Key Principles of Good Writing

Know Your Audience

Assume you know your subject better than your readers, so be prepared to explain what may appear obvious to you, but only convey the information they require to respond intelligently.

Avoid jargon and acronyms unless your readers speak your “language.”

 

Pursue a Clear Goal

Before you begin to write, define your reason for writing in a single phrase or sentence and jot this down, together with supporting facts or arguments. Articulate your goal in your first paragraph and anticipate readers’ fundamental questions.

 

State, Elaborate, Restate

Your opening and concluding sentences are likely to have the greatest impact on your readers.  Use your opening statement to draw your readers into your text. Use your restatement to apply your ideas to the bigger picture.

 

Be Brief

Establish a firm word or page limit or, in the case of email, confine yourself to a single screen.

Ensure that the most important elements in your message are conveyed first. By setting clear priorities, you may find that some ideas may be omitted altogether. Try to eliminate needless words in each sentence.

 

Write in Color

Vivid writing calls for a few well-chosen adjectives. Engage your reader’s senses.

Analogies can help explain abstract ideas – from simple similes to extended metaphors.

Provide context for numbers. Explain why they are significant.

Strive for Courtesy

The “salutation” and “complimentary close” that distinguish traditional letters and notes also apply to emails, at least when initial contact is made. Only when email functions as a conversation, with multiple exchanges, should you dispense with this convention.

Since the brevity of emails can make them seem abrupt, soften their edges by using constructions such as “Thank you for contacting me,” or “I appreciate your concerns.”

Never write an email in anger. Before you do express yourself in writing, consider whether a conversation would serve you better.

Edit, Edit, Edit

Use spellcheck, but cautiously. Proofread everything you write at least once, ideally in a low voice. It is often easier to recognize errors on a printed page than on a computer screen.

Always be prepared to “sleep” on what you write.