Five tips on writing

Do you have trouble with your corporate writing style? It’s what I do for a living but even then I have potential clients who don’t like my style. A lot of it is a matter of taste, but there are some rules that will help.

Last week I spent a very pleasant day coaching a client on case studies. Here are some of the tips he needed – and if you’d like a similar one to one coaching session in London do get in touch by clicking here and I’d be pleased to help.

  • Be brief. Short sentences are good. It’s often a good idea to put a slightly longer one in the middle to vary the tone otherwise it becomes monotonous. But mostly, short is good.
  • Start with the main clause, the main point of your story. Let the subordinate clause – the section of a sentence that is less important than the rest – be subordinate. So sentences or stories that start “In a move designed to shake up the opposition, David Cameron has…” aren’t great. Just tell me what he’s done and spend less time clearing your throat.
  • Be active. Active and passive is a distinction that isn’t always clear to everybody; to put it another way, stick to a structure of subject, verb, object. “The cat sat on the mat” is clearer than “The mat was sat on by the cat” in which we go passive.
  • Write for your audience rather than your company. A few years ago someone asked me for feedback on their website. The first paragraph was all about how they’d decided to move from being a sole trader to being a limited company. That might well have been a superb idea but why should the customer care? Tell the reader something that concerns them, not something that concerns you.
  • Always read things out loud. The writer Graham Greene once said he always did this and if it sounded bad, it was bad, no matter how grammatically correct it might look on the page. This is more important than ever now in a word processor-led era in which we write, rewrite and add bits all the time so a sentence can be cobbled together over days. How many times have you accidentally left an unnecessary word from a previous draft in a document?

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