Word choice is important but don’t neglect eye-appeal

Good colour can help a document but the secret is to apply restraint and follow a few common-sense guidelines. 1.Choose one or two highlight colours that complement the overall document design. Use these colours sparingly but consistently. E.g. for headlines, simple graphic effects etc. 2.Check your colour coding to see if it works well when viewed in black and white only -important when colour print-outs are not available or for the reader who may be colour-blind. 3.If using a palette of true colours is not possible or practical, then deliberately use various shades of grey instead to add “colour”...

Email perils and pitfalls

“Email, instant messaging, and cell phones give us fabulous communication ability, but because we live and work in our own little worlds, that communication is totally disorganized.” Marilyn vos Savant Countless e-mails are sent every day. In a business context, there is often little or no training given in how to write them or use them efficiently. E-mail is mainly seen as a type of communication that falls between conversation and formal business writing. Consequently, many people feel that they can type their ideas in no particular order, with no stated objectives, no attention to grammar or punctuation, no quality control of the style or tone and no attention to the layout. They dash something off, send it too quickly and then are perplexed about why the e-mail does not generate the response they hoped for.  It is also much too easy to copy any and everyone, making us all too familiar with the often confusing and overlong threads of e-mail conversations with multiple recipients and responders. Instead of just throwing up your hands and complaining about why people don’t read their mails properly, use our checklists to make you sure you get the response you DO want instead. Ask yourself these questions Is e-mail the right medium or would it be better to talk on the telephone? Are you prepared to say your message face-to-face or for others to read it? If not, then you should probably not send it? Have you re-read your mail and checked grammar and spelling etc? Have you found the right tone? Will the meaning be clear to the reader? If replying to...

Understand how readers read

“What is reading? Most of us think of reading as a simple, passive process that involves reading words in a linear fashion and internalizing their meaning one at a time. But reading is actually a very complex process that requires a great deal of active participation on the part of the reader.” Jianfei Chen, Indiana University Reading, like writing, is a process that uses energy. However, writers encode and readers decode letters and words. Reading is actually a two step decoding process during which the brain’s neurology separates out what is written and how it is written from the ideas contained in the writing. 1. First, the reader sees the letters on the page and the brain converts these images into meaningful concepts of words and sentences. 2. Secondly, the reader’s brain examines, sorts, and stores these concepts, assimilating them and understanding them. What are the implications for the writer? It is only during the second step that a totally successful communication process can be completed and comprehension can take place. However, the reader must have some energy in reserve to do this. The writer who uses complex sentences containing words that are obscure and unfamiliar places too high a demand on the reader during Step 1. When this happens, the reader struggles to grasp what is in the message and how it has been written, using up a disproportionate amount of the brain’s energy. The energy store is too low to complete Step 2. Writers who are sensitive to the reader’s needs realise that even complex ideas can be expressed in clear and simple language. Following this guideline helps...

Think clearly, write clearly

“The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” Lee Iacocca   Ten Principles of Clear Writing 1. Have a clear goal and purpose for what you are writing and develop a structure and style that suits this purpose: you may wish to sell, persuade or inform but as a by-product you should also seek to engage, interest and involve the reader. 2. Analyse the reader’s needs and interests: ask yourself what is the most important information for THEM and tailor your content to match. 3. Start with the conclusion: a summary statement in advance sets expectations and helps the reader to understand what is required them. You can devote the rest of the writing supporting the conclusion or explaining it. 4. For longer documents, provide a one page overview up front:  include the most important information, key facts and arguments to help busy readers and to ensure that nothing of relevance is overlooked. 5. Answer the “unspoken question”: who, what, where, when, why and how questions related to the topic should all be answered – not necessarily in that order but sooner rather than later! 6.  Use clear, familiar words: thoughtful writers use language that is easy for the reader to decode and so avoid creating unnecessary communication barriers. 7.  Keep most sentences short and simple: too short is unsophisticated, and too long is complex so aim for a balance of between 15 and 20 words per sentence. 8.  Generally, the active voice is better for verbs than the passive voice: the passive voice (“The plan must be approved.”) does not automatically answer the “by...