Blog

Insights & Ideas

Say what you mean—Tips for effective writing

There’s also the story about how Faulkner walked into the writing class he was supposed to be teaching at the University of Mississippi and asked everyone who wanted to learn to write to raise their hands. He said, “Go home and write,” then turned around and walked out the door.

Maybe that attitude works for geniuses like Faulkner, but for the rest of us, generating leads through content marketing or explaining a new incentive or benefit plan to employees, some guidelines for keeping writing simple, clear and effective would be helpful.

The good news: there’s a lot of information out there about how to write well. The bad news: see the previous sentence. So whom do you trust for writing advice? People who know.  For the brief list of “rules” below, I’ve combined overlapping advice from Hemingway, Orwell, and Strunk and White from their The Elements of Style (remember that from college English?)

It seems to me that the basics of good writing are as applicable to an employee benefits brochure as they are to a novel or short story. Great writers connect with their audiences and convey their meaning as simply as possible.

So here goes:

1)      Use the simplest language possible:

  • Leave out unnecessary words.
  • When common, ordinary words will do the job, don’t use fancy ones. (That includes  jargon.)
  • When possible, keep sentences and paragraphs short.

2)      Write vigorously:

  • Use active instead of passive voice when possible.
  • Choose powerful verbs over weak ones like forms of “to be.”
  • Let nouns and verbs carry your meaning. Avoid decorating your prose with adverbs and adjectives unless they add depth and weight to your message.

3)      Be positive, not negative: say what something is, not what it is not. For example, say, “The procedure will be relatively comfortable,” instead of “pain-free.” Your audience will unconsciously focus on the most potent word in the sentence, which is “pain” and the rest will lose power.

4)      Have a design for what you’re going to say. Most of the time for business communications, that’s an outline or a communications plan. Know your audience, your purpose, and the value of what you have to say for that audience before outlining your key points.

5)      Revise, revise, revise.

Fortunately, most of us aren’t required to write even one page of masterpiece, but the writing we do is no less important. Effective writing can impact employee morale and the company’s bottom line. At Insight Strategic Communications, we offer deep experience in internal communications and can help you with everything from your communications planning to execution. Call us and let’s talk about how we can help you.  Contact Maureen at maureen.clayton@insight-communication.com or Ben at ben.clayton@insight-communication.com.