It’s a fast-paced world, and we are bombarded with information. Social media, books, television, radio… even our watches are sending us emails now.
How can communicators create a powerful message that breaks through the clutter? Your writing must be clear and concise or your reader will lose interest and move on. Here are five tips for keeping your writing short and simple.
KISS Tip #1 – Keep sentences under 15 to 20 words.
- Leo Tolstoy had a 307-word sentence in “War and Peace.” You might be able to get away with that when writing a novel. But to help people quickly grasp a message, keep the sentence length under 15 to 20 words.
- If you are tempted to use a lengthy sentence, try splitting up the phrases or concepts. Use bullet points. Break the sentence into two or three sentences, or separate concepts into new paragraphs.
KISS Tip #2 – Choose words carefully.
- Concise words and phrases help your reader quickly grasp your message. When editing your work, search for words and phrases that could be changed or removed for clarity.
- Eliminate unnecessary words. For example, in “The Governor and Mayor issued a joint statement,” you don’t need the word “joint.”
- Keep it simple. Replace “Due to the fact that” with “Because.” Consider “Go with” instead of “Accompany.”
- Avoid jargon… or at least explain it. Every industry has jargon and acronyms that have a way of slipping into conversations. It’s fine to use technical terms, but explain them clearly. For example, an engineer might think of “grade” as a gradient or slope. But to a student, a “grade” is a score on a test.
KISS Tip #3 – Break it up.
- Organize your thoughts to guide readers through manageable chunks of information.
- Use headings to create logical sections.
- Try lists, grids or bullet points to break up the text or organize the message.
- Include visual cues with photos or graphic elements. This is especially helpful for readers that have literacy challenges or struggle with English as a second language.
KISS Tip #4 – Keep it conversational.
- Use active voice for clarity on who is responsible for an action. “You must include the following information” engages the reader more than “The following information must be included.”
- Contractions help you write like you talk. Using contractions will enhance readability and make your writing sound more natural.
- Give examples and tell stories. This provides clarity. A good story can replace a long explanation.
- Make your readers feel you are talking directly to them.
KISS Tip #5 – When writing for the web, KISS also means: Keep It Short for Skimmers.
- Online readers can decide in five seconds or less if your site is useful. Web users often read only about 18 percent of what is on the page.
- Use the inverted pyramid style, and begin with the most important statement about your topic.
- Split your copy up into logical sections to help readers quickly find what they need.
- Omit anything unnecessary to your message.
Before you wrap up a project, show others your work. Did they grasp the message you wanted to convey? Was anything unclear? Did they lose interest after the first few paragraphs? Testing your work can identify problems now and save grief later.