Readers appreciate documents that are clear and concise. No one ever complains that a document is too easy to read. And it is a proven fact that clarity and impact go hand-in-hand.
If your writing is not clear, its impact will be reduced… it won’t have an impact on your reader’s opinion or it won’t convince him or her to take the action you want them to take.
There are several things you can do to improve the clarity of your writing and ensure that you have an impact on your readers:
- Use a writing structure that fits your topic
- Be consistent in your use of grammar, style and all the other elements of good writing
- Write in a conversational style
- Make your copy easy to read
You need to organise your writing so that your article, essay, paper or whatever is easy to read and easy to understand. To achieve this end, the first thing you must do is choose a structure that fits the topic.
The type of structure you use will vary depending on what kind of writing you are going to do… a brochure, a short story, a manual and so on.
Choosing the correct structure is not very difficult and it becomes easier and almost instinctive with experience.
Here are four common ways you can structure your writing:
- Using a chronological order works in most situations, especially stories.
- But stating a problem and then giving the solution is probably the most sensible way to write a case study.
- Alphabetical order makes sense in booklets about things such as vitamins and directories.
- A sequential order is vital for manuals that describe processes and work instructions where the reader needs to follow particular steps.
There are many ways to structure a piece of writing. Look around at all the things you read every day… brochures, newspapers, magazines, notices and so on… and you will soon notice how their structure is dictated by the subject matter.
Another trick that always seems to work is to organise your writing into short sections and sub-sections… you can make your ideas easier to scan and digest by using headers, subheads, numbered lists and bullet points.
Numbers and bullet points make lists more readable. You can use bullet points if the order is not important. But use numbering when information is sequential.
If you are using a numbered list to structure an article (eg, 5 ways to develop your charm), put the number in the title or deck (first paragraph or summary)… this will pique the interest of readers, grabbing their attention and compelling them to read your document to find out.
But be cautious not to overuse bullet points and numbered lists. Page after page of bullets and numbers become monotonous and many readers will skip them, rather than reading them closely.
Another tip on structure… material that interrupts the flow of your document, such as checklists and long fill-in forms, is best put in an appendix in most cases.
Being consistent means always using correct grammar… and being consistent in how you spell words and in your writing style, as well as the symbols, nomenclature, units of measurement and so on you use.
If your grammar is weak, brush it up. You don’t really have a choice in this matter. Grammatical errors can put readers off and lead them to doubt your knowledge of your subject matter. So have your writing checked by someone you trust and, if necessary, take a revision course on grammar.
After you have finished the first draft of what you are writing, use your spell-checker to search for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Above all, check that all subjects and verbs are in agreement and make sure your use of pronouns is correct. Use your spell-checker to get rid of all typos (typing errors).
Style refers to your use of type font and size, bold, italics, underlining, indenting, and highlighting. You need to make sure that these are all used in the same way throughout a document. For example, if your titles are in 14-point bold flush left and your subheads are in 12-point centred, make sure you use this scheme consistently throughout the document.