One of my favourite quotes by Mark Twain is “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” If only it were that simple.
Whether you’re in business or offer a social service, when you need to write to your customer or client, you’ve got to inform, explain or ask them something. And, if writing is not your favourite thing to do, and for many, it’s not, then it can be pretty onerous, and even daunting.
Here are some tips to help get your written message across effectively. Before you start thinking about what you’ll write and how though, give these three points some thought.
I’m not referring to the volume of information in the news, online or on social media or the interference caused by external or even online surrounds, though these should be considered. Rather, the internal noise people develop over time which includes prejudices, feelings and past experiences. It will impact how your message is perceived and received.
Make a decision to err on the side of quality every time. Try to avoid the ‘just getting it done’ mindset, especially if writing isn’t what you’d consider your strength. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in getting the message down and out quickly. How urgent is it, really? Can you sleep on it or have some completely fresh eyes look over it? It can make a meaningful difference.
Whatever you say, you’ll be speaking into an environment that is built on historical, political, social, organisational, cultural and economic factors which were out of your customer or client’s control. This is especially the case for the healthcare and social services industries where policy decisions made a decade ago are playing out now in people’s everyday lives.
So, here are my tips for writing effectively.
Know your audience
Take the time to consider who they really are, where they live, their challenges and unique circumstance. Put yourself in their shoes. You’ll have ‘noise’ assumptions and pre-conceived ideas too, so try to be as objective as you can every time.
Note down, in a couple of points, the main idea (don’t think about anything else). Be as specific as you can and answer two questions: What is the reason you are writing? What do you want your reader to do?
Select the words you use, your tone and how you structure your sentences so that it’s easy for your reader to follow along. Avoid jargon, ambiguous words and longwinded descriptions and explanations (if necessary, consider alternatives to communicate that). Keep your paragraphs succinct and sentences tight.
It’s your Brand after all. Make your writing match almost as if you were face-to-face. Of course, there may be a little more formality or structure to written communication, but it should align to who you are. Find someone you trust to read your piece and ask them straight up – does this sound like me?
Stay on track
Think about how much you want to say versus how much you need to say. Sometimes it’s’ easy to get wound up in a lot of explaining, the why’s, wherefores and how’s, before you know it you’ve got an essay on your hands. Look at your email, letter or document. Revisit your purpose and make your audience a priority.
How easy on the eye is your writing piece? It’s important. How you format your piece will depend on your audience, the medium you are using and the information you need to convey. Use headings, tables and visual elements that make information simpler to absorb. Use numbered steps if you need to and make it clear where your customer or client can find out more information.
Check, check, check
Make sure your spelling, grammar and punctuation are spot on. Having inaccurate punctuation, a misspelt word or incorrect data has an impact. In an instant, you can be perceived as not paying attention to detail, or appear too rushed and time-poor.
Writing effectively is a skill that anyone can improve with practice. Follow the advice of people who do it well and who are willing to share their knowledge. Free resources are available online so you’re bound to find something that suits you.
Download my free Writing Checklist which you can use as a quick reference point every time.