Clear writing – explain it to me as if I were a kid

By | January 16, 2015

Frankly, many people are bad writers. They come in all shapes and sizes. Most of it takes years and years of reading and writing to correct.

  • If you don’t know the elements of composition, or just misuse grammar, it will be a tough road to writing for you
  • If you don’t read, you don’t have pattern-recognition of what clear writing looks like
  • If you don’t write a lot, it’s just a difficult exercise
  • If your readers (customers, suppliers, boss) are not discerning, you will gravitate to the lowest writing common denominator.  Remember my ex-CPA who attached an invoice without even writing hello?

However, there are four poor writing habits (which many consultants have) which can be corrected with some conscious (new years resolution-type) effort.

Don’t use jargon.  Don’t do this more than necessary. It is not clever, or sophisticated. Everyone knows what these pseudo-intellectual words mean and it’s trite.

Don’t ramble. Edit yourself. After you have written the 500 word email, cut it in half. Put things in bullet points. Organize it so that people can skim the email, if they want. Show some respect for people’s time.

I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter;

I didn’t have time to write a short one.  – Blaise Pascal

Think more deeply before you write.  Jot down the key points on paper first, or just give yourself an extra 15 minutes walking to the Coke machine to think about it.  Let it stew in your brain more before you put it on paper.

Cosultantsmind - Explain it as if I were a kid

Explain it as if you were speaking to a kid. This is the most common piece of advice I give to junior consultants who make PowerPoint slides.  Explain this 1 page as if you were explaining it to your nephew, cousin or husband.  What are you trying to say (in simple words, and simple sentences).

Too often, consultants can verbally explain it to you clearly in 90 seconds, but oddly, none of those wonderfully clear, basic words are on the page. As a result, I tell them to blow up the PowerPoint slide, and re-do it with the words they just told me verbally.

Good night.  I commit all of the above writing sins, daily.

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8 thoughts on “Clear writing – explain it to me as if I were a kid

  1. AG

    Thanks for the tips. I wonder if there is a general feeling that writing is somehow going out of style and won’t be needed as much in the future.

    1. consultantsmind Post author

      Good writing will always be valuable. So much information is in sound bites now a days that it is, admittedly, hard to slow down and slow-read.

      A website I discovered recently which is about reading. Real reading and discovery. http://www.brainpickings.org/

  2. lewsauder

    Great advice. Many people end up spewing everything they know without giving thought to the audience and how it will be perceived. Poor subject lines and too much unnecessary detail hurt the communication process.

  3. Cindy Morus

    One of the most powerful writing lessons I ever learned was an exercise where to write 100 single syllable words (roughly a paragraph) about something important to us. The next day, we read them out loud and they were so powerful that people got teary-eyed listening to other people. Wow!

    Try it!

    BTW, single syllable word almost automatically bring down your grade level.

  4. consultantsmindadmin Post author

    Clear communications is in desperate short supply. Internet = unlimited words with no transaction cost = lots of ill-organized, advertising-heavy, untargeted, verbose stuff.

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