Writing serves as a passion for me. Because I want people to understand me better, I learned to follow some basic rules. I’ve gathered them here to share with you. Let me know if they help. [updated March 31, 2019]
Communicate for the better with these simple rules.
- Adhere to the KISS principle – keep it simple stupid. I use this throughout my life — except when it comes to my home as seen in one of my shelving units. All this stuff makes me happy.
- Use the BLUF principle – bottom line up front. Great advice especially if you send out emails. Your response increases when your reader knows what you want from them first thing. Buried calls to action (CTA) usually fail to be read.
- Follow the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you want to be treated. In the digital world when you do this, people will like you best.
- Remember the 4-1-1 rule when posting to social media. For every post about you, share four posts about other people/companies that compliment your personal brand. Make these original posts. Also share at least one post from another source. I often choose data on industry trends from sites like Harvard Business Review and Pew Research.
- Write in the active voice. Be direct. Have the person as the subject of the sentence connected to the action (verb). This rule took a while for it to be natural to me. I still fall into the “is – was – were” syndrome at times.
- Write in the positive. Eliminate negative words. How often do you like to hear a statement like — Your hair looks great, but did you intend to cut it that short? Each time you use the word “but,” you could be scratching a reader’s pain point.
- Use plain language. Write to 6th-grade understanding. Microsoft Word now has built-in grammar and spelling check that gives you the Flesch-Kinkaid grade level of your writing. This post scored at 4.8th grade.
- Develop gender inclusive writing. If you listen or read any Seth Godin, you’ll notice his usage of female pronouns. I admit that at first this threw me off a bit. Lately he has moved more towards gender inclusive with his use of they and theirs. I have a blog that touches on inclusive writing – Equal Strokes for Equal Folks.
- Follow William Zinsser’s four principles for writers from his book On Writing Well. His book introduced me to humanity which could help to improve your writing. An excellent blog on the subject can be found at The Lone Technical Writer blog.
- Be sure to use real words – ban acronyms. Too many acronyms exist in this world to be clear on what your one means. Gone are the days where you can mention the meaning once and use the acronym thereafter. If the name of an organization is I Like Art and the Artists who Make Art, real words you could use to shorten it can be many. Just choose one to use consistently. You could use The I Like Art Organization, I like Art dot org (if that’s the URL), or even The Organization in short emails. Notice to capitalize “the” when using the word “organization.”
- Industry lingo can also be confusing to your readers. Use words that describe what you want to say. Help your readers feel smart.
- Edit content multiple times before publishing. Even when you think you have completed your editing; edit one more time. I edited cornerstone blog posts with each improvement of my skills or due to additional knowledge gained.
- Keep sentence structure simple.
- Keep sentences short – less than 20 words.
- Break a long sentence into two.
- Avoid connecting stand-a-lone phrases that create run-on sentences.
- Follow the rule of 3 in your writing and design.
- In writing, use lists of three words, sentences, or phrases. Pair words together in threes like mind, body, and soul.
- In design, divide your drawing board into threes — horizontally and vertically. Place the visual point of emphasis off center at one of the cross lines. That simple step adds movement to a 2-dimension piece of work.
- Add visual clues for your reader; they’ll appreciate you. Keep paragraphs at 1 to 3 sentences each. Use subheads when a topic changes or for emphasis. Bold words in paragraphs to draw readers to your message.
- Design for eye movement. People scan before they read. Your eyes follow a “F” pattern online. Your eyes travel across the printed page in a “Z” pattern offline. On web pages with minimal copy, your eyes may also travel in a Z-pattern depending on the layout.
- Use white space in your design. Our eyeballs get bombarded every millisecond we have them open. Guide your readers’ eyes to your important messages with the lack of noise. It works.
You can be a more effective communicator by using these simple rules.
For more information, check these sites out.
CMS Wire How people read online by Marisa Peacock on June 20, 2013 | Retrieved in March 2019 from https://www.cmswire.com/cms/customer-experience/how-people-read-online-infographic-021421.php
Company Folder How to Use the Rule of Thirds Effortlessly by Vladimir Mandela on Company Folders on July 21, 2015 | Retrieved in March 2019 from https://www.companyfolders.com/blog/rule-of-thirds-graphic-design
Goop The Scary Power of Negative Words by Habib Sadeghi | Retrieved in June 2018 from https://goop.com/wellness/mindfulness/the-scary-power-of-negative-words/
Plain Language.gov Federal plain language guidelines | Retrieved in March 2019 from https://plainlanguage.gov/guidelines/
Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) Gendered Pronouns & Singular “They” | Retrieved in March 2019 from https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/grammar/pronouns/gendered_pronouns_and_singular_they.html
Science Daily True or False? How Our Brain Processes Negative Statements by the Association for Psychological Science on February 13, 2009 | Retrieved in March 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090211122147.htm
Touro College 15 Rules of Netiquette for Online Discussion Boards [INFOGRAPHIC] by Rachel with the Online Education Department at Touro College on May 12, 2014 | Retrieved in March 2019 from http://blogs.onlineeducation.touro.edu/15-rules-netiquette-online-discussion-boards/
Wikinut The Subconscious Mind Cannot understand Negatives by Mark Gordon Brown on August 8, 2010 | Retrieved in March 2019 from https://guides.wikinut.com/The-Subconscious-Mind-Cannot-understand-Negatives/q-qvv29w/