Making Your Writing More Readable for Online and Business Audiences
Today’s audiences want their information to be quick, simple and easy to find. While writing for today’s fast paced world may seem daunting, most writers can easily adapt their personal writing styles for a web-based audience.
For much of your K-12 school days through your college career, you most likely struggled to come up with numerous reports and papers. When you were trying to stretch to reach the correct word count, you added extra adjectives and sentences and used the thesaurus liberally.
But once you are out of school, the occasions that you have to write probably fall into one of two categories: personal writing and business writing.
In each of these writing instances, you are often trying to communicate information quickly and clearly. While your audience may differ, both business and personal writing can benefit from these simple tips.
Fix Your Grammar
The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill notes that writing concisely can help you to communicate “quickly and easily.” The Writing Center offers some great tips for editing your writing at the sentence level. But once you have done that, how can you make sure that your message is clear and easy to read?
State Your Main Idea First
Whether it is a personal email or a business proposal, stating your main idea first will help your reader to understand the point of the message.
Let’s face it. Many times you are dealing with a distracted reader. They are answering the phone, typing, and talking. They may be reading your message on their lunch break or at the end of the day. Ask yourself these questions:
What do you want them to know?
What is the most important piece of information?
Can I put this into one or two sentences?
If your reader can receive the most important information first, he or she will be more likely to respond to the message the way that you want them to respond. You can and should include more details and information later in the document. Assume that they will read the whole message at some point.
Avoid Uncommon Language
Remember how you used to love to use the thesaurus to look up those synonyms for words? While expanding your vocabulary is a great way to enhance your personal growth, it is not necessarily a good idea to test out the vocabulary on your co-workers or friends.
Shall we acquiesce to convene at the symposium? Do you fancy a mid-day meal first?
While this may sound perfectly lovely in a Jane Austen style novel, a simpler way to say this would be:
Do you want to meet at the conference? Should we have lunch first?
If your reader needs to find the dictionary to understand your message, he may put it aside and not read it at all.
Use Active Voice
Active voice makes your writing clear. Passive voice tends to subvert the meaning by hiding the subject somewhere other than the beginning of the sentence. If you are unsure about how to find your subject and verb or the exact definition of passive voice, you may want to review it.
(Passive) The report was written by Dorrie from Human Resources.
(Active) Dorrie from Human Resources wrote the report.
The most important piece of information in this sentence is not likely that the report exists. It is probably more important to know who wrote it.
Active voice also shortens the length of most of your sentences. When time is of the essence or when your reader is skimming the material, using active voice will get your point across quickly.
Remember the Five W's
Somewhere back in grade school, you may remember learning the Five W’s:
When you are writing your message, consider these and make sure you cover them as concisely as possible. Often you can get all the relevant information into one or two sentences that you can include at the beginning of your message.
Joe Smith plans to meet Randy and Beth about the corporate proposal budget on Friday at 2:00 P.M. We will meet in Board Room Three. During the meeting we will……..
In this message, the five w’s were easily covered in two, active voice sentences. Everything the reader needs to know is contained in the first line and a half.
After the most important and relevant information is presented, the rest of the message can contain supporting details.
Break It Up
If you are considering your audience and their needs, you must think about how to make your message easy to read. Big blocks of text tend to make a reader slow down in order to absorb the information. But in a world that is moving quickly, this may not be your best move.
Instead, consider breaking up your text with subheaders, bullets and numbers.
Keep paragraphs short and journalistic.
Make sentences short and easy to read.
Use bold, italics, or underlining.
Written communication is still an important part of most people’s lives. Many do not have time to read lengthy messages with hidden information and details. Following these simple steps will insure that your business documents and personal messages receive readership and response.