Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Three ways to make your writing

A document lands in your inbox. You’ve got to make a decision based on what it says.


You can tackle the contents in any order, skip bits, scribble notes and drink as much tea as you like.

But whichever way you choose to read, however much you skip between pages (or screens) you’ll always be forced to follow a single line, one word after the next, from left to right and top to bottom of each text chunk. And there’s a speed limit, set by the rate you process the incoming line of information.

If this is how we read then how should we write? Here are three ways to make your writing more user-friendly for hard-pushed readers:

Start with the conclusion

If you’ve written a document that ends with a recommendation then I dare you to move your humble opinion up to the start. Try it. Suddenly, everything you say is supporting the opening idea. And if it doesn't …

Dump anything that doesn't support your opening idea

If in doubt, cut it out — no matter how long it took you to craft that line. Be as merciless as the Emperor Ming.

Chop it up and spread it out

The way text looks matters — especially on a screen. It’s dead easy to make your structure clear to the eye after (not before) you’ve worked out what goes where. You can use bold, bullets and any gizmo you like, but remember: the best quality is space. Empty screen or page space. Room for each point to breathe. And making space is easy: just bang the return button a few more times.

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