We’re living in an information age. Every day we are bombarded with data, from the moment you switch off the alarm on your phone to that final glance at the screen before you go to sleep. The average person spends hours consuming and producing information daily. Attention spans are decreasing. What people need is for you to get to the point.
According to Statista, 725 minutes every day was spent consuming media in the US in April 2016. This included a huge:
- 131 minutes on the computer,
- 186 on your mobile, and
- 245 minutes watching TV.
We are all busy. Nobody has time to spend searching through a document for the relevant information. It should be right there, at your fingertips. As soon as people have to work hard to find what they are looking for you risk them giving up and going elsewhere.
So here are Active Outcomes’ tips for crafting clear and concise communications. Whether you are drafting a blog post, leaflet, internal email, or a report that will run to hundreds of pages.
1. Use plain English.
Jargon has had its day. We like to keep things simple and use plain English. Official, legal, technical, or academic language is entirely appropriate in certain circumstances, but you need to consider your audience carefully.
As they say over at The Plain English Campaign, it is easier to read, easier to write and you get your message across. Here is how they describe plain English:
“It is a message, written with the reader in mind and with the right tone of voice, that is clear and concise.”
2. Simplify your communications.
A one-on-one conversation can help avoid misunderstandings, but when this isn’t possible, you need to make sure your message comes across loud and clear.
When writing, imagine that you are talking directly to your reader. Adopt a tone of voice that will engage with your audience. If they don’t understand what you are trying to say your message will never be received.
Don’t overwhelm people with details, include lists and bullet points if you can. Use short sentences and active verbs. Make sure any charts or graphics are clear, with explanations or instructions for interpreting data if necessary.
A great tool to help with this is to simply ask someone to take a look at what you have written and check that they understand what you were trying to say. Get them to explain it back to you in their own words. You’ll see what they picked up on and what they missed or misunderstood.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” –Albert Einstein
3. Have a plan.
Before you start writing, jot down all the points you need to cover. Move these points around until they are in a logical order.
Think about what you aim to achieve, what information are you going to share, who will you target, what will the end result be? The more specific you can be, the better.
4. Don’t value a document by its weight.
It can be tempting to pad a report out so that people see all your background research and can tell at-a-glance the amount of effort you put in. Resist. A document should be as long as necessary to give relevant information. If your intended audience does not read the document you have to ask yourself what was the point.
Consider including a briefing note that outlines the contents of the report, give additional information as appendices so people can refer to the data if they choose.
5. Simplicity is deceptive.
Finding the right words to get your point across quickly, and clearly, takes time.
“Good design is as little design as possible.” – Dieter Rams
Thinking about writing from a design perspective can help. A designer must create a product that completes various functions and takes a form that customers find both attractive and easy to use. Writing should be the same.