As promised, here are six more steps to polishing your message – whether it’s a relatively brief email or a hefty report.
Invest in strong verbs. Dynamic verbs give writing more zest, but they don’t always show up in the first draft. In our editing we can spiff up “the result was higher than our goal” by making it “the result surpassed our goal” or “exceeded our goal” or “eclipsed our goal.” We can improve “our team has a few ideas” to “our team generated a few ideas” or “proposes a few ideas.”
Check transitions. As you move from point to point, are you carrying the reader along seamlessly? In addition to using “In addition” when you are building on your previous point, do you use “Moreover” or “As a result”? How about simply beginning the next sentence with “And” or “Also”? Do you use transitions like “On the other hand” or “Surprisingly” to alert the reader that this sentence is going in a different direction?
When our readers need to reread a sentence to get back on track, the cause is often the absence of connective tissue, which is easy to fix. And one effective way to catch a missing transition while editing is reading aloud.
Vary the rhythm. On June 11 (http://www.normfriedman.com/blog/a-solid-start/), I talked about varying sentence structure so we aren’t numbing the reader with a monotonous cadence. The solution I focused on in that post was starting occasional sentences with a participle (“-ing” verb). Another trick is simply varying sentence length, as in the following:
Even a routine memo can be enhanced by occasionally sprinkling in a sentence that is short and punchy. Try it.
Beware of jargon. When the special language we use at work (especially abbreviations and acronyms), saves time or reinforces a team feeling, jargon is extremely effective. But when it undermines clarity or makes a reader feel excluded, jargon can be damaging. And in an email world where we often don’t know to what extent our message will be forwarded, we need to be more sensitive to jargon than ever.
Root out qualifiers. Sometimes we really do mean “rather frustrating” or “somewhat strange,” but we need to watch out for “rather,” “somewhat,” “a bit,” “fairly,” “probably,” and other qualifiers robbing our writing of conviction.
Don’t “fall in love.” We often get so enamored with a word, a phrase, a metaphor, an example –maybe an entire paragraph – that we put on blinders. We edit the rest of the message with ample scrutiny, but the sentence with that five-dollar word never goes under the microscope. A key to great editing is maintaining objectivity by identifying with the reader.
Bottom line. For most of us, putting the first draft aside for a while and returning to it with fresh eyes is a must – if we have the time. Then apply whatever steps help you the most when editing and proofing. The failure to edit and proof properly can chip away at your credibility and even alienate the reader.
In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.