Good writing begins with attention to process. Understanding the process and applying this understanding consistently throughout the writing stages will improve the efficiency and quality of your efforts. Whether you are writing content for a website, minutes from a board meeting, or an annual report, your writing will evolve naturally and logically once process has set the wheels in motion. Whatever the task, you want to take pride in the results, and be confident that you did the best possible job in the time available. For that, you need to be faithful to process.
Process begins with an analysis of purpose, audience, context, and tone; this analysis is especially important for any substantial writing projects, such as proposals, newsletters, and instructions. Once you have clearly defined these key elements—the why and what, the who, and how—you can turn your attention to the stages of writing. These stages, from initial brainstorming to final critiquing, play a distinct role in helping you generate your best work.
If the reader cannot understand your message, you have wasted your time and hers. You have failed to communicate. Even if she manages, after too much effort, to grasp your meaning, your writing says much about you: it can signal muddled thinking, uncertainty about your message, or an inability to write clearly. According to critic and writer Frank Lucas, when Napoleon was assessing someone for appointment to a particular post, he asked, “Has he written anything? Let me see his style.”
We don’t write to pass our confusion on but to convey a message that we consider valuable. Confusing prose insults your reader because the not-so-subtle message is I’m too busy or I don’t respect you very much. Whatever your reason, you’re leaving it to the reader to do your job.
Unfortunately, a lack of clarity diminishes a writer’s credentials in the eyes of the reader. You might be a brilliant scientist, but if you cannot articulate your insights clearly, the brilliance is lost. It’s floating out there in the universe, disconnected and distraught.
Clarity establishes credibility. If you want your readers to have faith in you, then write clearly. Make your mantra this: Everything must be clear on first reading. How do you achieve that? Let’s start with looking at the verb, because its force—or lack thereof—shapes every sentence.