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Writing your way to the top

You should spend a few minutes planning before you begin writing. Photo by: NATHAN GREEN

BEING able to write clearly is one of the most important skills for many job roles - whether you are writing a 50-page report for a client or a one-page briefing note for your manager.

For many people, it is also one of the most difficult skills to develop. You might have excellent knowledge and some great ideas, but if you can't communicate this information clearly, then you may find it difficult to progress to the next level in your organisation. 

If you are having trouble with your writing, don't get discouraged. While good writing comes more easily to some people than others, everyone can improve their writing. Here are a few simple tips that will improve your writing - and therefore improve your value to your employer.

Plan your writing

Before you start writing, spend a few minutes to develop the outline of what you are going to write. For a large report, this will involve writing down all the main headings and subheadings. For a smaller document, it might be enough to jot down the main points. This will give your writing a clear structure, so that all your main points follow a logical order.

Know your target audience

Think about who will be reading this document. What does the reader want to know? How much do they already know about the subject? Will they understand technical jargon? Remember, your main objective is that the reader understands everything you write.

Use meaningful headings

Use headings and subheadings that give the reader a clear idea of what is to follow. For example, the heading "Impact on Profit" is more informative than "Financial Aspects". Similarly, titles for tables and charts should be specific, so that the reader instantly knows what information is being presented.

Use fewer words

Say what you have to say in as few words as possible, provided you still get your message across. When you review your first draft, look for opportunities to delete unnecessary words. Avoid starting sentences with long, unnecessary introductions such as: "Another important point in this argument is that". Instead, simply write: "In addition". Avoid unnecessary phrases such as "It is a fact that" and "at this point in time".

Use simple language

Use short and simple words wherever possible. Don't try to impress the reader with long or complicated words. For example, "the factory makes telephones" is easier to read than "the processing plant manufactures communications devices". Only use technical jargon if it is really necessary and the reader will understand it.

Use short sentences

Your writing will be easier to read if you use short sentences that contain only one thought. Avoid long sentences that link two or three thoughts together. For your document as a whole, aim for an average of 15 to 20 words per sentence - although some sentences can be shorter and others longer.

If you average more than 25 words per sentence, you need to break up your sentences or remove unnecessary words. You can calculate your average words per sentence in Microsoft Word - see "display readability statistics" in Microsoft Word Help for details.

Use paragraphs effectively

Break up your writing with plenty of paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain only one main point. In general, the first sentence in a paragraph should summarise or introduce what you are going to say in the rest of the paragraph.

A good test for your writing is: If somebody only read the first sentence of every paragraph, would they understand what I am writing about?

Remember: a picture tells a thousand words

We use diagrams, tables and charts because they describe something more effectively than words. There is no need to write in detail all the statistics contained in a chart. Simply highlight the main points presented in the chart.

Support your writing with evidence

A common - and dangerous - mistake is to misrepresent your opinion as a fact. Make it clear to the reader whether a statement is a fact or an opinion. Wherever possible, support what you say with evidence.

Review your first draft

Always review what you have written before you show your manager. Make sure that your document follows a logical order, is easy to understand and gets across your main messages. Be on the lookout for long or confusing sentences.

Sean Power is a consultant to HRINC, one of Cambodia’s leading HR services firms, and Sandra D’Amico is the managing director. Contact for more information.



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