Great writing has characteristics which make it attractive to read – it is clear, interesting and engaging. Here are some rules which professional writers use:
1. Know what you want to say
This may seem too obvious, but we all receive emails, papers and reports which are long-winded or ambiguous. The prime reason is that the writer hasn’t thought through exactly what they mean. Here is an example:
“For the second time in six months, a patient has died because of defective equipment.”
As it reads, the patient has died twice although its’ unlikely to be the message the writer intended.
If the writer had thought the message through properly, he or she would have started with the key point “A second patient has died…”. The remaining words would then have fallen into place.
2. Write simply
This is not to suggest that you should write like a five-year old, but rather to write short words and sentences that are easy to read.
In the words of Mark Twain: “Use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.”
3. Be concise
You need to select the right words for the job and ensure that each word contributes towards meaning. For example:
“There is no telling how far this problem will go”
is better expressed as:
“The extent of the problem is unclear.”
4. Be clear
Do not hide your key messages in the body of your text. Ensure that your key message comes first.
5. Write correctly
Grammar gives the writer a framework within which to work. Spelling is important for meaning and punctuation gives readers signposts. Poor writing distracts readers and reduces the credibility of messages.
6. Write in the active voice
Both active and passive sentences convey action, but active sentences are more persuasive, decisive and confident. You should choose to write in the active wherever appropriate.
Here is an example of an active sentence compared to a passive sentence:
“We will submit a progress report on water quality.”
Written in the passive, it becomes:
“A progress report will be submitted by us on water quality.”
On occasions, the passive is more appropriate. where the object is more important than the subject or when the subject is unknown or
Sometimes the passive voice is more appropriate. For instance: “Caroline sent the document to the wrong office” is written in the active voice and reveals Caroline’s mistake. It may be kinder to write in the passive: “The document was inadvertently sent to the wrong office.”
7. Lead with benefits
Benefits are advantages of relevance to the buyer. Customers buy benefits. They do not buy features. For example: A feature may be a powerful microprocessor on your computer. The benefit is that your applications – Word, PowerPoint and Excel run quickly.
Whether you are proposing a concept, idea, service or product, always lead with benefits and support those benefits with features.
8. Use attractive words
Words that evoke interest and excitement can turn dull sentences into appealing ones. Here are some words that work well:
9. Link to your heading
Ensure that your first sentence fulfils the promise of the heading. If your heading is “Answer to the Problem”, your first sentence must either provide the answer or explain how you are going to answer.
10. Create impact
An appealing heading motivates people to read the rest of your writing. Where you have the opportunity to choose a title, try for something which will grab attention. “Strategy to Boost Growth” is more interesting than “This Year’s Plan.”