3 Tips for Focused Writing

“Excellent written communication skills” appears in almost every job description I’ve looked at in the past decade. The ability to write clearly is essential for every professional. Whether it’s an email to a colleague, marketing copy for a website, a job description for a new hire or instructions in a knowledge base article, the need for excellent written communication skills cannot be overstated.

My career has challenged me to improve continually as a writer. From writing memos for Senator Nelson to explaining complex federal policies in an email, or writing training manuals for a campaign, I’ve had a lot of experience writing. Here are three tips that have helped me focus my writing.

1. Anchor Your Communication in a Core Objective

Before you write anything down, figure out what you want the person receiving your message to do with it. Is it to inform them? Is it to get them to take action? Is it to get a response back?

When you write to achieve an objective, your communication becomes more focused and is less likely to meander. Help the receiver understand the purpose of the communication by using concise sentences and regular vocabulary. A college professor often reminded me, “don’t use a dime word, when a nickel word will do.” Your writing typically doesn’t need to demonstrate your extensive vocabulary (or mastery of right clicking to get synonyms); so keep it simple to improve clarity. Which leads me to my next point:

2. Write for Your Audience

Varying your writing style based on who is receiving your communication is important. If you’re writing for an internal audience at your organization, you can probably get away with using a fair amount of jargon, acronyms and a higher degree of technical detail. If you’re writing for people outside of your organization, or to someone with less technical knowledge of the subject, then it’s important to write on their level, or provide additional detail, so meaning doesn’t get lost.

Before sending your message, ask yourself if you have written in a way that enables the receiver can achieve your communication’s core objective.

3. Pause and Re-read What You Wrote

Taking a few seconds to step away from what you wrote can provide a mental reset. Often I’ll find ways to shorten up sentences or better explain a point if I take a break from what I just finished writing. For simple emails, usually a sip of coffee and a glance at the other monitor is enough time. For more complex copy, I might walk away for a few hours before revisiting it. Time management is critical on important writing projects as it ensures you’ll have enough time to get “fresh eyes” on the copy.

Final Thoughts

Information alone is not enough to convince, persuade or inform. Presentation matters. By following the steps above, I have been able to present my written thoughts better. If there’s a method you have found improves your written communication skills, please share it in the comments.