Effective Writing Basics

Effective Writing Basics

Tips that can improve your writing in any medium

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

  • 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)

  • 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.
  • Key #4: Write with verbs and nouns

–Use the active voice

–When it is okay to use passive voice

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)

  • 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________.”)

  • As you begin

–Assemble all useful information

–Determine what’s important

–Choose what to leave out

–Group information logically

  • Four ways to organize




–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

  • 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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