection, too.
People judge your abilities by the quality of your writing.
It’s a harsh fact. In business, people who don’t write well to communicate—who don’t select the right words to express complex ideas—are perceived as lacking credibility … professionalism … accuracy in their work.
On the flip side, those who master the written word are remembered as influential … reputable … successful.
My name is Barbara McNichol, chief architect of Word Trippers Tips. After years of editing nonfiction manuscripts and proofreading hundreds of thousands of lines of copy, I realized that everyone makes mistakes … everyone mixes up similar words … and everyone loses credibility the moment readers recognize the errors.
I have turned those common errors into a program professionals use to improve their writing instantly: Word Trippers Tips. It includes a 38-minute WEBINAR on its own and/or 12 MONTHS Word Tripper of the Week plus bonuses.
How can you learn to be a better writer and make your career soar?
Go to www.WordTrippers.com and/or listen to this teleclass 5 Nuggets Successful People Know and Use on better writing.
Please share you comments and questions here.
Set aside 18 days and study one of these easy, effective tips to be a better writer each day for 18 days, continuous or not.
Your goal: Make a point of integrating a new one into your writing every day . . . and see the difference you make perfecting the communication loop to benefit you, your clients, and your career.
This e-guide can be purchased for only $14.95. Click here to order. Use code 18DAYS to receive a $4.95 discount!
By Barbara McNichol
Suppose your supervisor emails you a message that says, “Fix the attached” or “Polish this piece.” But exactly what does it mean to fix and polish? In addition to correcting punctuation, typos, misspellings, and grammar glitches, what’s required beyond that?
First, find out what your supervisor thinks it needs. Where does it fall short? What’s missing? Whether or not you receive an answer, go through the following key questions yourself:
- Why is this piece needed? What’s its intended purpose? Because readers are busy, you must immediately make clear what this message is about. A specific title or subject line goes a long way. For example, instead of writing “For New Customers” you might write, “5 Ways to Communicate with New Customers.”
- What should the reader do, think, believe, or remember as a result of this piece? Does the communication specify what you want readers to do and by when? How easy is it for them to first understand the instruction and then take action? For example, if it’s a letter to a credit card company about a dispute, make it clear what you want, e.g., future credit or a refund. Then state when you want a resolution, e.g., “before the next payment cycle on June 23rd.” Put this call to action near the top!
- How long should your sentences and paragraphs be? Ensure your message comes across in short, easy-to-read sentences. My rule of thumb is not more than 21 words in one sentence or 3-4 sentences in one paragraph. Why? It’s hard for anyone to track your meaning when sentences ramble, especially when they’re part of long paragraphs. People scan more than they read; they can take in short sentences and paragraphs more quickly than long-winded ones. Don’t make it seem like hard work!
- How can you use polite, positive language to persuade others?Remember, a positive outcome should be the goal of every communication. Your objective may be to retain a customer, win a contract, build a relationship, gain approval, or advance a project. Always spell out benefits: e.g., resolution, improvements, increased profit, etc. And be polite by using words such as welcome, thank you, please, appreciate, happy to, and value your input. If your piece doesn’t include positive language, then why send it at all?
When it’s up to you to fix and polish that important message, use these questions as your checklist every time.
- Why is this piece needed? What’s its intended purpose?
- What should the reader do, think, believe, or remember as a result of this piece?
- How long should your sentences and paragraphs be?
- How can you use polite, positive language to persuade others?
What essential fix and polish elements would you add to these?
by Barbara McNichol
In my recent post on the blog of Nonfiction Authors Association (NFAA), an author asked about confusing words this way:
Barbara, I’d love to see you do an article on the difference between “as” and “since” and “because.”
Here’s a summary of what my research told me.
Both “because” and “since” imply cause. They can be interchangeable when “since” means “for the reason that.” e.g., “Since my dog needs exercise, I take him for a walk.” e.g., “I walk every day because my dog needs exercise.”
One source suggests using “because” when the reason is the most important part of the sentence and “since” or “as” when the reason is already well known and is less important. e.g., “The match was cancelled because it was raining.”
I endorse this as an important distinction and use it myself.
Note that “since” also refers to a time frame. But look at this example. “Since we ate lunch, we had lots of energy.” Do you see how this statement is ambiguous? Does it mean “from the time we had lunch” or “for the reason that we had lunch”?
To avoid confusion, I recommend using “because” when your meaning relates to “cause” and “since” when it’s a factor of time. Keep the meanings distinct; it’s a good way to add clarity to your writing and power to your pen.
For clarification of commonly confused words, request a free reference guide at Word Trippers.com
What word pairings trip you up? Share them here.
By Barbara McNichol
Do you experience email overwhelm?
Your emails can present problems to your recipients when stale subject lines, too many topics, and lack of clarity get in the mix.
But this single time-wasting practice can be big: not making the most of your email message. It causes people to walk back and forth a dozen times on the communication path.
Build in Extra Thoughtfulness to Prevent Email Overwhelm
Well, a dozen times might be exaggerating but no matter what, you can streamline the process by building in extra thoughtfulness. Take the example of setting up something as simple as a meeting. Messages could go back and forth annoyingly before you nail an agreed-upon day/time/place.
Try crafting your initial email with an “if then” option. You’d simply write, “I’m available Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday in the afternoon after 3 p.m. If any of these don’t work for you, then give me three times when you’re available.”
Use the “If Then” Technique
The “if then” technique has just narrowed down the possibilities to three afternoons. Recipients know those times are off the table and will suggest a different three options. You’re likely to come up with a workable time/place in fewer than two emails.
Compose your emails to serve you as efficiently as possible. This “if then” approach is an easy path to follow.
Barbara McNichol is passionate about helping authors add power to their pen. An expert editor of nonfiction books, she has created a Word Trippers Tips resource so you can quickly find the right word when it matters most. It allows you to improve your writing through excellent resources, including a Word Tripper of the Week for 52 weeks. Details at www.WordTrippers.com
What paths do you follow to deal with email overwhelm? Share you ideas here.
by Barbara McNichol
Whether it’s an email, a report, or a chapter in a book, are you sometimes challenged to make your writing easier to follow? What are ways to create a smooth flow that guides your readers?
Give these writing tips a try:
1. Use subheads: When you use subheads throughout your piece, readers can skim your content and quickly discern what’s to follow. Even more, subheads indicate a change of subject and allow readers to find it quickly. Your guide: new subject, new subhead.
2. Convey one idea per paragraph: If you pack a paragraph with more than one idea, it creates difficulty following the meaning. In an email about a talk, for example, you’d use three separate paragraphs: one explaining the subject of the talk, one explaining who the presenter is, and the third showing the date, time, and place of the event. You can also add subheads to distinguish each paragraph.
3. Use bullets points and numbered lists: When you list similar things (such as names, steps, benefits, requirements), you help readers recognize similar content quickly. With lists, you can leave out transitional words that paragraphs command. It helps the understanding when you use the same part of speech (e.g., a verb or a noun) at the beginning of each point. Note: In a list, when the order of the points matters, use numbers; otherwise, use bullets.
4. Vary sentence length: Although short, concise sentences are easy to read, a string short sentences can feel disjointed. Add interest by varying the length of your sentences. My rule of thumb is keeping sentences shorter than 21 words so readers can follow the meaning more easily.
5. Vary sentence structure: Building your sentences in the order of subject-verb-object is simple and clear. But if all your sentences are constructed that way, it might come across as monotonous. Along with varying sentence length, break out of the mold of standard sentence structure.
Practice these simple ways to make your writing easy to follow and enjoy better responses from your readers. Note YOUR favorite writing tips below or email me.