Some readers have told me they like writing tips. Here’s the most important: keep it simple.
Too many people try to be writers. They get stuck trying to construct new kinds of sentences, trying to shine or to equal Shakespeare or Fitzgerald. Or worse, they try to write like a business person speaks—or worst of all, like a politician.
Instead, try to tell your story or get your point across.
Some writers and editors recommend writing without any revising. Just get the words down, worry about grammar, spelling, tense, voice or anything but the ideas. That requires knowing clearly what those ideas are. (See my previous series of posts, “Get a GRIP” for more about making sure you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to write before you start writing). Just state as simply and as bluntly as you can what you want to say. Almost always, that’s the most effective—that is, that kind of writing achieves the goal you started with.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; you can always go back and fix them. Writing means re-writing. Once you have a draft, you can move sentences and paragraphs around, change words and clarify your expression. But you can’t do that until you have something written down.
Wherever possible, use verbs instead of strings of nouns and adjectives.
“On issues related to ...”—write “about”
“in the six-month period” of “over the course of”—write “between Date 1 and Date 2”
“expressed discontent with”—write “were dissatisfied”
“taking a leadership role”—write “leading”
“relates to the fact that”—write “because”
“in recent years”—write “recently”
“would expect to”—write “expects”
“these measures enabled management to discern any areas in which improvements can be made by operations”—write ”management could identify improvements operations could make ...”
“the regulated firm is typically given 30 days to respond”—write “the regulated firm usually has 30 days to respond”
“X achieved high rankings for new online presentation of resources and tools”—write “X revised its website, making online tools and resources easier to access.”
I recommend dropping the phrase “achieved high ranking,” because that focuses on the organization’s goals, not the reader’s. Why should they care about the company’s satisfaction rankings? What they care about is what it does for them. Yes, there may be some value perceived in the testimonial aspect of high satisfaction ratings, but still, what is important in that example is the new functionality of the website.
See how much shorter and clearer the revised messages are?
The next post on writing tips will focus on what to watch for when you’re re-writing. In the meantime, tell me about your own pet peeves—what phrases or styles of writing bug you the most?