Now that you have overcome your writer’s block (see last month’s article), you are ready to polish your draft into a concise, accurate, easy-to-read document. It will impress your readers and get you the results you want.
Step 1. Grab & Hold the Reader’s Attention
Imagine yourself as your reader. Read through the document, then ask yourself: “If my readers only read one sentence, which one do I want them to read. Then put that sentence first. Whether you are writing emails or other documents, your biggest challenge is to entice your reader to start and continue reading.
Read your next sentences one at a time and say, “So what?” at the end of each one. If “So what?” does not reveal information which your readers will think is essential, cut that sentence out. In fact, if you challenge yourself to cut in half the number of words in your first draft, you will be surprised and pleased with the result.
Step 2. Check Your Readability Fog Index
Readability: the quality of being easy and enjoyable to read – Cambridge English Dictionary
It’s the ease with which a reader can understand a written text. Wikipedia Readability is more important today than ever. A quick check on the internet reveals that the average person at work today receives 50–150 emails per day. How many do they actually read? That depends on how well the writer had managed to attract and hold the readers’ attention long enough for the readers to finish at least the first sentence.
Readers at the Executive level have to read between 100,000 and 200,000 words each day. Only by using words and sentences which are easy to understand quickly, you have any chance that they will be reading your words.
The Gunning Fog Index is the easiest way to get a dependable Readability score. For the average person, a Fog Index score of 12 or lower is acceptable. If you are writing for a wide audience like the general public, 8 or lower is recommended.
A score of 12 means that someone would need 12 years of formal education to read the document quickly and easily. A score of 8 means someone would need 8 years of formal education, and so on.
We are not talking about the content or complexity of the writing – that can be at a graduate degree level or higher for an appropriate audience. Readability means how familiar (often two syllables or less) the words are. And how long the sentences are (averaging 12-20 words).
Read this paragraph and think how interested and engaged you feel:
Today’s work environment is as diverse, decentralized and dynamic as it has ever been. This has been formed and promoted by a fascinating and influential mix of experienced public servants and an influx of younger employees who bring new skills and a different mindset on how to approach the work that needs to get done, and of working life in general. It is important to recognize the different ways in which generational cohorts in our staff complement assume the methods on how they take on assignments in order to make the public service as a whole work more efficiently and effectively for the citizenry to whom we serve.
Tough going? Not surprising as you would need over 21 years of formal education to be able to read it quickly and easily.
Here is what the writer wrote after checking his readability score:
Today’s workplace is diverse, with a great mix of older public servants, younger ones, and those in between. Each group brings their own skills to complete tasks. It is useful to see the different ways that they do this to make public service work better for the people we serve.
More experienced staff want to contribute to pensions, pay off mortgages, save for their kids’ school, etc. Younger staff members may not be affected by those things yet, and value things like experiences rather than money-based rewards. Plus, doing more things can be seen as a group activity these days and be shared via social media among close friends or even the world as a way of “getting yourself out there.”
Do you find these paragraphs easier and more pleasant to read? The Fog Index score is less than 12.
To make your draft easier to read, copy the first couple of paragraphs – up to the sentence that ends at 100 words or more. Then paste them into www.gunning-fog-index.com and scroll down and click the calculate button. You will see your Fog Index score. Your words of three syllables or more are highlighted. The number of sentences in your sample is also indicated. This will help you choose simpler words and shorter sentences.
Step 3. Choose an Eye-catching Title
Spend time clarifying the essence of your document. Then choose a title that captures it.
Make it short, descriptive, and enticing. The emails with clever subject lines are the ones that are read first.
Step 4. Get a Critique
It’s much easier to spot errors and omissions in another person’s writing than in your own.
Ask a writer you admire to read your document quickly and tell you what they like and dislike.
Step 5. Proofread Three Times
Take a break or even better, sleep on it.
Then the best way to catch any lingering mistakes is to read your writing three times.
- Read through quickly to check for structure, logic and sense.
- Take your time and watch for little typos, spelling and grammar mistakes. Reading out loud can help here, as you’ll trip up on errors.
- Third time’s a charm. Read your document backwards, sentence by sentence. By this stage, you are so familiar with your text that it’s easy to see what you think you’ve written, not what you have written. Reading it back-to-front takes the sentences out of context and makes it easier for you to spot mistakes.
Now tell yourself how much your writing has improved. As you continue to use these ideas, you will become a more and more skillful writer.