Almost all books on writing preach the same principles: write simply, concisely, clearly, and coherently. All writings should be easily understood. Let’s see why and how one can advance toward that goal.
Why should you write simply and clearly?
- Simplicity and clarity are not synonyms albeit closely related. You can have a clear message without it being written with simplicity, and something can be simply written yet ambiguous. Aim for clarity and do it with as much simplicity as you can.
- The simpler the writing is, the easier it is to understand. If you want to read prose, get a novel where figures of speech, colourful expressions or a two-paragraph-long transition between sections belong. Expect to find efficient information, facts, and to-the-point questions or recommendations in a business writing.
- You minimize your odds of making mistakes. You want your readers to understand in one reading, not three. Your message is for them, not for you. There is no room for pedantic displays in business communication.
- Use more independent clauses. Complex sentences are often necessary, but they are not mandatory. Less is more and, if not, a good balance is what you should aim for. It speeds up the reading process.
- Provide a lexicon if you use many uncommon terms (see Words, Terminology and Translation to know what a term is) or add definitions in footnotes for the occasional and rare terms. You can use this tip for reports and other lengthy documents (more than four pages); it is not acceptable for short pieces of writing.
- Remain within the standard and formal levels of speech. Colloquial speech is not simple, it denotes a low level of education. You can use the formal level of speech without using a “pompous” vocabulary.
- Consider your readers when you write. Too often, texts are written by writers who write with themselves in mind. As a result, they leave key information out of their writing – because it is in their heads – and leave the readers confused. It is best to give a little more information than leave out critical details.
Why should you write concisely?
- Concision is “concise
- Concision is a relative trait. Know the difference between wordiness and length. Sometimes, long sentences are necessary. Wordiness occurs when there are so many unnecessary words that you feel the writer is simply filling up space. If the text is long but each word is necessary, you have a concise piece of writing even though it might be 10-page long.
- Save a tree or two. Your environmental footprint matters.
- Save your readers time, they will appreciate your thoughtfulness since time is money.
- Increase your productivity; your text is easier to revise and to proof; incoherence will be easier to spot and correct.
- Purge unnecessary words. Make sure your text remains coherent. Do not sacrifice one in the name of the other. You write so your readers understand your message.
- Use listings when you can. Presenting enumerations as lists will shorten your text.
- Summarize where you can. If details are crucial, leave them. Otherwise go the shorter route.
Why should you write coherently?
Nothing disengages a reader as reading an incoherent text. Personally, when I read a nonsensical sentence, I pause and read it again, slowly. If it still does not make sense, I read it aloud. If after reading it three times and using two different techniques the sentence still does not make sense, I dismiss the whole text.
- Start with a sound reasoning. Think things through before you start writing.
- Avoid contradictory statements. Contradicting yourself makes you lose your credibility. Your reader will not read the whole text.
- Use good syntax. Business writing should be used a creative writing laboratory. Fancy syntactical structures are better left alone.
- Know your readers before you sit down to write. You neither want to offend the knowledgeable reader nor confuse the novice. Adjust accordingly.
- Ask a competent individual who has both knowledge and very strong writing skills to read your works. Fresh eyes are often necessary as the author’s brain is often not fully reliable. If the writing is fresh to the mind, the brain reads what it thinks is written instead of reading what is written.
A well-written text fosters effectiveness.