Whatever you write at work says a lot about you and your business.
The National Literacy Trust estimates that 5.1 million adults in England are functionally illiterate, meaning that they have a reading age of 11 or below. Quite often even well-educated people do not have a grasp of basic grammar and can’t tell the difference between a full stop and a comma (they are NOT interchangeable incidentally). In addition, people are very busy. They don’t have time to pick their way through dense, dull verbiage.
Make your business writing easy to understand and engaging to read. Here’s how to do it.
Make content easy to scan
Most of your writing will be read on a screen through email and social media. Research suggests that only 16% of your readers will devour every word. Most will just scan quickly.
Formatting helps skim-readers understand your content. Use descriptive subheadings, bullet points, diagrams and tables to steer readers towards your important messages.
Short sentences and short paragraphs are not just more dynamic, they’re easier to understand. A good guide is: “one thought per sentence.” More than that and readers get lost.
Write as you speak
in the first person. It feels personal and inviting compared to third person, which sounds clinical. Here’s a typical example of corporate third person: “Rainer & Bloggs is a residential estate agent offering customers clear, friendly and straightforward advice.”
In the first person, it’s warmer: “We’ll give you the clear, friendly home-buying advice you need.”
Test your work by reading it aloud. If it sounds natural (or clumsy) to you, it’ll probably sound the same to your readers.
Keep it simple
We often make things more complicated than we need to. For example, “issues potentially impacting the successful completion of the merger” instead of “things that could affect the merger.”
Use shorter, more familiar words rather than longer, more complicated ones. Explain things in a way that everyone will understand.
What’s the main thing your reader needs to know? Say that first. Then build from there.
Benefits, not features
Spelling out the benefits (instead of just listing features) does the leg work for your reader:
When Apple launched its original iPod, the advert could have referred to its 5GB memory, Firewire connectivity, and 1.8-inch drive. But the advert went: “1,000 songs in your pocket.” In five words it painted a word picture that achieved over 400 million iPod sales.
Write for your reader
Before you start writing, think about your reader. Even if it’s an email to 300 people, imagine you’re writing to just one person. Who are they, and what do they want from this email?
Clear, relevant writing keeps people coming back for more. Complicated, dull writing does the opposite: People tune out, switch off, and stay away.
If you’re an employer with HR queries and problems, get in touch!
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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.
Copyright © 2020 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.
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