The whole knowing-what-someone-else-means thing is one of the beauties of language. I say or write something, and presuming you speak the same language, you know what I mean.
I’ve had long conversations with people planning some event for ‘next Wednesday’ (for instance) only to discover that one of us meant ‘the next Wednesday that comes along’ and the other was aiming for ‘Wednesday next week’. These not being the same day, the event then needed to be rescheduled to a day we could both manage!
So, this blog is about top tips to make yourself understood.
- Know what you mean to say. Make sure you’re clear in your own mind what the point is. If there are two or three points, use paragraphs to split them up, and work out what order works best for your points. (The points on this top ten were written in a very random order, and reshuffled several times!) Make sure you have a beginning, a middle and an end.
- Work out who you’re writing for. I’ve written at least two blogs about this (writing for your audience and writing for different audiences), but your writing style should be different if you’re writing for business people, silver surfers, teens, Yummy Mummies, or your mates.
- Keep it straightforward. Be clear in what you mean. Long sentences that just ramble around the point of what you’re trying to make tend to keep your readers guessing about your actual point, and may even cause readers to double back and re-read, just to make sure they’ve understood what you’re going on about.
- The rules of grammar are there for a reason, like not using prepositions to end sentences with. But some are OK to break. So on occasion, it is fine to boldly go outside the lines. (However, keep it infrequent, to make your point stand out.)
- Avoid clichés like the plague! They make your writing look cookie-cutter formulaic, and do nothing to set you apart from every other writer out there.
- Avoid jargon also. There will be phrases that are common in your area of business that others outside it may not understand, and probably a small forest of acronyms as well. If you want your writing to be understood, aim to the level of a newbie to the subject, unless you’re 100% sure that your audience is composed entirely of experts. This is especially important if you’re a professional writing a web page or leaflet to attract customers and explain your services to them.
- Unless they’re critical to your material, try to avoid foreign languages (eg sliding in obscure bits of Latin to make yourself sound educated). Your audience will either not understand them, and so miss your point, or else see through your subterfuge!
- Make proper use of commas to break up sentences into manageable chunks, and give structure to lists.
- Read it out loud once you’ve written it. That will help you spot the places where you’re not clear, or say something you really didn’t mean, or you’re rambling, or simply phrasing something in a lumpy way. If it flows out loud, it’ll flow when read silently. You might find, at this point, where commas are supposed to be!
- Get someone else to do it, if you’ve got too close. This will help weed out the typos, inadvertent spellcheck-replacement errors, and the rest. See my blog on copyediting for more information about what a professional copyeditor / proofreader would be able to spot in your manuscript.
So, there you are: how to make yourself understood. I hope it helps.