On average, I spend about 70 percent of my workday writing. This makes efficiency very important if I want to be productive. Whether it’s an email, press release, social media or website copy, to name a few, it’s important to write clearly in order to hold the attention of your audience and maintain readership.
Jim Dougherty, blogger at LeadersWest, cites the book “What Makes a Book Readable” by William S. Gray and Bernice Leary in this post on Ragan.com to explain the four important aspects of readability: content, style, design and organization. Below are the top five tips (in no particular order) that I learned from this post that have helped make my writing more efficient and, in turn, improve readability.
Write for an audience of seventh-grade readers. In the world of PR, writing is the most popular form of communicating your message to various audiences. So, why complicate your message in order to make audiences understand it? Most people will skip over words they don’t know or stop reading altogether, so try to avoid that by using easy words, shorter sentences and fewer adjectives, adverbs and jargon.
Make sure your transition between ideas makes sense. When trying to write more efficiently, it’s easy to cut out parts of an idea that you may think are assumed, when they are needed for your message to make sense to someone unfamiliar to the topic. An easy way to make your transition more cohesive is by utilizing your anchor word. Here are several techniques you can use to do this:
- Repeat the anchor word from one sentence to another.
- Use a synonym or antonym of the anchor word.
- Reference the anchor word using a pronoun or other pro-form.
- Utilize a word that is commonly paired with the anchor word.
- Write in a parallel sentence structure.
- Connect sentences or ideas with conjunctions such as because, and, but, so, or, etc.
Be mindful of the platform you are using. Don’t start every writing assignment with the same state of mind. Take a few moments to think about the appropriate structure of your writing for that specific platform. Next, I suggest thinking about your audience, then your message. For example, a press release and email pitch are similar. However, you need to be aware of the expected writing rules and behaviors for each – such as length and tone – to clearly communicate your message.
Use simple fonts. I love the Papyrus font. I am probably one of the few. However, that does not mean I use it often. I like it because I think it looks cool – a terrible reason on which to base a decision of a font choice for work. Be kind to your readers and choose a readable font such as Cambria, Times New Roman, Arial or Helvetica. Also, pay attention to font, background colors and font size, especially for digital communication.
Emphasize important elements with a structured layout and design. In the age of short attention spans, reading one page of pure copy can be painful. Break up your writing by using headings, italics and bold lettering. Also, use bullet points and numbered lists when able. Most readers skim through documents, so having structural elements can help them navigate quickly through your writing without missing the important parts of your message.
In conclusion, it is important not only to think about who your audience is, what your message is, where it will be seen and why you are communicating it, but also to think about how your readers will receive the message. Readability is the answer, and efficient writing is the key to successful communication.