How to write with clarity and impact

If you cannot write clearly and in an easy to understand style, your writing will have little impact on your readers. Here are a few tips to improve the clarity of your writing.

Readers appreciate documents that are clear and concise. No one ever complains that a document is too easy to read. And it is a proven fact that clarity and impact go hand-in-hand.

If your writing is not clear, its impact will be reduced … it won’t have an impact on your reader’s opinion or it won’t convince him or her to take the action you want them to take.

There are several things you can do to improve the clarity of your writing and ensure that you have an impact on your readers:

  • Use a writing structure that fits your topic
  • Be consistent in your use of grammar, style and all the other elements of good writing
  • Write in a conversational style
  • Make your copy easy to read

Writing structure

You need to organise your writing so that your article, essay, paper or whatever is easy to read and easy to understand. To achieve this end, the first thing you must do is choose a structure that fits the topic.

The type of structure you use will vary depending on what kind of writing you are going to do … a brochure, a short story, a manual and so on.

Choosing the correct structure is not very difficult and it becomes easier and almost instinctive with experience.

Here are four common ways you can structure your writing:

  • Using a chronological order works in most situations, especially stories.
  • But stating a problem and then giving the solution is probably the most sensible way to write a case study.
  • Alphabetical order makes sense in booklets about things such as vitamins and directories.
  • A sequential order is vital for manuals that describe processes and work instructions where the reader needs to follow particular steps.

There are many ways to structure a piece of writing. Look around at all the things you read every day … brochures, newspapers, magazines, notices and so on … and you will soon notice how their structure is dictated by the subject matter.

Another trick that always seems to work is to organise your writing into short sections and sub-sections … you can make your ideas easier to scan and digest by using headers, subheads, numbered lists and bullet points.

Numbers and bullet points make lists more readable. You can use bullet points if the order is not important. But use numbering when information is sequential.

If you are using a numbered list to structure an article (eg, 5 ways to develop your charm), put the number in the title or deck (first paragraph or summary) … this will pique the interest of readers, grabbing their attention and compelling them to read your document to find out.

But be cautious not to overuse bullet points and numbered lists. Page after page of bullets and numbers become monotonous and many readers will skip them, rather than reading them closely.

Another tip on structure … material that interrupts the flow of your document, such as checklists and long fill-in forms, is best put in an appendix in most cases.

Be consistent

Being consistent means always using correct grammar … and being consistent in how you spell words and in your writing style, as well as the symbols, nomenclature, units of measurement and so on you use.

If your grammar is weak, brush it up. You don’t really have a choice in this matter. Grammatical errors can put readers off and lead them to doubt your knowledge of your subject matter. So have your writing checked by someone you trust and, if necessary, take a revision course on grammar.

After you have finished the first draft of what you are writing, use your spell-checker to search for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Above all, check that all subjects and verbs are in agreement and make sure your use of pronouns is correct. Use your spell-checker to get rid of all typos (typing errors).

Style refers to your use of type font and size, bold, italics, underlining, indenting, and highlighting. You need to make sure that these are all used in the same way throughout a document. For example, if your titles are in 14-point bold flush left and your subheads are in 12-point centred, make sure you use this scheme consistently throughout the document.

The same considerations apply to your use of symbols, nomenclature (the names of things in specialist fields such as biology), and units of measurement. To avoid confusing the reader, you must use the same symbols for the same things throughout a piece of writing. Don’t mix lbs and kg, km and miles, and so on in the same article.

Some readers get distracted by even minor inconsistencies and errors … to the point that they are no long fully concentrating on the valuable content of the document. As a result, what you are saying can become unclear and its impact is reduced.

Minor spelling errors, such as “Farnehite” instead of “Fahrenheit”, can give the impression that you are careless. Several such errors and other inconsistencies in one document can raise doubts about the accuracy or validity your entire work. So check the details and be consistent for the sake of clarity.

Conversational style

Using an informal conversational style is usually best for clarity and impact.

A conversational style allows your copy to flow smoothly and offers greater clarity so it is easier to understand. Making your sentences sound like natural speech will also give your words more impact.

For example, don’t write:

“Reliable information provided by directly interviewing witnesses of a crash is necessary in order for prosecution to result in a conviction for wrongful driving.”

This takes a bit of effort to understand. Instead write: “You need reliable witnesses to get a conviction for wrongful driving.”

When we are speaking we normally use the active voice. Thus using the active voice rather than the passive will help you sound more conversational.

For example, instead of saying: “Control of the direction in which the car is being driven is provided by the steering wheel” you can say: “The steering wheel controls the direction of the car” … which is what you would say if you were explaining the controls of a car to a first-time novice driver.

Easy to read

You need to make sure that your document is not intimidating, that it doesn’t look to readers like a mountain of work, lest they get turned off. To make it easy to read:

Keep sentences short … use the breath test: read the sentence out loud at an even moderate pace. If you run out of breath before you finish, the sentence is too long.

You can fix that easily … just divide the sentence at the point where a new idea begins into two shorter sentences.

Break up paragraphs … readers find long paragraphs daunting, tiring to read and even confusing. It takes more effort to understand the ideas they contain.

Long paragraphs invariably contain several ideas so you can easily turn them into separate paragraphs, one for each idea.

Use small words … as everyone can understand them. For example, write ‘use’ instead of ‘utilize’; they both mean the same thing but ‘use’ is shorter and sounds less pompous.

Leave out unneeded words … say what you have to say in the fewest possible words and avoid redundant words. For instance, “plan in advance” is redundant because planning, by definition, is done in advance.

There you have it … a few simple tricks you can use to make your writing crystal clear and full of impact.

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