Recently, freelance business writer Josh Bernoff conducted a survey of writers – about what makes writing ineffective. I read with interest his post on the results, which focuses on why folks think their own writing isn’t good and why most of what they read isn’t good. This reminds me how important clear, concise writing is for everyone, every day. In a communications firm, it is everything.

Bernoff’s top finding was as follows:

65% of respondents said that what they read is poorly organized, but only 16% believe that what they write is poorly organized.

The real nugget of information here is that everyone thinks that what they write is good. Of course they do. I would venture to guess that most people wouldn’t write something that they think is terrible and hand it off to a boss, client or colleague. If they do, that is another topic (see, “How to get fired”).

How do we coax the very best writing from our staff and encourage our clients to be concise and to avoid industry jargon in many content formats?

  1. First of all, I am a big believer in self-editing. Get yourself a red pen and print out your work. Look at it differently than it was on the screen. Is it long on the page? Do you say the same thing more than once with different or fancier words? This of course assumes you are not writing on a tight deadline but have the time to step back. The five extra minutes you spend on this exercise is well worth it.
  2. Next, ask a colleague whose writing you admire to review your work. Ask them to be brutal – if they don’t work in the same industry as you, even better. If they don’t understand the words you’re using then replace them with more reader-friendly choices.
  3. Remember, much of the writing we do now appears on a screen – often a tiny smartphone screen. If your writing is dense, it is more likely to be skimmed. If you have key points to make, use bullets or bold key words. Take out the fluff – readers just don’t have the time for “longreads” most of the time.

When we write – for work or for pleasure – we are trying to communicate a thought, a theory or an opinion. In an increasingly content-heavy world, it is harder and harder to break through. If you take the time to follow some of these suggestions, you increase the chances that your voice will be heard.