Meeting Our Reader’s Needs with Plain, Intentional Writing
by Erin Lebacqz
Author of High-Value Writing
Instructor for Writing Clearly About Climate Change and the Environment
As we start the new year with goals for writing clearly, it’s a great time to consider our words’ deeper meanings, and their potential impact on our varied readers. By thinking about word choice and word order through a High-Value Writing perspective, we can write directly and clearly while still sounding friendly and familiar. In short, we can be both concise and nice!
Using Words Economically
Part of writing with plain language includes using familiar words efficiently and economically. Instead of saying “We are having a discussion about writing,” then, we might opt for “We discuss writing” instead. This change allows us to provide the same amount of meaning, but more economically and in less real estate.
By doing this, we also recognize that some words—like “discuss”—provide a lot of meaning in a small amount of space. Condensing in this way can help us write more plainly by not bogging down our readers with extra words.
Studying Meaning and Tone with High-Value Writing
Although it seems logical that all words would offer meaning (Why else would they exist?!), in fact, some words offer hardly any meaning at all. For example, “I think I’ll study plain language” means the same thing as “I think that I’ll study plain language,” making us wonder: What was the meaning of “that” in this sentence?
Similarly, we often write slow sentence lead-ins that don’t have tons of meaning. Many of us do this out of habit; our brains pick up certain phrases and we end up repeating them—even if they’re not super meaningful. For example, “This is to inform you that we booked your appointment” could simply become “We booked your appointment.” The first six words in the first version actually offered almost no meaning!
Being Both Concise and Nice
When we write plainly, we succeed in being direct and clear. However, sometimes direct writing can feel like it lacks friendliness. Fortunately, we can write both concisely and nicely at the same time! We don’t have to sacrifice courtesy to write clearly and directly.
For example, if you received a holiday gift from a company you work with, you might have gotten a message like “Please accept this company gift.” While this sentence is perfectly clear and direct, we can add more kindness by switching to “Please enjoy this company gift.” By studying word meaning and impact, we can write the same plain message in the same amount of words—but balance concision with courtesy.
Happy New Year and let’s make it a year of clear, impactful communication!
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