It feels like the first days of spring are finally here, a time traditionally for sprucing up the house from top to bottom. But it’s not just our homes that could benefit from a thorough spring clean – it’s a good opportunity to take a fresh look at our writing and ask ourselves whether it could benefit from decluttering too.
Let me make myself plain: What I’m talking about here is using short words and short sentences to get your message across. One council last year ending up getting lambasted by the Plain English Campaign for its gobbledegook. You don’t want to do what one council did and inflict this in your readers: ‘Developer contributions will be used to facilitate implementation of such improvements.’ They could just as well have said, ‘Developers will pay for it’ and it would have been far clearer.
Using the active voice is preferable too – that’s what I’m told, or should I say, that’s what they tell me. When I read a sentence that says: ‘It’s widely believed that there is life on Mars’, I want to know who believes it – a group of four-year olds or a team of NASA scientists? Writing in the active voice forces you to say who believed, said or thought something; it’s a far more honest and accountable way of writing and often you can see a shorter way of saying something when you write in the active.
There are various computer programmes that will test your writing for readability, but the main things they look for are word and sentence length. By using shorter words and phrases, you’re on the right track to making your writing more readable and giving it more impact.