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The Importance of Writing Clearly

If people in business don't understand your message, they will either ignore it or interpret it how they want. Hence, it is important to write clearly, so no one can fail to understand you.

Clear writing comes from clear thinking. If you don't know what message you're trying to communicate or don't know how your audience will react to your message, you will not succeed.

Here are six tips on writing clearly that people in your organization may find helpful. 

The Importance of Writing Clearly
Be Direct 
Tell the reader up front why you're writing and why your message is important to them. Being direct includes organizing your material logically. Start with your most important point and work down, and remember that you are building an argument, not just piling up random ideas. Draw a connection between your ideas by using transitions. 

Make Sentences Brief and Simple
Don't lose your reader in long, complicated sentences. You should not, however, make all your sentences the same length or identical in structure. In that case, your reader will have a harder time figuring out the relative importance of your ideas. 

Use Ordinary Language
If you use jargon or other words that are unfamiliar to your audience, your audience will not understand you, so keep in mind their level of expertise in the subject you are writing about. 

If, for instance, you are writing to someone in finance or HR about an issue in engineering, you should recognize that they may not be familiar with engineering jargon. Remember: you're not writing to show off; you're writing to communicate.

Omit Needless Words
Perhaps the single most important idea in Strunk and White's Elements of Style, is to omit needless words. Look at what you've written and see what you could leave out without changing your meaning. Or see what's irrelevant to your purpose. Do not use expressions like "at this point in time," when you can say "now." 

Put Key Ideas in Key Positions
Don't start sentences with "it is" or "there is." Instead of saying, for example, "There are five reasons why the project succeeded," say, "The project succeeded for five reasons." In the second version, the key idea is in the important subject position, and the second version uses fewer words. 

Also put important ideas in independent clauses and secondary ideas in dependent clauses. If you wish, for example, to make a point while acknowledging other factors, you might write a sentence like: "Although I hate the hours, I find the work fascinating." You are saying your work is the most important thing; therefore, you'll be staying at your job. Note that you could express the opposite idea by saying: "Although I find the work fascinating, I hate the hours."

Use Verbs
Another way to enliven your writing and omit needless words is to use verbs. Avoid, for instance, expressions like "we made the decision that..." This is only a clumsy way of saying, "we decided." When I run into former business writing students, using verbs is one of the principles they always seem to remember.

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