Thursday, 5 December 2013

Ten golden rules for brilliant writing

Great communicators need to be great writers; you can't be one without being the other. To make an impact and ensure your key messages are read and understood, here are my ten golden rules for brilliant writing:

  1. Write fewer words. Short sentences and paragraphs keep the reader's attention. Sentences of more than 40 words exhaust the reader and make it harder to understand what's being communicated. Fewer than 25 words a sentence is a good target to aim for. 
  2. Avoid using flowery language or words that sound old-fashioned, unless it’s an intentional device of your writing. Keep it simple and modern to give your communications more impact. Use started instead of commenced; while instead of whilst; and among instead of amongst. Avoid herebys and thereins, or what I call Council-speak, like the plague. 
  3. Get your singular and plural use sorted. There are some words which it's easy to get in a muddle about. For example, the word 'data' is plural, so you'd write: 'the data are robustly verified'. 
  4. Fire up your jargon antennae. Whenever you write jargon, your antennae should tingle and tell you there's a better word that could be used. Housing organisations can slip into using the word 'voids' in tenants' publications; the term 'empty homes' is better. 
  5. Strive for consistency in all you write. Mixing styles is confusing and distracting for the reader. Some words need a judgement call to decide how to spell them; your decision might be influenced by what's important to your organisation or a particular style you've adopted. The important thing is to make a conscious choice and then stick to it. For example, a tech company might use 'login' but a more traditional company might prefer 'log in'. 
  6. Learn how to use punctuation, especially apostrophes. There's nothing like a grocer's apostrophe to clang in your reader's mind and what you're trying to communicate is ignored. The BBC has some good punctuation guidance if you want to brush up your knowledge.
  7. Pay attention to rhythm. Punctuation, alliteration, varying the length of words and paragraph breaks can all add rhythm and bring your words to life. Want to learn how? Listen to WH Auden's This is the Night Mail - a masterclass in rhythmic writing. 
  8. Avoid over capitalising. Just like long sentences, over capitalisation is tiring for the reader. Proper nouns, like brand names, need capital letters But There's No Need To Overuse Them. 
  9. Spell out numbers one to ten. Over ten, you'd write as 11,12, 13 etc unless you're starting a sentence.
  10. Avoid repetition; unless it's a conscious device of your writing. Repetition can be powerful tool when used intentionally and can help give rhythm to your words. But saying the say term over and over again, generally just sounds like you can't think of another way to say it. It's boring for you to write and it's boring for your readers to read. (See what I did there? ;))

1 comment:

  1. Second attempt at commenting. You'll note I didn't type "2nd" ;-) Love this Kate. I'd just add that looking back at what you've written and reading it aloud can be useful. If you haven't enough breath to get to the end of your sentence, know that your reader can't make it either.

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