Communicators love to engage; more specifically, they love to believe that their writing is engaging. But is it? You might be an awesome writer – great grammar, great prose, etc. – but there is always room for improvement. I know I’m always looking for tips and tricks that will make me a better writer and editor.
Over the years, I’ve learned to keep in mind certain key principles while reviewing and proofreading what I wrote so I can revise and make my copy better. Check them out and see if they can help you be a better editor of your work…
How Long Does It Take To Get to the Point?
I’ve encountered many communications that alert employees of a new initiative or organizational change. In general, the first three paragraphs seemed like someone was trying to show off their writing chops rather than inform the readers of the actual message: A lot of mission and vision statement recaps and “as we move forward”s… stop me if this sounds familiar. In other words, there’s a lot of fluff and then finally the actual update in the fourth paragraph.
If you’re doing this in your article or blog, it’s time to think of the reader rather than your desire to impress people with your writing. Start off with the point of the communication. Tell them why they’re reading your article: “A new Vice President of Operations joined our organization this week,” or, “After months of careful analysis and planning, our organization is set to launch a new initiative that will re-focus our efforts to deliver high-quality customer service.” Then the rest of your piece can detail whatever it is you want to discuss.
The key is that you shouldn’t make your employees work to get to the main point. They’re busy. Don’t waste their time.
Is Your Copy Scannable?
The subheadline is an enormously helpful tool, and I’m always surprised how many communicators don’t use them. Older employees might have the patience to read your entire article, but younger ones, who tend to be consumers of quick, short content, do not. When reviewing your work, determine whether it can be scanned and the gist of it understood in a few seconds.
Of course, every word of your prose is valuable to the message you’re trying to deliver, but the fact is that readers don’t always need to digest every little detail. Often, there will be information that’s not relevant to them. So use subheadlines in a way that the reader can skim your article or email and identify quickly which parts are most important for them.
Take Out the Clutter
Have a streamlining mindset. When you review your copy, always think, “Am I being too wordy? Is there a way to streamline what I just wrote?” For instance: “The company picnic will take place on Thursday, May 24. It will be held in Jefferson Park. The start time is 11 a.m. and will continue until 3 p.m.” This can easily be streamlined: “The company picnic is on Thursday, May 24, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Jefferson Park.” Sure, this is a simplistic example, but it’s just a reminder to be efficient in your writing.
In addition, look for superfluous words. Something as simple as removing the word “that” can help shorten copy. “I didn’t realize that I lost my wallet,” can just as easily be stated as, “I didn’t realize I lost my wallet,” without any meaning lost.
Are You Repeating Words?
Communications are great when they use great words and great grammar and make a great point! See what I did there? We all have words and phrases to which we are partial, which is fine, but just re-read and make sure you’re not overusing them and sounding like someone with a limited vocabulary. Thesauruses exist for a reason.
Be Sure You’re Using Contractions
Even communications written for executive leaders should be careful not to sound too formal. Formal sounds stuffy, and stuffy sounds condescending. Don’t use “you are” when you can use “you’re.” Say “it’s” instead of “it is.”It’s a minor but important detail that can keep employees from feeling like their being talked down to.
Did You Overuse the Passive Voice?
I admit I used to be guilty of using the passive voice a lot. “Human Resources representatives will be conducting surveys next week.” Really? They will be conducting surveys? I will be sitting in great anticipation and will be waiting to answer them! There’s really no reason to say “will be conducting” when you can say “will conduct.” There’s nothing lost in making this minor change, but it can make a big difference in making your communication more readable.
These are some things that have helped me review my writing with a critical eye to help ensure I can edit appropriately and make the communication more reader-friendly. As always, I’d love to hear what you apply in your proofreading that has helped you become a better editor. Jot down a few notes in the Comment section.
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