Sunday 3 June 2018

Guest Post - Write to be Read - by Kristine Sihto

This is a guest post by one of our regular contributors, Kristine Sihto

We are writers, all of us, in this age. Every text, every tweet, every email creates a documentary trail of our existence. We are each an author of an autobiography that extends over multiple platforms and locations, in our personal and our professional lives, whether we intend that creation or not. Writing is ubiquitous in our lives.

But just because a thing is written, that doesn’t mean ‘written well’. 

Bad writing fails to communicate efficiently and can lead to misunderstandings, lost time, frustration, and can impact the way people view your professionalism and ability.

The key to good writing is clarity. 

This extends across the entirety of writing, from choosing the correct homophone or punctuation, through to writing for the intended audience; every writing ‘error’ comes down to a failure to communicate efficiently. The page strips out the contextual information you would normally see in face-to-face communication, such as pitch and tone, facial expression, and body language. For this reason, clarity in writing needs to be far more accurate and comprehensive than a conversation would be.

Clarity tips:

  • Write for your target audience. This is especially important if you’re conveying highly technical information.
          Even if you’re writing for an informed audience, assume that you know a lot more than they do, and explain your working.
          Where instructing or explaining a process, use ‘show and tell’ formats (such as screenshots or step-by-step photographs) if you can. These can be easier to follow than purely text-based instructions.
          If your audience isn’t technical, but your content is, remember that. Write in a way that avoids unnecessary details and explains concepts that may be unfamiliar. If you can write in such a way as to be understood by a teenager, you’ve hit the right balance.

  • Limit the number of words in a sentence. If you’ve got 50 words in your sentence and you don’t have any punctuation inside it, it will be hellish for the reader to try to comprehend. A long sentence can usually be broken up into two or more sentences with a little restructuring, and your readers will have a more pleasant experience.
  • It should never be assumed that the reader has the same level of knowledge as you, or that they have the same lexicon. If you need to use jargon, provide glossaries. If you need to use acronyms or initialisations, write them out fully the first time.
  • Use a spell checker program. However, you shouldn’t rely entirely on your spell checker, especially if you know you have bad spelling. Read each of the options the spell check offers you before accepting the default option, because computers are often wrong.
  • Use a text-to-speech screen-reader to play your writing back to you. Listening to your text can highlight words that have been used incorrectly, or grammatical issues like sentence fragments or run-on sentences.
  • Get another human to read your writing, preferably someone who is pedantic about small errors. You should, however, make sure it’s someone who is more invested in the outcome of your writing than they are in their relationship with you. Close friends and family members may wish to save your feelings, and may be overly optimistic about the quality of your work. It’s also important that you are gracious about accepting critique; bad responses to honest critique can destroy the credibility of future critique, as your proofreader may decide to lie in order to keep the peace.
  • In all instances, write as simply as you can, using plain English. This includes when writing to C-suite executives. Executive levels of management have to read all day, and they’re just as human as you or I am. Making a document easy to understand is key to getting the words read and understood. This isn’t Scrabble; there is no scoreboard, and big words don’t earn you more points.
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These are not examples I have picked from the blue. Throughout the years I have been editing, the consistent issues I come across time and again are:

  1. Assuming the reader has the foundation knowledge to understand you (lack of glossaries, using unexplained acronyms or initialisations, writing for the wrong target audience).
  2. Not allowing enough opportunity for the reader to pause and comprehend meaning (run-on sentences, lack of punctuation).
  3. Using sentence fragments (either through forgetting to finish a thought, or through a misunderstanding of grammar).
  4. Over-reliance on spell checkers (incorrect/inappropriate wording) or lack of spell checking (spelling errors throughout a document).
  5. Trying to impress (executing overtly loquacious confabulation with an aspiration to appear astute and resourceful).

If you can avoid these five things, your writing can appear more polished and professional.

If you are interested in writing a guest post for this blog please read the submission guidelines here >> AWSNblog-guest_post_guidelines <<

(c) AWSN 2018

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency, organisation or association.

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