The Executive - November/December 2016 - 31


ADVANCING
ASSOCIATIONS

9 Tips
for Concise
Writing
By John Frith, APR

ssociation executives are busy people, and while you may
think your 1,000-word article is an absolute must-read,
it's safe to say many, if not most, of your audience will
not read it all. Here are nine tips help you improve your
chances to get your essential points across.
1. Write like you would talk. Most people speak pretty
clearly but when they write something they think they have to
sound more sophisticated. Actually, the opposite is true. Using
common English words vastly improves the chances your
audience will understand you. According to the Department of
Education, if you write at the 11th grade level,
97 percent of U.S. adults won't be able to understand your
copy.
2. Write short sentences and short paragraphs. When
it comes to writing, shorter is better. Try to keep sentences to
about 30 words or less. Sentences that are 60 or 70 words long
with two independent clauses may be grammatically correct
but they are usually hard to follow. Think one sentence, one
thought.
3. Use the active voice. Make your verbs do the work.
"Helping verbs" like "were," "are," and "will be" don't help the
reader. Here's what humorist Dave Barry said about teaching
businesspeople to write: "I'd lecture a bunch of chemists or
engineers about the importance of not saying 'It would be
appreciated if you would contact the undersigned by telephone
at your earliest possible convenience,' and instead saying
'Please call me as soon as you can.' That was revealed wisdom
to these people."
4. Avoid jargon. This rule is more important when
communicating to a broader audience than a specialized one
which understands its industry's jargon. But even if you're
writing to people in your industry, clear and concise English is
easier to read and cuts down on the reading time. Let's pick on
the education community, which often is a worst-offender:
* "We will triangulate mission-critical culminating products
across content areas."
* "We will agendize innovative communities for our 21st
Century learners."
* "We will cultivate competency-based technologies through
the experiential based learning process."
I'm not quite sure what these mean, but I think the second
example could be rewritten, "We will work to create a healthy
environment for today's students."

5. Avoid clichés like the plague. Tired and overused
phrases like "A chip off the old block," "We'll cross that bridge
when we come to it," and "Nothing ventured, nothing gained"
add nothing to what you're trying to say.
6. Cut unnecessary words. Most of the time, adverbs, like
"really," "actually," and "very" aren't necessary.
7. But don't be afraid to be creative. "It's hot outside"
says it clearly, but "It was so hot outside the sidewalk burned
my feet through the soles of my shoes" vividly conveys what it
was like.
8. Edit, edit, edit. Stephen King said, "To write is
human. To edit is divine." Hemingway said to write drunk
but edit sober. I'm not sure I'd endorse the latter, but if Papa
Hemingway needed to edit his copy, so do you. One good trick
is to read what you've written out loud, or at least to move your
lips while reading it silently. It's amazing how many times
you'll stop to reword something because it just doesn't sound
right.
9. Make your point at the beginning. Too often, a writer
will set the stage and not get to the main point until the end
of the piece. That means if a reader doesn't make it to the end,
he or she won't know what you're trying to say. Make the key
points at the beginning and then flesh them out.
These nine points are a good start to becoming a better
writer. But like anything else, the best way to become a better
writer is to write frequently, critique your work, and then
write some more.
John Frith, APR, is the owner and chief content officer of
The Write Stuff Communications, which focuses on helping
associations and businesses communicate clearly and effectively.
He can be reached at (916) 765-6533 or
at john@twscommunications.com.

C a l S A E ' s TH E E X E C UTI VE - N O VE M BE R/ DE C E M BE R 2 0 1 6

31



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Executive - November/December 2016

President’s Message
At a Glance
Calendar of Events
Building a ‘Foresight First’ Board of Directors
10 Tips to Experience Unlimited Success When Communicating
Media Relations: Building a Strategic and Comprehensive Communications Strategy
Associations Communications a Study in Perception vs. Reality
Destination: Santa Barbara
Advancing Associations: 9 Tips for Concise Writing
New Members
Index to Advertisers
The Executive - November/December 2016 - cover1
The Executive - November/December 2016 - cover2
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 3
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 4
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 5
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 6
The Executive - November/December 2016 - President’s Message
The Executive - November/December 2016 - At a Glance
The Executive - November/December 2016 - Calendar of Events
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 10
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 11
The Executive - November/December 2016 - Building a ‘Foresight First’ Board of Directors
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 13
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 14
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 15
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 16
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 17
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 18
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 19
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 10 Tips to Experience Unlimited Success When Communicating
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 21
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 22
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 23
The Executive - November/December 2016 - Media Relations: Building a Strategic and Comprehensive Communications Strategy
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 25
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 26
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 27
The Executive - November/December 2016 - Associations Communications a Study in Perception vs. Reality
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 29
The Executive - November/December 2016 - Destination: Santa Barbara
The Executive - November/December 2016 - Advancing Associations: 9 Tips for Concise Writing
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 32
The Executive - November/December 2016 - Index to Advertisers
The Executive - November/December 2016 - 34
The Executive - November/December 2016 - cover3
The Executive - November/December 2016 - cover4
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