How much money is your organization losing because of bad writing?
It might be more than you realize.
Back in 2017, communications guru and author Josh Bernoff estimated that poor writing costs businesses in the U.S. nearly $400 billion a year.
Shocking, I know.
But think about it: Every time you send a muddled message, it can lead to fuzzy thinking within your team. That ripples out into wasted time and lost sales.
Makes a strong case for learning how to write clearly, doesn’t it?
Today I’m bringing you some practical tips for writing easier-to-read messages so you can:
- Save time by helping your team quickly understand and act on objectives
- Bring in more money by reducing the chances of misunderstandings
- Inspire confidence by showing your competence as a leader
Let’s get started!
Here’s Why Readers Get Grumpy
Reading is like traffic. 🚗
No one notices it until it’s bad.
As a writer, you want people to experience your message like an uneventful drive. No distractions, no obstacles, no hazards, no surprises. Readers shouldn’t have to work at it. They shouldn’t even notice they’re reading. It’s all smooth sailing, right to the end.
But as soon as the reader has to put effort into it, they slow down.
They start noticing your writing and getting critical. This takes their focus away from your intended message.
And just as you might get grumpy over traffic, your reader ends up flustered trying to make sense of your writing. They stop reading, look for an exit, and move on to an easier experience elsewhere.
Don’t expect your readers to do the hard work of making sense of your message. If you do, you’ll lose them. It’s up to you to make sure your message is clear so they’ll keep reading.
Lucky for you, I’ve got some simple tricks for making sure your writing is as effortless to read as driving on a wide-open road.
Tip #1: Keep Words, Sentences, and Paragraphs Short
Let me tell you something disturbing: People don’t read.
They take in the text by breaking sentences into little chunks of 2–4 words. This makes it easier for their eyes to digest.
Longer words and sentences make those chunks bigger and more numerous—and harder to digest.
So, what do you do about it?
First, swap short words for long ones—such as “start” instead of “commence.”
Also,use contractions. Turn we are into we’re and you will into you’ll. This makes your writing seem more human.
Second, break up the long sentences. There’s just too much that can go wrong with a long one.
Then, limit your paragraphs to 1–2 sentences. Short paragraphs are less stressful to read.
Here’s a bonus tip. I call it The Big Chop.
Chop up your writing by varying the lengths of your sentences and paragraphs.
Begin with a short sentence, followed by another short one, then a medium-lengthed sentence, then short, then long… you get the idea.
Why? Because it creates a sense of rhythm and holds the reader’s interest. It also keeps you from using the same boring sentence structure over and over again.
Tip #2: Use Active Voice
Active voice uses strong verbs. It’s direct and powerful.
Passive voice uses “to be” verbs, as in this sentence: “Three writing tips were shared today.”
Passive sentences don’t tell you who the actor is or what they’re doing.They lack oomph.
Active voice specifies who is taking the action, such as:
- “The copywriter shared three writing tips.”
- “We learned three writing tips.”
Make sense? Let’s move on.
Tip #3: Couple Your Subject and Verb
This final tip is a bit of a deep dive into sentence structure—but it’s also a gamechanger if you learn to apply it.
Coupling your subject and verb means keeping them as close together as possible.
The verb is the action.
The subject is the person or thing doing the action.
In shorter sentences, it’s easy to keep the subject and verb close together: “The company may buy the retiring member’s interest.”
But when you try cramming too much information between the subject and verb, it leads to confusion. Here’s a great example offered by plainlanguage.gov: If any member of the board retires, the company, at the discretion of the board, and after notice from the chairman of the board to all the members of the board at least 30 days before executing this option, may buy, and the retiring member must sell, the member’s interest in the company.
That’s a lot of information for one sentence to carry.
Ready for a simple trick to help you couple your subject and verb?
Make sure each sentence is about one idea—and one only.
If you’ve added other information to your sentences, take it out and put it in another sentence or two.
That’s it. Those are your three tips. To recap:
- Keep words, sentences, and paragraphs short.
- Use active voice.
- Keep your verb and subject close together.❤️