How Effective Is Your Writing Style?
27 July 2022
3 Ways To Make Your Writing Clearer
Insights from Harvard Business Review
In this lesson by Harvard Business Review, Author Jane Rosenzweig sheds light on three strategies to make your writing clear, concise, and more effective.
Writing is hard and writing under deadline pressure is harder. When you’re pressed for time but want the best results, prioritize edits to sharpen the message.
Of course, you should spell-check and proofread every document before you click submit. But if your message isn’t clear, making minor sentence-level edits won’t save you.
Instead, focus on the big picture with these three strategies:
Cut the ‘since the dawn of time’ opening and get right to the point.
Your readers don’t need to hear every thought anyone ever had on your topic, they need to know what they should think about the topic right now.
Does this memo opener seem familiar?
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Everything in this paragraph before ‘since the data’ is a ‘since the dawn of time’ opening and should get the ax.
So, lead with your main point to focus your reader’s attention where it belongs.
Keep only the background information that’s important to your message and cut the rest.
Next, write claim-based topic sentences ... not descriptive ones.
The first sentence of a paragraph, or the ‘topic’ sentence, sets up an expectation for the rest of the paragraph.
Consider this sentence ...
It offers potentially useful information: a meeting happened on Thursday
but readers won’t know yet why these facts matter.
But the claim version of the sentence immediately focuses the reader’s attention.
Something that happened during the meeting made you change your mind about the pitch.
Begin a paragraph with a claim to teach readers what to expect and remind yourself what the rest of the paragraph should deliver.
Make a habit of claim-based topic sentences, and you’ll have less editing to do later.
And finally, make sure people are doing things in your sentences ...
unless you don’t want them to.
Be clear and think of the job you want the sentence to do.
Take these 2 sentences ...
“All managers should approve and submit expense reports by Friday at noon.”
“Expense reports should be approved and submitted by Friday at noon.”
In the first sentence, it’s clear who should do what, when. In the second, we know that approving and submitting needs to happen, but we don’t know by whom, which can lead to confusion.
And in this sentence ...
... we know exactly what’s going on.
The CEO closed branch locations.
But in this one, we know the what: branch locations were closed, but not the who.
Is this by design?
Consider the purpose of the sentence.
Maybe the closings are big news, and you don’t want to point out the CEO... but if you’re writing about the CEO’s bold decisions... the first version is called for.
So, the next time you finish a document with a few minutes to spare, try these three editing techniques. Make a habit of using them, and you won’t need to do as much last-minute editing in the future.