You are constantly judged by how effectively you express your ideas in both verbal and written communication.
Golden Rule: Make your written messages as long as necessary and as short as possible. Make every word count. Only provide what’s relevant. Thinking and writing are interrelated. Writing helps you clarify your thoughts and clear thinking helps you improve your writing.
The following actions will help you organize and focus your writing.
1. Know your objective
You can’t write clearly until you determine what you want the reader to do and why they should do it. Think before you write.
2. Organize your message so it’s easy to follow
There are two basic approaches.
- Start with the conclusion or action requested. You need to do XYZ by June 8th. Then make your case to justify your request.
- Start with the issue or problem. Make the case for what needs to be done. End with your request.
3. Explain and support your ideas
Decide which examples, stories, facts, statistics, testimonials and quotes will be most helpful in explaining and supporting your message.
4. Use bullets or numbers
This makes your message easy to read and digest.
5. Use short sentences
According to the American Press Institute, sentences with eight or fewer words are understood 100% of the time. Advertising executive David Ogilvy once gave the following advice: “Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.”
6. Use precise words and phrases
Words like these — as soon as possible, they and teamwork are vague and imprecise. Ambiguous words often lead to communication breakdowns. Be specific when it comes to naming people, describing action items and due dates.
7. Use an active voice
Active voice lets the reader know immediately who’s doing the action.
- The meeting was conducted by Pat. (Passive voice)
- Pat conducted the meeting. (Active voice)
8. Edit your writing
Good writing requires significant editing. Read what you have written several times. Each time focus on a different aspect of your message such as organization, grammar, word choice and eliminating anything that doesn’t add value. Use apps and online tools to make sure your spelling, grammar and punctuation are all correct.
Ask a trusted friend to read it and provide suggestions for improvement.
(My first draft of this article had 780 words. I edited it down to 410 words)
Paul B. Thornton is an author and speaker. His books are available at Amazon and include:
- “Is Your Organization Aligned?”
- “Leadership-Perfecting Your Approach and Style”
- “Leadership Case Studies”
He frequently posts his views and opinions about leadership on LinkedIn.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.