A colleague asked me for some writing tips recently. He doesn’t think of himself as much of a writer but wants to work on it. Standing in his cubicle and thinking off the top of my head, this is what I told him.
Write fewer words
It’s harder to write short than it is to write long, but it’s worth the effort. When you say what you want with fewer words, people are more likely to read it. More words don’t equal better communication.
Frankly, most of us are so inundated with things to read–e-mail, blog posts (like this one), news, etc–that we skim. Shorter sentences are just plain easier to read and absorb information from.
Be confident in your writing
When we worry that we can’t write well, we tend to use more formal language. There’s no need for that. People get all formal and stuffy and long-winded when they don’t believe in their own ability to communicate what they need to say in simple language.
I advised him to “write like you talk.” I don’t mean that he should start writing, “So, I told him that we needed to do xyz and he was like, we should go in a different direction and do abc. And I was like, no, dude, that’s not the way to go.” But the more we simplify language, the easier it is for the reader to understand it. And that’s the point of communicating to begin with.
Let people know what you want them to do
When you tell people what action you want them to take next, they’re a lot more likely to do it than if you leave them hanging, trying to figure out your point and purpose.
If you’re writing an e-mail where you want people to get back to you, tell them that. If you want them to review the article you wrote and send their feedback and/or approval, make that the last line of your e-mail.
If you’re writing an article for a donor newsletter, let people know what action you want them to take after reading the article. Should they call you, go online for more information, send a donation in the enclosed envelope? Tell them what to do next.
As writers, it’s our job to do the work for our readers–whether that’s using fewer words to make it easier to understand, writing more conversationally or including a call to action.
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