by Jody Bruner
Readers are bombarded with documents today. Most of those documents never get read, let alone acted on, because they ramble and are poorly organized. If you worry that your own writing isn’t getting results, here are seven techniques to help you get to the point and organize your content so readers can quickly find what they’re looking for. Use them and I promise your messages will be easy to understand and remember, difficult to ignore!
- Give a general overview of your message before you present the details. Think of this as an executive summary, even when your document is short. This overview should answer the key questions your readers have right upfront and helps them make sense of what follows.
- Use informative headings to make it easier for your reader to grasp your message. Headings break dense text into smaller, more thematically related segments. Good subheadings, that capture the gist of the section, make it easy for readers to skim and deep read sections they’re interested in. Also, good headings, titles and subject lines make information easier to file and retrieve. Remember to make sure your subject line is informative.
- Treat text elements consistently, so readers know what kinds of information they will find in margin notes, headings or lists.
- Structure your sentences to add new information to old information. In your paragraphs, use the AB BC CD sentence model of given/new content.
- Embed logical connectors in your text to build links between chunks of information. This helps your writing flow and gives it a logical order.
- Make your structure hierarchical. Readers pay more attention to higher-order information, so put the most important information in your title, headings and topic sentences. Also, they need higher-order text to understand and remember lower-order text.
- Use the active voice, be precise, and give concrete examples. Readers translate written information into scenarios, in which they picture human agents performing actions, and clear, vivid sentences make it easier for them to do so.
Are there any other tools you use to help your messages stick? Please share!