How to write with clarity
Writing is about getting the thoughts in your head down onto paper, and into the head of the reader. All this without losing the main message and starting a game of broken telephone. But what happens when the thoughts we need to translate are complex, technical or just plain confusing? This is where writing with clarity is key. Clear and concise language ensure your reader understands what’s being said, instead of playing guessing games. Enough with the jargon, here are # tips on how to write with clarity.
STEP 1: PLAN AND DEFINE YOUR CONTENT WITH A MIND MAP
If you’re able to write freely without a plan and present perfectly clear copy, then kudos to you. But in my opinion, it’s to your benefit (and the reader’s) to start with a plan. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be fancy. But simply jotting down an outline of your ideas helps determine the best order to explain your topic.
The easiest way to start is by writing a sentence or two related to the purpose of your content. Then, write down all the sub-topics you want to conclude. Then it’s just a matter of arranging them logically. Depending on what you’re writing about, this might be a chronological order of writing, explaining complex ideas up front or another template that best suits your topic.
As you order your sub-topics, keep the reader in mind. Have you narrowed your focus? Are you presenting your ideas in a way that’s easy to digest? Will readers get lost? The best part about working on an outline is that it’s easy to play around with and rearrange. If you start free writing without a plan, you may be setting yourself up for a lot of detailed rewriting as you go.
STEP 2: MAKE YOUR CONTENT EASY TO NAVIGATE
Do you ever see a heavy block of text and feel no desire to read it? Same! Content that is broken up into short paragraphs with headings, bullets and a logical introduction and conclusion gives readers a quick glance about what they’re getting themselves into.
Nobody likes to feel lost. Use your headline, title and subheadings to give readers a clear indication of where they’re travelling in your copy. Bulleted or numbered lists, along with images or charts, can help to explain complex topics and break up the text, too.
As you write, keep weaving back to your purpose. Remind readers what they’re reading and why they should continue. Having clarity within your content not only ensures readers understand what they’re reading, but also ensures they don’t get lost or lose interest along the way.
STEP 3: BE SPECIFIC TO CREATE A MEMORABLE MESSAGE
If you’re writing about a technical topic, or one that’s new to the reader, avoid jargon, acronyms and other terms that the average person wouldn’t understand. Clear copy is written in plain language that paints a picture to help illustrate any complex topics.
As you write, think about how you can present tough topics to your audience. Would a bit more text help to paint a clearer picture? If so, add the extra words. Would adding a case study or real-life example help explain a complex topic? If so, write about it.
Regardless of how you choose to explain your content, focus on vivid language rather than abstract metaphors that only you would understand. Clear copy is content that everyone can understand.
STEP 4: KEEP IT SIMPLE AND SUCCINCT
Growing up, we used big words and our parents were proud. Now, readers don’t want to have to stop and Google words as they go. Use the simplest words to get your readers where you want them to go. Short sentences of approximately 10 syllables also help to present ideas succinctly.
Chaos is confusing, and readers will get lost in it. Keep readers from closing the book or clicking away by focusing on writing with clarity. Use the tips above and get feedback from your peers as you continue to write. Their insight as outsiders could easily help you determine the best words to use and the most logical way to present your ideas. Involve them early in the planning stage, and it’ll mean less editing and keyboard smashing for you when you sit down to write.
Computers (and readers) everywhere will thank you.