10 quick reality checks to tighten up your writing

When you’re writing – especially for business – it’s helpful, sometimes, to get a colleague to check through what you’ve done and feed back their impressions to you. But what if you’ve written some text that needs you to hit the “publish” button now, and there’s no-one else around to give you the reality check you’d like?

Here’s a checklist that will help you. It’s harsh, but it should be – if you don’t judge it harshly, your readers will.

1. If I were reading this, would I find it interesting?
Separate yourself from your job or business, and just look at the text objectively. Put yourself in the shoes of whoever your text is aimed at. If you were them, would it ring your chimes? Or send you to sleep? Be honest with yourself.

2. Is this true?
OK, in business and other forms of writing we often, er, shall we say, paint an attractive picture of what we would like our readers to absorb. Making stuff look attractive is OK, but lying isn’t. Ensure that what you say is true, because if you don’t someone will find out and destroy your credibility.

3. Is it convincing?
Even in our highly abbreviated online era, there is always room for some quick-but-effective substantiation. People may warm to your text and feel inclined to believe it, but there’s nothing like some cool, hard facts to back you up.

4. How does it look?
You may think that you can dismiss the cosmetic look of your writing because such things shouldn’t matter when much more important things are at stake, i.e. what your words say – not how they look. Wrong. A good layout with plenty of white space around it and plenty of paragraph breaks and cross-headings make your writing more easily absorbed.

5. Is this fresh, or have I seen it before?
There’s no point in producing a document, blog, article of other piece of writing on a subject which has been done to death by dozens of others. On the other hand if it’s a topic that’s on everyone’s mind, there’s always a need for a new, fresh viewpoint. Is your viewpoint really new and fresh?

6. Is the key message clear?
What distinguishes business writing from most other forms is that business writing seeks to bring about a change in the reader … whether a change in buying habits, thoughts, attitudes, voting preferences, etc. If relevant, does your key message make it clear to the reader how you want them to change, and how they should do so?

7. If I removed this paragraph, what difference would it make?
Look through your text and choose, at random, a paragraph and take it out. Does that make any difference to its overall value? If not, look at your text again and see where else you can tighten it up.

8. Is it correct?
Have you checked all your facts, double-checked that all links in your text go to the right sites, and generally ensured everything in your piece of writing rings true? It’s very important that it does. All it takes is once instance of a goof and your credibility can go straight down the toilet.

9. Is every thought complete?
We all know that the thought process should flow from one sentence to the next and from one paragraph to the next. Does yours do this? Or are there some leaps of logic? Check these out and if there are some hiccups, sort them out.

10. Does it grab you by the throat?
That’s the “bottom line,” to use a horrible cliché. If your text seizes your imagination and fires up your enthusiasm, it’s a winner. OK, if it’s a blog post about tax planning it may not create quite this effect; but all the same it should make you think when you have read it through for the umpteenth time, “yes – that’s what I wanted to say, and it achieves that properly.”

Now, let’s tighten up your writing some more:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

Comments

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Thoughts

  1. Great tips here for new bloggers like me. 🙂

  2. 4 resonates with me Suzan. Pretty counts. I wrote and wrote for many months and ignored formatting; mistake-time.

    The package counts as much as the content; heck the package IS the content.

    So practice making your blog look pretty because most people live entirely through their senses.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Ryan – yes, “pretty counts” but essentially to make your text more visually attractive to read. I was reading something elsewhere earlier today that said academics find it very hard to make the conversion from writing essays with long sentences and single paragraphs 300 words long or more – the required way for academia – to writing for online purposes where that way is a major turnoff!

      Blog readers are in a hurry, have short attention spans and usually have one eye on the next thing to click to, so we bloggers have to use every trick in the book to keep them focused on what we have to say.

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