Effective Writing Basics Tips that can improve your writing in any medium Five keys to effective writing

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Effective Writing Basics

  • Tips that can improve your writing in any medium

Five keys to effective writing

  • Put the reader first
  • Use simple words and short sentences
  • Use jargon only when necessary
  • Write with verbs and nouns
  • Format to improve readability

Five keys to effective writing

  • Key #1: Put the reader first
    • Communication = understanding
    • Write to EXpress not Impress
    • Use words readers can picture
    • Tie in to the reader’s experience
    • WIIFM – What’s in it for me

Five keys to effective writing

  • Key #2: Use simple words and short sentences

Example 1

  • Per our conversation, I am enclosing herewith a remittance of $25 for the balance due on my account. (18 words)
  • As we discussed, here is the $25 remaining on my account. (11 words)
  • Here is the $25 remaining on my account. (8 words)

Example 2

  • As pertaining to the question of whether or not to construct a new storage facility, corporate management will ascertain the appropriateness of such an issue in the near future.
  • Management will decide next week whether to build a new storage facility.


  • Avoid wordy prepositional phrases
    • In the amount of (for)
    • In order to (to)
    • Due to the fact that (because)
    • In the event that (if)
    • During the time that (when, while)

Five keys to effective writing

  • Key #3: Use jargon only when necessary
    • What is jargon?

Example 3

  • The new FMIS system from Global provides VOR/DME nav redundancy, as well as enhanced GPS capability.
  • Global's new flight management system provides several ways to navigate your airplane, including the latest in satellite navigation.

Example 4

  • While the new ST7000 provides extensive memory and is extremely user compatible, it lacks the requisite capacity for calculating at a high rate of speed.  
  • Our computer system is easy to use and has enough memory, but it is too slow.

Example 5

  • Demand-side capacity combined with transmission wheeling contracts and local generation resources will be able to meet local demand and spinning reserve requirements for the next five years.
  • SMUD will be able to save and produce enough power to meet local needs for the next five years.

Five keys to effective writing

  • Key #4: Write with verbs and nouns
    • Use the active voice
    • When it is okay to use passive voice

Example 6

  • The company (S) sells (V) insurance (O).
  • Not: Insurance is sold by the company.
  • The construction crew repaired the road.
  • Not: The road was repaired by the construction company.
  • Tests showed the new material did not wear well.
  • Not: When tests were run, it was discovered that good wear is not exhibited by the new material.

Example 7

  • Choose the right verb and the right noun
    • Mr. Johnson ran quickly across the four-lane street, almost falling down when he stepped in a large hole in the concrete. (22 words)
    • Mr. Johnson sprinted across the boulevard, stumbling when he stepped in a pothole. (13 words)

Five keys to effective writing

  • Key #5: Format document to improve readability
    • Use lists, bullets, charts, tables, indents, italics, bolds, headings and subheadings
    • The 100-word rule

Plan, organize, write

  • Before you begin
    • Who is the audience (“My audience is _________.”)
    • Purpose of the message (“My purpose is________.”
    • How will the reader use the information (“So that the reader will________.”)

Plan, organize, write

  • As you begin
    • Assemble all useful information
    • Determine what’s important
    • Choose what to leave out
    • Group information logically

Plan, organize, write

  • Four ways to organize
    • Division
    • Compare/contrast
    • Cause/effect
    • Problem-analysis solution


  • Start with main idea, then discuss the parts
  • Example:
    • ACME Corporation faces four problems that threaten its competitiveness:
      • Outdated marketing plan
      • Poor service record
      • High prices
      • Low Morale


  • Use familiar to explain unfamiliar
  • Put the conclusion up front
  • Example:
    • If we expand in the West we will face the same challenges as we did in expanding to the South:
      • Lack of identity
      • Poor distribution
      • Short p-term cash flow problem
      • Untrained labor force


  • Find a straightforward way to offer recommendations
  • Example:
    • The shipping dock’s inability to ship product fast enough results from a inefficient tracking system. The solution is to:
      • Invest in a new computer system
      • Retrain staff
      • Inform customers of realistic shipping times
      • Budget for overtime to meet peak demand


  • Presents a clear-way analysis
  • A-B; A-B-C-D; ABCD-E
  • Example:
    • Reorganizing the marketing department will cause two benefits and one problem:
      • Improved accountability
      • Better communication
      • Problem – poorer service to industrial customers

Plan, organize, write

  • Develop an outline
  • Write
    • Write the easiest part first
    • Develop major sections one at a time
    • Introduction for main ideas
    • Main point in first paragraph
    • Turn off your internal editor

Plan, organize, write

  • 90% of writing is re-writing and editing
  • Let the document cool
  • Run a Fog test
  • Aim to cut first draft by at least 10%

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