Articles Tagged with clarity

Make it easy

With businesses pumping out so much information in press releases, newsletters, blogs and tweets, how much of it is clear?

Clarity is important when readers have so much to read. If they can’t understand something, it needs to be very important for them to take the time to re-read it or contact you for clarification. Most likely they won’t bother and will move on to the next item, possibly from a competitor. If that is easy to read and understand, you’ll have lost out.

When you’re close to your business, you understand the complexities: how everything fits together. It won’t be so clear to someone who doesn’t know your business. Often, people give up if they find something confusing.

Sometimes it isn’t necessary for customers to know about complex issues which are important to the internal processes of your business. If that’s the case, don’t mention them or you’ll add unnecessary complexity.

Where you do have to mention complexity, such as different brands or subsidiaries dealing with different products or services, make sure that these are explained clearly. If not, customers won’t know who to contact about what and they could feel it is easier to go to a competitor.

Why am I writing this? Because I am trying to write about a company which appears to have a similar sister company offering a similar product and I have had to ask them to clarify the set-up. Not everyone would bother to ask.

Why are so many communications difficult to read or understand?

With millions of printed and online communications distributed every day, many readers are forced to assess the value of one piece of written material against hundreds of others, often making the read, bin, delete or ignore decision within a few seconds.

Good design can attract initial attention, but isn’t enough to keep readers from losing interest in longer documents if the writing is monotonous, ambiguous or erratic.

In the course of my proofreading work, I often read documents about to be printed or published which don’t make sense, lurch from one writing style to another or are simply boring. Sometimes there’s enough time for remedial editing, but often there’s only enough time to correct the worst mistakes.

Do interest, clarity and consistency matter?
If the purpose of a specific communication is to inform readers or persuade them to take a defined action, it will achieve neither if no one reads it. If we are serious about achieving our purpose and want maximum value from the time and money we invest in communicating, then interest, clarity and consistency do matter.

What can ensure communications are effective?
As usual, it’s good planning and effective management that prevent many problems. Here’s a few suggestions that won’t necessarily cost you more, but could make your communications more effective.

Develop a written house style
If you write a lot or produce long documents, a style guide will help to establish a consistent corporate writing style. Use it to establish your preferred way of writing certain words or phrases, names or jargon, formats for dates, numerical data, use of capitals and punctuation preferences (eg whether to hyphenate: co-operate or cooperate?).

A style guide is not about being pedantic, but about ensuring consistency. Inconsistency can put off some readers and damage your image if valuable brand or product names are written incorrectly (eg MasterCard requires an upper case C, while adidas is written entirely in lower case).

A style guide can be as basic or as detailed as you wish, varying from a single sheet of A4 to an entire book. Distribute it to everyone who writes material in your organisation and ensure that authors refer to it, especially when many writers collaborate on one document.

Take a look at the BBC News or The Times newspaper style guides for an idea of how a style guide can help.

Appoint an editor to manage a project
If you’re producing a magazine, book or long report, a capable editor will manage the separate parts to ensure that they come together as a unified document. Select someone with a good command of English who has project management experience. If you have difficulty finding someone internally and are spending thousands of pounds on a project, bringing in professional expertise could save you money.

The editor should pick up and amend inconsistencies during production and ensure all material is checked for accuracy and proofread. This should prevent the last-minute panics that can occur just before printing or publication, and also eliminate costly reprints required by undetected errors.

Read your writing out loud
Whatever you write, long or short, read it out loud as a test. If any passages sound unnatural, awkward or tedious to you, just think how they will appear to your readers. Effective writing can replicate the natural rhythm of conversational language to convey a message to readers effortlessly.

If you still aren’t sure, read it to a trusted colleague and ask their opinion, like I have done with this article. It’s better to receive practical criticism that you can act on from someone you know rather than negative criticism from customers or industry peers, and it gives you the opportunity to improve material before you publish it.

Achieving return on investment in communications
As new forms of communication such as microblogging (eg Twitter) and mobile blogging develop, demands on readers’ attention from every direction will increase further. Faced with such competition, the three actions above could contribute to changing a document’s status from ‘bin it’ to ‘essential reading’. If people read and understand a communication and take action as a result of it, it will have achieved a good return on the investment made in producing it.

It will also make this proofreader happier to read more interesting, consistent and well-written material.

See this article written by Robert Zarywacz at the ecademy 100K club for entrepreneurs.

Writing for clarity

Many people in business are required to write letters, articles and other documents, even though they do not feel confident about their ability to write. What can they do?

A good approach is to focus on ensuring that your readers understand your message. Are you expressing yourself clearly? Will your readers have access to the same background information that you have? Can they understand your article on its own or will it leave them with unanswered questions?

Often there is a temptation to write more in order to explain a point more clearly. This rarely works. It is often the simplest writing that communicates most effectively. So cut out any unnecessary words or phrases that are likely to clutter your writing and get in the way of your message.

If you are writing about a complex topic, perhaps it is too much to explain everything in one document. If this is the case, consider breaking up your writing into separate documents or dividing one document into sections or chapters so that readers can handle one chunk of information at a time. This way they can understand the content fully, whereas if everything is thrown at them in one go, they could be overwhelmed by the amount of information.

So keep it clear, cut unnecessary material and structure your documents so that your content is easy to digest.

Robert Zarywacz

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