1. Start before you start
If you don’t know what you’re trying to say, your reader won’t either. Before you get started, ask yourself:
- What’s the purpose of this communication?
- Who’s my audience?
- What’s the call to action – what do I want people to do or learn as a result of reading this message?
2. Make it easy for your reader to care
Make it easy for your reader to understand what’s in it for them.
You could say:
"We are implementing a new standardised three-bin system for household organic waste."
But who cares? Why not say:
"Our new compost collection will make recycling easier."
Ah, now I get it!
3. Pucker up
KISS: Keep it simple, stupid!
It’s harder to write clear, concise copy than it is to write paragraphs of waffle, but your readers will thank you for it.
4. Invest in pyramid schemes
The ‘inverted pyramid’ structure is a good format to apply to any business writing. Put the most important information at the top and the least important information at the bottom. In between you can include quotes, facts and figures and background information.
5. Know how to write for the net
Readers scan online text in an ‘F’ shape as they search for interesting information. Use headings and subheadings to help direct your reader’s attention. Be meaningful and specific – people want to know what they’re going to be reading.
6. Use active voice
Need to get your word count down? Want to do a better job of engaging your reader? Try using active voice.
Passive voice: "Six coffees were drunk by you."
Active voice: "You drank six coffees."
Passive voice: "The plan was reviewed and the changes were approved."
Active voice: "We reviewed the plan and approved the changes."
7. Zhush, zhush, zhush
Not all communication is inherently interesting, but you can liven things up with some zhushing. Give your piece a show-stopping headline, try a bit of humour, include a great photo or source a quote from an expert.
8. Be a headline act
The headline is the most read part of any article. It should get your reader’s attention and make them click the link and/or read the article, and – best of all – share it with other people.
When you’re writing emails, treat your subject-line as your headline. Let your reader know that your communication is interesting and important.
Writers and editors at Upworthy and Buzzfeed are required to submit at least 25 headlines with every story – that’s how important a great headline is.
9. Avoid capital punishment
In modern writing the trend is to use fewer capitals – but people tend to use them a bit randomly, so try to be consistent. Use capitals when you’re writing specific proper nouns (words that name specific people, places or things), titles of people and documents in full.
When Prime Minister Jane Smith attends a meeting with Chief Executive Susan Brown, the capitals show you’re referring to them by their full titles. But if you’re writing about the prime minister meeting chief executives from across the city, you don’t need capitals.
10. Don’t be a comma comma comma comma comma chameleon
Here’s a quick tip for using commas with titles. In this case, commas = brackets. For example, instead of writing:
"The representative, Basil Scott attended the meeting."
"The representative, Basil Scott, attended the meeting."
To test that you’ve done it correctly, cut everything between the commas out, and check if the sentence still makes sense:
"The representative attended the meeting."
Now that you’ve followed our 10 easy tips, it’s time to get your work signed off – and get it out there!
I want more!
Here are some of our favourite websites for writers and editors:
The Writer’s Diet
The Paramedic Method (for concise writing)