Guest post by Barbara McNichol, a nonfiction book editor and creator of WordTrippers Tips, a fun resource for better writing skills. www.BarbaraMcNichol.com & www.WordTrippers.com
Whether it’s an email, a marketing message, or a chapter in a book, are you sometimes challenged to make your writing easier for your readers to follow? How can you create a smooth flow that guides them with ease and doesn’t leave the impression it’s tedious to read?
Give these five techniques a try:
Use subheads: When you use subheads throughout your piece, readers can skim your content and quickly discern what’s intended to follow. Even more, subheads indicate a change of subject has occurred. In turn, that subhead allows readers to find the related topic quickly. Your guide: new subject, new subhead.
Convey one idea per paragraph: If you pack a paragraph with more than one idea, it creates difficulty following the meaning. In an email about a talk, for example, you might use three separate paragraphs: one explaining the subject of the talk, one explaining who the presenter is, and the third showing the date, time, and place of the event. You can also add subheads to separate each paragraph.
Use bullets points and numbered lists: When you list similar things (such as names, steps, benefits, requirements), you help readers recognize similar content quickly. With lists, you can leave out transitional words that paragraphs command. It aids the understanding when you use the same part of speech (e.g., a verb or a noun) at the beginning of each point. Note: When crafting a list, use numbers when the order of the points matters; otherwise, use bullets.
Vary sentence length: Although short, concise sentences are easy to read, a string short sentences can feel disjointed. You can add interest by varying the length of your sentences. My rule of thumb is keeping sentences shorter than 21 words so readers don’t get bogged down. Instead, they follow your meaning more easily.
Vary sentence structure: Building your sentences in the order of subject-verb-object (active structure) is simple and clear. But if all your sentences are constructed that way (passive structure), it can come across as monotonous. Along with varying your sentence length, remember to break out of the mold (command). Use a combination of commands, passive, and active structure to create variety that keeps readers interested.
Practice these techniques to make your writing easy to follow, and you’ll get better responses from your readers every time.