Writing right

From the hieroglyphics on cave walls to Web-based communications that can be transmitted in the blink of an eye, people have been using writing as a way to communicate for a long, long time.

Regardless of your profession or position within your organization, you became a writer the day you learned to crayon your name. But what makes a good or great writer?

Ever wonder how the same opinionated person who is never at a loss for words in a staff meeting — or the really funny jokester of the office — can catch an acute case of writer’s block when asked to develop a memo, report or proposal? It’s probably not because of an inability to communicate or come up with something interesting to say. It’s much more likely that he or she is not paying attention to the writing process itself.

From my standpoint, and in the eyes of writing curriculum developers, you should consider five primary categories for effective writing:

1. Focus Clearly identify the audience and purpose of the communication. Establish and maintain a clear focus. Sustain a single point of view. Exhibit clarity of ideas.

Know your target audience. Use words and phrases they will understand. When the reader is finished, will he or she know what you’re trying to say and why you’re saying it?

2. Content Ensure that information and details are specific to the topic. They also need to be relevant to your focus. Ideas should be fully developed and supported. Before you write, hold a brainstorming session. Write down any thoughts that come to mind. After you’re finished, eliminate any information that gets in the way of your core message.

To effectively make a point, support your ideas and thoughts with research, statistics, examples, etc. Any additional information you can add to make the article or report more credible is always a plus.

3. Organization Maintain a logical order or sequence. Paragraphs should deal with one subject. Logical transitions should be made within sentences and from paragraph to paragraph. Make sure introductions and conclusions are evident. Make it easy on the reader to see your point of view by guiding them logically down a path.

Finish with a strong conclusion or summary of your point. People always remember what they hear last. A weak conclusion can turn an otherwise excellent article into an average one. However, grabbing the reader’s attention within the first few sentences also is important.

4. Style Use precise language and effective word choice, active verbs versus passive ones. Avoid “there is/are/was.” Utilize a variety of sentence structures, types and lengths. Use a mix of short sentences, complex sentences and transitions from one to the next. You can paint a much better mental image with strong, active verbs. People like to visualize what they are reading.

5. Grammar/mechanics Keep an eye on spelling, capitalization and punctuation. Ensure subject/verb agreement and sentence completeness. Nothing can take away from a written piece more than sloppiness and errors in grammar and usage. Have someone proofread your work, since most people find it difficult to catch their own mistakes. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus close by.

One last tip: If writing without the use of computer or typewriter, write neatly so your handwriting doesn’t resemble those hieroglyphics from years gone by.

Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications, a marketing communications firm based in Pittsburgh. Send questions to [email protected]. Reach him by phone at (412) 434-7718.