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Make Your Writing More Readable

Many people recognize that business is fast paced and that if you want to communicate successfully, you've got to make the reader's task as easy as possible. Here are four tips for increasing readability and getting your message read. 

Make Your Writing More Readable 
Use an Effective Subject Line or Title 
When I think of using an effective subject line, I think most often of email, where people are often tempted to write subject lines like "Hi," or their name or the day of the week.

I'm a lot more likely to read your email, however, if it says something like "Financial data for housing report," or "Resolution to seating problem." Then I know why your message is important to me. On a longer document, a title serves much the same purpose.

Break Up the Text
You can also use format to your advantage. It is much easier, for example, to read relatively short paragraphs than it is to read an entire page with no breaks. I recently read a novel that was written as a single paragraph. It was an excellent book, but business, unlike literature, is transactional. The reader needs the information we're sending to solve a business problem now. 

You can further help the reader to understand your message by trying to limit each paragraph to one idea, while remembering to create transitions between paragraphs.

Use Subheads That Are Complete Thoughts
Instead of using subheadings like "Argument" or "Causes," which tell the reader very little, use subheadings that are complete thoughts. This makes the reader's task much easier, and even if the reader reads nothing else, he will still come away with your key points.

Summarizing every three or four paragraphs in a few words, however, is not as easy as it sounds. It takes practice. Here's where clear thinking comes to your rescue. If you understand your purpose and what message you intend to deliver, it becomes easier to identify your key points.

Also a caution. Subheads may not be appropriate in many emails or in other short documents, like a one-page letter. Adding subheads to a short personal communication might imply that you think the reader is too dumb to understand your message unless you spell it out for him.

If you can't use subheads that are complete thoughts, use topic sentences. In other words, in the first sentence of the paragraph, indicate what the key idea of that paragraph is going to be.

Use Diction to Increase Readability
Choosing the right word will make your message clearer, and you can achieve this, in part, by using ordinary language, by omitting needless words, and by using verbs. 

If you use jargon or other words that are unfamiliar to your audience, they will not understand you, so keep in mind their level of expertise in the subject you are writing about. Remember: your goal is to communicate.

You can omit needless words by looking at what you've written and seeing what you could leave out without changing your message. Or see what's irrelevant to your purpose. Do not use expressions like "at this point in time" when you can say "now."

Using verbs will also enliven your style and help you omit needless words. Avoid, for instance, expressions like "she made the decision that..." Say instead, "she decided..." And try not to overuse colorless verbs like is and are or words like make, have and give.

These simple steps can simplify the reader's task and help you get your message across

All the best,
P.S. Remember: a selection of my past newsletters is available online at http://www.holton.cc/archive.html.