!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Job Aid for Effective Writing

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Job Aid for Effective Writing

The University of Missouri Extension offers a handy summary of ten principles of clear writing that provides a good refresher on basics. The principles are:
  • Keep sentences short (but also vary their length in order to avoid monotony).

  • Prefer the simple to the complex. For example, don't use the polysyllabic "utilization" if the monosyllable "use" fully captures your meaning.

  • Prefer the familiar word. Use less familiar words only when they contribute to clarity.

  • Avoid unnecessary words. (Or, as Strunk and White famously put it, "Omit needless words.")

  • Put action in your verbs. For example, writing that "So-and-so made a mistake" or even "So-and-so did the wrong thing" (active voice), is preferable to writing "A mistake was made" (passive voice).

  • Write like you talk. In my opinion, this is an especially powerful piece of advice, especially for people who are intimidated by a blank screen or a blank sheet of paper. (See this earlier post.)

  • Use terms your reader can picture. For example, instead of writing, "That meeting room is uncomfortable," try saying something like "The table in that meeting room is so big it inhibits discussion."

  • Tie in with your reader's experience. Specifically, do what you can to ensure that both you and the reader have the same understanding of terms you are using, and that you agree on the purpose of a particular piece of writing.

  • Make full use of variety. You can vary sentence length, sentence structure, and vocabulary so that "readers never think the writing is choppy or childish."

  • Write to express, not impress.
The author of this job aid explains each of these principles briefly ... and clearly ... so do have a look if you're interested in a quick review.


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