The Strauss Blog

Five Tips for Writing Things That Will Actually get Read

One thing that struck me in my first few months at an association management company is the amount of writing required by associations. Each association has unique reports, newsletters and meeting highlights circulating constantly, on top of the daily bombardment of emails. It is easy to ignore much of the information coming at you, due to the sheer volume.

So how do you ensure that your clients and members are reading what you are sending, instead of just pressing delete? Here are a few tips to help make your writing stand out:

1. Make Your Page Look Good

The first thing a reader does when they open your email, blog, or report is analyse the page itself. So, it is important to present an appealing page layout to entice the reader to continue reading.

The typeface is an important place to start your page design. The size has to be legible (typically 11-12 points) and should appropriately reflect the tone of the content. Fonts are designed to convey certain perceptions – fun, professional, casual, etc. Make sure you select the one appropriate for your content. You should avoid highly stylized fonts for most professional correspondence. There is nothing wrong with sticking to Times New Roman or Calibri.

Also, make sure your writing looks digestible. One page of type looks a lot more intimidating than two pages of double-spaced sentences. Keep your writing to short paragraphs because large chunks of text look scary to a busy person, who will likely skim over or delete your message entirely.

Make use of different styles to bold, highlight, or italicize parts of text you want to emphasize. This will capture the reader’s attention and make the text look more interesting.

2. Pay Attention to the “Readability”

Studies have shown that most adults still read at a junior high level. So, while it may feel more professional to use fancy language and complex sentences, the result is that fewer people will understand what you are saying. It is vital to ensure you are communicating accurately, especially when you are managing a large association.

Use clear, short sentences in everyday language to help get your point across. If the reader has to read a sentence more than once to figure it out, it is unlikely that they will continue to read the rest of a document.

Complex words that are not part of common language can cause a reader to feel distanced. If a reader does not understand the word you have used, they will feel as though they cannot relate and may begin to feel less engaged with your document, and ultimately your association.

If you still are not sure how accessible your writing is, programs such as Microsoft Word have tools to help you out. The “readability statistics” will give your writing a score and a grade level, which can be a helpful indicator to ensure that your writing is appropriately accessible.

3. If You Don’t Know it, Don’t Use it

A professor of mine spent an entire semester using the word “underestimate” instead of the word “underscore” in sentences such as: “I cannot underestimate enough the power of positive thinking”. Not only was this distracting to my learning, it also lowered my perception of the professor. So, make sure that you fully know the meaning and use of a word before putting it into a professional document.

The same rule applies to punctuation. A semicolon can look professional when used correctly; it combines two independent clauses together. However, if you use it randomly, your writing will look unedited and you, as well as your association, will seem less knowledgeable to the grammar sticklers of the world.

4. DO Use Bullet Points

Ask any student and they will tell you it’s been ingrained in them to always use full sentences. However, lists can be helpful:

  • To break up text (see point one);
  • To make your writing more accessible (see point two);
  • To avoid repetition; and
  • To prevent long-winded sentences.

Lists can be used in many contexts, and they are an easy way to grab a reader’s attention. Long sentences or paragraphs highlighting achievements, noting benefits (see: strauss.ca/communicating-value-proposition-association-membership), or discussing key points of meetings are likely to be skimmed over if the reader feels overwhelmed by the size of the text block.

5. Edit, Edit, and Edit Some More!

It is difficult to write well, and it is even more difficult to recognize your own mistakes. If you have the luxury of a colleague who can look over your work, make use of this. If you don’t, take a break from your work and then review it. More likely than not you will catch something you looked over before. One trick when reviewing your own writing is to read it in a different medium. So, if you have only reviewed it on your computer screen, try reviewing it as a printed document.

Finally, read your writing from the perspective of the audience. Does it look okay? Is this easy to understand? Are the grammar structures and words appropriate for the group that is being addressed? If not, go back and revise your writing. After all, there is no point in writing if you do not connect with the audience.

For more tips on what to include in your association membership communication, take a look at other great articles on our blog: