When we want to write for impact, it can be hard to see the forest through the trees. That’s because, for most of us, writing doesn’t always come easy, even when the subject is one close to our hearts. While finding the right words can be a struggle, a lack of clarity can quickly sideline an initiative or project that requires critical communications, like keeping the public informed or consulting with groups and stakeholders.
As a communications and public engagement firm, writing is a big part of what we do every day and over time we have fine-tuned our own work with the help of a few simple guidelines. Below are the top 10 rules we follow for simple, engaging and powerful content that will help you get your messages across clearly, and effectively, for any target audience.
1. Short Sentences
Brevity is everything. The more we can say with fewer words, the better. Long-winded and winding sentences can lose the attention of your audience. Keep those sentences short and to the point.
2. Use active language
It isn’t just about sharing information; we often want to drive our audience to act. This is where active language can go a long way. Tip: keep an eye out for helping verbs to identify any instances of passive language in your text (ie: was, were, been, have, had, would, should, could).
3. Reflect your own voice
We can get caught up in our own institutionalized style of writing (think legal/policy writing or formal reporting). Stuffy writing won’t appeal to many, but a genuine, conversational tone will draw your readers in.
4. Avoid jargon/acronyms
Remember: anyone outside of your department or workplace likely doesn’t know your industry-speak. Avoid technical terms, jargon and acronyms and use a ‘short hand’ that conveys the context your readers need to understand your message.
5. Break it up
Look at ways to break your content apart. Can you revise a paragraph into bullet points for easy scanning? Can headers be used to break up multiple paragraphs? Adding in white space between words can help your audience stay engaged.
6. Graphics can help you tell your story
We’re a society of scanners when consuming/surfing information online. According to Wyzowl, 68% of consumers prefer watching videos to learn about new products or services. And not just videos – images like infographics can tell your story without all the words.
7. Keep it consistent
Whatever style you choose for grammar and punctuation, keep it consistent throughout—inconsistency can throw your readers off, confuse your message and dilute the power of your message.
8. Eliminate filler words
Not only will it lower your word count, but it can make it easier for the reader to scan and understand the message without getting bogged down. Think “New Service Launches September” rather than “The New Service is Launching in September.”
9. Keep trimming the fat
Find those meandering multi-word phrases and replace them with one or two words. For example, “evaluated” does a more efficient job of conveying the message than “did an evaluation of.”
10. Review for redundancies
Take a final review with the eyes of a reader. Are there any instances where you’ve said the same thing, in different ways – or perhaps even the same way? Removing redundancies can shave off the excess words to help reveal a clear path through the trees.
What do you ZINC? Do you have a tip for writing with impact that isn’t on our list? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and help us build on our checklist for writing success!