Gain the "Power Writing" Advantage
5 quick ways to improve the clarity and authority of everything you write for business.
By Amy Campbell
Here are my top 5 power writing tips to help you get your message through the clutter and increase your own competitive advantage.
1. Headline Everything.
In a fast economy, everything and everyone is moving. So put your message in your headline, as it is often the only part that many hurried professionals will read. Headlines are like free advertising space. Make them pay off by using them to say something specific rather than something generic. For instance, a report titled "Monthly Report" is a waste of communication real estate, whereas, "Biotech Vacancies Lower Prices to 1999 Levels" makes a concrete point. Take advantage of an e-mail's subject line, a document's cover page, an e-newsletter headline, and a PowerPoint presentation's title page and use the power of a good headline to get your main message through.
2. Write Upside Down.
Take everything you learned in English composition class and turn it on its head. Make your conclusion first, then use the rest of the document to support your conclusion. Your readers are busy, overworked, multitasking, and on deadline. They don't have time to wade through multiple paragraphs to find out what the main gist of your report is (if you even have a gist). So, get to the point. Show your hand. You're not writing a mystery novel, so there's no need to build suspense. Put the good stuff right up front. As you build a reputation for being a no-nonsense, straight-shooting, get-to-the-point point person, you will win friends and influence people inside and outside of your organization.
3. Keep It Simple.
Use easy, plain language and short sentences. Make your points in bullets and lists to make them stand out and easy to scan. As a rule of thumb, write tight, and then try cutting that in half without losing meaning by eliminating inefficient words, phrases, and sentences. Keeping it simple, however, is not the same as "dumming it down." Present details so that they are easy to access without obstructing your main message; use subheads, chapters, hyperlinks, appendices, attachments, and footnotes to provide credible support and important detail to a short-and-sweet executive summary.
4. Make It Personal.
Some days we interact more with keyboards and keypads than we do with people, so make your emails and communications friendly and conversational whenever possible. In an electronic age, people are hungry for the human element. Give it to them and you'll gain entry to them. Then serve them the information they need to know in a tight, little bundle and you'll be remembered. It's easy to see how this works on an audience of one, but the same approach applies to larger readerships. At the heart of this tip is the golden rule of communications: "Know your audience."
5. Master Active Voice.
This tip is a little harder to put into action and may require you to do some real homework. Start by rereading your Strunk & White. Learn to recognize and change the passive voice ("The bicycle race was won by Lance") to active voice ("Lance won the bicycle race") whenever possible. Putting your prose into active voice helps to project the persona of a straight shooter and usually simplifies an overly complex sentence. Listen to the difference between these examples passive vs. active voice.
Using active voice clearly identifies the subject of a sentence, and eliminates confusion. Passive voice is notorious for obscuring the truth, as in the classic "Mistakes were made." If, after all your homework, discerning between active and passive voice is still too difficult to figure out, then just remember this: Be direct.
To learn more about power writing for business workshops, coaching and services, contact the author, Amy Campbell.
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