When creating written information to be shared with others the best place to start is by considering who your audience will be, what it is you want to tell them, and what the abilities of your audience are. If you are writing for publication or for academic purposes the style in which you write may largely be determined for you. But what if you just want to informally share good practice or provide some written guidance on a certain procedure for example? Clear writing helps considerably in putting information across to an audience but it can be quite intimidating at first. Often people have a natural temptation to write in a very formal, dense style, because they are afraid that their subject won’t be taken seriously or that an audience with a higher reading level will feel patronised if they write in a simpler style. However those with higher reading proficiency usually appreciate being able to access key information quickly without having to search for it and your document will be equally accessible to less confident readers.
Here are some tips to help you get started.
1. Explain technical terms and avoid jargon where possible.
2. Write directly
Example: Have your reports in by the 1st April
All staff must have their reports in by the end of the financial year.
3. Don’t change verbs into nouns.
Example: We will immunise children each January and June
Immunising takes place twice a year.
4. Use the active voice.
Example: You must wash the coffee pot
The coffee pot must be washed.
5. Use a positive not punitive tone
Example: You must wear a bathing cap when using the swimming pool
You are forbidden to use the swimming pool without a bathing cap.
6. Explain difficult words in context
Example: Every season calibrate your sprayer by measuring the output of each nozzle to make sure each one gives out the same amount of spray.
Calibrate your sprayer every season
7. If you use headings make sure that they summarise the text which follows.
Example: Information on New Government Grants.
Avoid long complicated sentences.
Example: A viable agricultural base strengthens the rural community. Agriculture benefits from close ties to the community, business, social, education, and recreation facilities.
A viable agricultural base strengthens the rural community and, likewise, agriculture benefits from close ties to community, business, education, social and recreation facilities.
8. Concrete language is easier to understand and visualise than abstract language.
Example: Ticking tasks off your To-Do List
9. Be specific.
Take a brisk walk for 30 minutes 3 times a week
Rather than the general
Or the abstract
Understand the importance of exercise.
10. Bullet points.
Bullet points help to identify a group of related ideas. They are a good way of breaking up dense sentences into easily digestible chunks and creating visual variety on the page. Always preface bullet points with an introductory sentence to establish context and provide a smooth transition for the reader to the first point you are trying to make in your bullet point format.
11. Uncertainty is the enemy of clarity.
Unless you are specifically writing a personal opinion piece avoid phrases such as:
- In my opinion
- It seems to me
- As I understand it
If there is more than one way term for something then choose your preferred term and use it consistently throughout.
If you are trying to explain a difficult concept think about its main features and then try to find other concepts that share those features.
Example: Why writing a blog is like hosting a great party.