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 whom” question (“The committee should approve the plan.”).
9. Writing should be more precise than conversation: grammar, spelling, punctuation, avoidance of slang (in business writing), are ALL important – the reader will not forgive carelessness as they might in conversation.
10. Revise thoroughly (and repeat the process): most documents benefit from careful attention to detail and
re-reading from the reader’s perspective – review structure, sentence construction, spelling, grammar, tone
and ease of understanding.
The Ten Principles of Clear Writing forms part of our Focus Area “Mastering Workplace Challenges”