The WRITE way

The WRITE way

“I’m sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Often regarded as a bit of a joke, Dostoevsky meant it completely seriously. He was commenting on the zillions of words then yet to be written as well as those already consigned to history. So much long-winded, repetitious nonsense used to communicate messages the majority of which are simple. Clement Attlee, British Prime Minister after WWII did the opposite. Presented by Aneurin Bevan with a 180-page blueprint for the National Health Service they were to introduce, he sent the following memo: “Thanks for yours of 28th, contents of which are noted, Clem”. Bit brisk.

A pandemic involves a lot of communication. Instructions have to be given through long chains of  command. Morale and spirits have to be helped to avoid mental breakdown and despair. All this during a time when what we know is changing faster than normal. The world’s political structure, with its countries’ competitive instincts firmly encouraged, is not designed to handle a pandemic. Ideally, we should have world collaboration, with organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO) playing a major part. It can’t do that if the President of the United States is hell bent on trying to make it a scapegoat for the disaster.

But let’s not try to analyse Trump’s Tweets or we’ll be here till doomsday. More importantly, the reports we all have to write while home-based and locked down must now be written better if we are to beat the Artificial Intelligence-fuelled Zombie peering at us from the corner of some distant room. We can be clear about one thing. The quality of communications has received a major jolt. Sloppy, wordy, plagiarised verbiage has received notice that its days are numbered. What can you do to communicate better – and get recognition for it?

Follow these six key rules.

 [1] Consider the purpose of your writing. If it is to get urgent action done now, make your words clear, crisp and compelling. If it is a thesis for your doctorate, make the words fresh, of today, of you, not someone else. Unzip jargon and don’t invent new versions of it unless it really makes things easier. What have you got to say?

[2] Think about your audience. Don’t write ‘down’ to them. For example, if you are writing for children, stretch them a little. The best compliment I ever had as a writer of children’s books was when one girl’s parents wrote to me. “We love reading your books to Kate,“ they said, “and we keep a Thesaurus handy.” Wonderful. Who has to understand and act upon your message?

[3] Only communicate three messages at a time max. Better to communicate only one if it is urgent and important. In reality we are always communicating more than one message. Just make sure it isn’t too many – something of which I am sometimes guilty. What is your vital message?

[4] Keep your message as short as you can. And certainly not over 500 words. Of course some technical documents must inevitably be longer – but all that detail should all be in appendices. Even with academic theses, keep the main message short and to the point.

[5] Use seductive headlines. Dangle the sprat to catch the mackerel. It used to be said that three words were the key to getting readers’ attention: New, Free, Sex. I’ve only ever once seen them all together – in Amsterdam. Where else? Your potential readers will get on with it if what your promise is enticing enough. Don’t lie, seduce. Do your headings make even you salivate for more?

[6] Pause between your last reading and your very last one. Your mind continues to process what you have written. Your very last reading will be to catch typos but it will also reveal what to your reader might seem nonsense.  You may well have a proof reader reading for you too. Nevertheless, the message is yours. If Churcill could take so much trouble over his speeches, you can take a little over yours. Go on, read it once more.

Everything you write however mundane is a testament to you and a legacy of yours for the world.

Do it well and you will soon get the next badge of promotion.

Make it snappy.