Saying More With Less

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.

Making it Personal: Meet the Team Question Prompts

If you’ve been tasked with creating content for the Meet the Team section of your website don’t panic, just remember to make it personal. People love to read about other people, what they like or dislike, what they do in their spare time, what their story is.

A list that tells you their job title, exactly where they graduated and when, where they’ve worked previously and how long they have been with the company isn’t all that inspiring. It’s easy to come across as impersonal, maintaining a professional façade when describing yourself and your team mates can translate as being cold to a reader. Especially when accompanied by a bland headshot with a white corporate background.

The best relationships are built on trust, authenticity and to some extent, a little vulnerability. You need to let the reader know that the people you work with are real, that they can trust you to understand what makes them tick because the real people who they will come into contact with share similar needs and wants.

So ditch the boring bios and bland thumbnails and inject a little fun into your ‘Meet the Team’ webpage. Try out a few of the question prompts below to get started and let people fill out the questions themselves, it’ll sound more authentic if you let their voice shine through anyway.

The same goes for photographs, take your headshots outside in a park, go to a café and snap a few over coffee, ask people to give you a photo of them in their favourite place or doing their favourite activity. Check out the image below, it is of Anna the owner of Active Outcomes in her guise as a volunteer organiser and host at a silent movie themed life drawing event in York earlier this year (the photo was taken by the extremely talented Glen of Allsorts Photography by the way).

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  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What are your passions in and out of the office?
  • If you could go on an all-expenses paid trip tomorrow where would you go?
  • How did you meet your oldest friend?
  • What can’t you live without?
  • What is your guilty pleasure?
  • What song do you sing in the shower?
  • List three things you love and three that you hate.
  • Tell us three random facts about yourself.
  • If you could time travel to any period in history where would you go?
  • Describe yourself in one word.
  • What is your favourite quote?
  • What quote describes you?
  • Which literary character do you identify with most?
  • What do you never leave home without?
  • Could you go a week without checking your phone?
  • Dog or cat?
  • Tea or coffee?
  • Early bird or night owl?

Of course, you can, (and usually should), include the usual information that establishes the credibility and expertise of your team, and we have included some prompts for this information below, but we feel that a few fun facts that humanise your colleagues will help engage the reader and make them want to work with you.

  • What made you want to work in this particular field?
  • What is your biggest achievement at work?
  • How long have you worked at this company / in this field?
  • What do you enjoy most about working here?
  • What are your main qualifications for your job?
  • What made you want to work for this company?

Let us know what you’d add and if you find any great examples of Meet the Team pages we’d love to see them.

The Last Minute Guide to Proofreading

This blog is dedicated to those who are running out of time. For whatever reason, procrastination, tight deadlines, unrealistic expectations, or unexpected events – Active Outcomes are not here to judge. We’re here to help you get started.

So, if you need to proofread your document in a hurry, take a quick look at the basics – we promise, there are only five tips, it’ll only take a couple of minutes and you’ll save yourself a lot of time later.

Why Proofread?

We do not read every letter individually – we recognise patterns and then make assumptions about words. You have probably seen this (slightly spammy) email/social media post going around with the following text…

Aoccdrnigto a rscheearchat Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

See what we mean? It is so hard to spot our own mistakes because we read what we think we wrote instead of seeing the text that is actually there on the page.

Here are Active Outcomes top five tips to avoid common pitfalls!

1: Take a break!

Walk the dog, get the kettle on, have a nap, watch paint dry – do whatever takes your fancy. Just put a bit of distance between you and what you were writing. Otherwise you will read what you think you wrote, not what is actually on the page. It also helps some people to print off a physical copy of the text before they get started as they find they pay less close attention to the words on screen than they do to words committed to paper.

2: One thing at a time…

Don’t try and save time by trying to spot every mistake on the first reading – focus on one of these mistake prone areas at a time to make sure you do not miss anything.

  • Spelling,
  • Grammar,
  • Word choice,
  • Sentence structure, and
  • Continuity (formatting, font type/size, numbering of tables and so on).

3: Read aloud

By far the easiest way to check that your writing flows well is by reading it aloud. This will also help you spot mistakes your Spellchecker misses because while it can tell you that you put in an extra “e” it cannot tell you whether the word you used is the correct one.

Think of the difference between “dessert” and “desert” – I’d be pretty disappointed if I mixed them up – wouldn’t you?!

This also helps improve your writing style as you develop your own unique and consistent “voice.”

4: Stop racing on ahead

We are all busy – but you must resist the temptation to skip ahead. If you find you have been skimming, stop right there and start to read backwards. Focusing on every word, especially when it is not in order, helps you to see spelling mistakes and typos. Please note: this tip is obviously not quite so useful when checking sentence structure!

5: Get a fresh pair of eyes

A new perspective can really help – ask a friend, a colleague, the nice receptionist who remembers to ask about how your cat is doing, it really does help to have someone new look at your draft.

Remember not to be offended or take it personally if people do spot mistakes – that is what you asked them to do after all. Better you revise a draft than send an inaccurate document to the printer costing you both money and reputational damage.

Still not convinced? Why not? Even experts admit they sometimes need help…

“You think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes and vacancies but you don’t know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along. Sometimes, but not often enough, the printer’s proof-reader saves you –and offends you –with this cold sign in the margin: (?) and you search the passage and find that the insulter is right, it doesn’t say what you thought it did: the gas-fixtures are there, but you didn’t light the jets.”

– Mark Twain (1898)

Mistakes are so easy to make, a designer once shared a story with us about a council spending a lot of money printing signage advertising a “Pubic Consultation” instead of a public one. You can imagine the damage that would have done if it hadn’t been spotted before multiple A2 sized signs left the building!

Don’t forget, Active Outcomes can help out with all of your copywriting, editing and proofreading needs. We offer a comprehensive and competitively priced service. So get in touch if you need a fresh pair of eyes to take a look at your document. Contact us at info@activeoutcomes.co.uk, Tweet @ActiveOutcomes or visit www.activeoutcomes.co.uk.

Writing for Maximum Impact

Here at Active Outcomes, we focus on helping others achieve the maximum possible impact in all the work they are already doing. For us, that means all writing needs to be high impact, well-targeted and easily understood so that it achieves exactly the result your organisation needs. Here is our advice to help you write it right!

Who will be reading it?

First things first, consider your audience carefully – ask yourself:

  • How technical should I be?
  • Will they understand jargon?
  • Will they be interested in what I am saying?
  • What is their point of view likely to be?

Personalise your writing, tell people exactly how you will help them. Tell them what you have achieved before. If you can tell it as a story – do it – people have been trained since childhood to love to read a good story.

What am I trying to say?

You can’t take back a first impression. So plan carefully what you want to say.

  • Have a main message in mind and stick to it throughout.
  • Try and structure what you write: introduce your topic (consider listing the points you will raise), elaborate upon the main points and then summarise for the reader.
  • Write a list of keywords and be sure to include them.

Remember the Four C’s

An easy way to remember what you should be including (and leaving out) as part of your writing is the Four C’s, explained below.

  • Clear: Use plain English, avoid jargon, stick to your structure.
  • Concise: Less is more – people are busy so get to the point!
  • Considerate: Explain anything your reader may not immediately understand, direct them to additional content.
  • Correct: Proofread! Pprooofraed! Proofread!

Our Top Five Tips and Tricks

1.Grab attention: open with a memorable phrase.

2.Lists: Everyone loves a list, e.g. these are my top five tips…

3.Write to express not to impress!

4.A picture speaks a thousand words: add interest with images.

5.Consistency: use the same formatting i.e. font, size, colour. Don’t switch from first to third person, maintain the same tone throughout (i.e. friendly, academic and so on…)

Our Approach

We focus on people. We listen actively and create copy that works for you and your organisation. We tell stories that engage the reader.

Above all, we talk to people to discover genuine experiences that can be shared and will tell the world about your values and achievements. We use these conversations to create authentic content that really hits home with your target audience.

Words are powerful things. Your customers need to read about your products. Your staff need to understand your policies. You need to communicate your success. We work with you to make sure your documents are working as hard as you are. For more information about our policy writing or copywriting, editing and proofreading services click on the links or visit our website http://www.activeoutcomes.co.uk.

The Secret to Killer Copy? Be Direct.

When writing it is so tempting to want to add more, but there are times when this is completely the wrong thing to do. People are busy. I’m sure you are. Do you really want your audience to disengage early on and skim through your text, missing most of the key details? Of course not.

People are reading what you write for a reason, usually because you are answering a question or solving a problem for them – so get on with it. Consider a few of the most basic questions we are asked all the time – What? Where? When? How easy is it to answer these? Just change the first letter – That! There! Then!

Maximum Impact Writing

Putting yourself in the shoes of your audience is vital here, you know what you are trying to say, go through your text and check that your message comes across. Anticipate the questions that people will ask and answer them in your text – don’t make them do any additional work.

So, if you are drafting a press release the first paragraph needs to cover what you are doing, or have done, why, when and where. Spell it out, but briefly. Add more detail after, but hook people right from the off by letting them know exactly what you are going to talk to them about.

If you are raising money for charity by doing something outrageous make sure you tell people how to donate or get involved if your story has inspired them. Sharing details of an event? Make it as easy as possible for people to attend, let them know how to get there, what facilities there are, how accessible the building is – those little details you assume everyone knows and don’t include could well make the difference between people choosing to come or deciding to stay at home.

In short, be direct. Get straight to the point, if you have the solution to their problem don’t leave them wading through waffle – tell them exactly how to solve it.

To find out more about Active Outcomes and our maximum impact copy writing services visit http://www.activeoutcomes.co.uk.