During my stay in business school, a recurring theme was to ensure our writing was clear and concise. Most professors focused on concise. If you can condense an essay to a paragraph, do so. If you can condense a paragraph to a sentence, do so. If you can condense a sentence to a single word, do so. At some point, you begin to question, “fuck, do I even need to communicate anything at all?”
Okay, maybe I got carried away with that. But, Scott Adams has some tips for writing that are timeless:
I went from being a bad writer to a good writer after taking a one-day course in “business writing.” I couldn’t believe how simple it was. I’ll tell you the main tricks here so you don’t have to waste a day in class.
Business writing is about clarity and persuasion. The main technique is keeping things simple. Simple writing is persuasive. A good argument in five sentences will sway more people than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences. Don’t fight it.
Simple means getting rid of extra words. Don’t write, “He was very happy” when you can write “He was happy.” You think the word “very” adds something. It doesn’t. Prune your sentences.
Humor writing is a lot like business writing. It needs to be simple. The main difference is in the choice of words. For humor, don’t say “drink” when you can say “swill.”
Your first sentence needs to grab the reader. Go back and read my first sentence to this post. I rewrote it a dozen times. It makes you curious. That’s the key.
Write short sentences. Avoid putting multiple thoughts in one sentence. Readers aren’t as smart as you’d think.
Learn how brains organize ideas. Readers comprehend “the boy hit the ball” quicker than “the ball was hit by the boy.” Both sentences mean the same, but it’s easier to imagine the object (the boy) before the action (the hitting). All brains work that way. (Notice I didn’t say, “That is the way all brains work”?)
That’s it. You just learned 80% of the rules of good writing. You’re welcome.Scott Adams
In particular, we should heed the advice about the subject-verb relationship in writing. But, I would caution you to think your readers aren’t smart. Often times, your readers are more capable then you are.
If writing in a clear and concise manner is eighty percent of what you need to know to write well, what is the rest?
Brevity is the soul of wit.William Shakespeare
So it is.