The 3 Immutable Laws of Writing
Remember that classic book by Al and Laura Ries, The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding? It's an excellent read, not only because the advice is so good but because it is offered with such certainty.
If you do any kind of writing in a professional capacity, I'm here to tell you that there are also immutable laws for that, and that they can be learned. Just remember three words: strategy, readability, and usability.
This means that you've thought ahead of time about what it is you're doing. Tips:
- Find out what information your audience wants and/or needs and give it to them. Avoid generating words that have no purpose to your audience.
- What will they do once you’ve told them? Don’t put it out there if you don’t know the answer.
- Never be boring. If it’s boring to you, it’s boring to them.
This means that your user can easily understand what it is you have to say. Remember:
- When you use jargon, the reader feels like you are acting superior and gets turned off. Therefore, don't use jargon! Think about how regular people talk, the people you're trying to reach. Mimic them.
- Your reader has a very short attention span and likely is not a Ph.D. So use short, simple, clear, easy to understand words to get the message across.
- Talk to your user like a friend – don’t lecture. “You’ll need to visit the office by 5 p.m. in order to get the form.”
- Don’t make the reader wait for the key information. It’s not a hidden treasure. Put it up front.
- STOP THE PARAGRAPHS. Paragraphs are for novels. Much better: bullets and lists.
- If you need to take a breath to finish the sentence, it’s too long.
- Go headline-crazy. Then add subheads. Break up the text as much as possible.
- Please add a diagram, chart or photo to break up the text and help the reader get the meaning quickly. (Tables are tricky because they can be too dense to follow.)
- White space is your friend. Use it.
- Check the spelling and grammar by reading it out loud to your ears, not following silently with your eyes.
- On the web, check the technical usefulness of your webpage – meaning that the content should be shareable on social media, optimized for search engines, etc.
All opinions my own. Photo via Wikipedia.