Reports, policy documents, annual reports… The words alone! No one wants to read them, but they are important. How do you ensure that you write them in such a way that people do read them? Or at least that the message gets across well and your reader can quickly find the information he/she is looking for.
What are good ways to make your policy document readable? Martijn Jacobs gives in his book Texts that are read (affiliate) 20 tips for.
1. Use the table of contents as a summary
Many reports start with a summary. Quite useful, but they are often much too long. The summary should be short and should contain the main messages. If you also give the chapter titles that contain the core message, then your table of contents is immediately your summary.
This makes it immediately clear what the entire report is about and it is easier for people to find the right information. So two birds with one stone.
2. Make texts logical with the Toulmin model
Sometimes texts go from hot to here and you immediately wonder where the author actually wants to go with the text. You write clearly through it and, despite the fact that Jacobs doesn’t put it that way, I also think that it makes the lyrics more convincing.
The idea is that you ensure a logical structure of the text. You make a claim that you then substantiate with facts. You actually have to prove and justify those facts again. You start with the justification by following the facts with the word because, and then stating a more general truth or accepted principle. You can further substantiate this by starting the next sentence with ‘this is apparent from’.
But you already know in advance that people will object or criticize your text. No matter how well you substantiate and prove it, that criticism will come. You can already take this into account when writing your text. You do this by critiquing your text yourself. You’re weakening your own claim with that. This then gives you the opportunity to refute precisely that criticism.
It makes your text logical, complete and you immediately knock down the objections, so that people’s thoughts can’t linger on those objections. You may recognize this from the argumentation of Toulmin.
3. Offer information in layers
Hate to tell you, but people aren’t really waiting for your text. They don’t have the time and they don’t feel like it. It’s a must. Even if you send them an email. To ensure that your message gets through and people can quickly find what they are looking for, it is best to offer the information in layers.
In this way you facilitate that people first scan your text and only then carefully. This way your reader can decide for himself at what level he/she wants to delve into your text.
If you are familiar with writing (newspaper) articles and press releases you will recognize it. It is also known as rollable writing. You put the most important first. That should also be your summary or core message. As you progress in your text, you work out things in detail. And of course you use subheadings to make your text scannable.
For e-mail, Jacobs advises to consider people who read an e-mail on their phone. Without scrolling, they should know right away what to expect from the email. He therefore proposes not to start with a neat salutation and introduction, but to include your key messages, which can also be your subheadings further in the text, as a list. Only then come the salutation, the text, reference to attachments and a link to the website.
20 tips to make your text easy to read and understand
The book Texts that are read (affiliate), is mainly aimed at informative, business texts. All texts that you could label as boring. Actually, the purpose of these tips is not even that the text will be fully read, but that you achieve a goal and that your message gets across. If someone doesn’t have or doesn’t take the time to read an email or report, the most important information can still reach the reader if you apply these 20 tips, or some of them.
Many tips will already be familiar to you, such as using short sentences, active writing, and tailoring texts to your reader. As mentioned in several tips, all tips are preceded by a summary and clear examples are always given, so that if the text and explanation itself were still too abstract, the sometimes visual examples clarify it.
Source: Frankwatching by www.frankwatching.com.
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