Magazine article Policy & Practice

Words on Words

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Words on Words

Article excerpt

Business leaders have been lamenting the fact that declining writing skills of college graduates are hampering the efficiency of their companies in keeping existing clients and reaching new ones.

In the trade association and government agency world, we suffer from the same ailment. In fact, the problem is probably more serious in our world than in the business sector, which deals more with people and less with bureaucratese and legalese. Trade associations and government agencies don't sell products; our main business is disseminating information, and writing is our single largest sales tool.

Business writing includes writing memos, reports, analyses, policy manuals, even news releases. These are the bread and butter for trade associations and government agencies. Organized writing tells our readers that the writer--who represents the trade association or the agency--is organized. Poorly written and disorganized communication tells the clients that the writer--and by definition the agency staff--is a disorganized thinker.

Many agency writers think that because the subject matter is about important legislation or government programs, they cannot change the complexity of their report, lest the writing lose the context or important stuff. The fact is that no matter how important a piece of legislation or proposed regulation, it's their job to turn the incomprehensible into something that is human, lively, comprehensible, and perhaps, even fun to read.

Good writing has these four elements: organization, clarity, conciseness, and accuracy. Here are some tips on how to accomplish these four elements:

* Write with your intended audience in mind. Tailor your message to the interests and background of your audience. Ask yourself, "What is in it for the reader?" Your reader will be pleasantly surprised if you make it a point in the article to answer any questions or objectives he or she might have.

* Know your objective. Make sure your writing is crystal clear. You will never get what you want if your reader doesn't get the message.

* Decide which essential information to include. Organize your article with a beginning, middle and end, from general to particular. Decide how to present the information. Look for logical divisions.

* Use active voice rather than passive voice. Use action verbs. Your article will have more guts if you write in the active voice. Choose nouns and verbs and stay away from adjectives and adverbs. Nouns and verbs will make your prose stronger. Hemingway was an expert in dropping adjectives and adverbs.

* Use simple rather than complex language. …

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