Judgement of written communication
Look at a piece of writing you have had to do (i.e. an essay, report or job application) and check it against the following points.
Structure (the way the content is laid out)
• Is the layout clear and easy to follow?
• Do headings stand out (e.g. are they in a larger font size)?
• Is the information arranged in a logical sequence with a beginning (introduction), middle, and end (conclusion)?
• Does the introduction clearly state the subject and purpose?
• Does it briefly summarise the content?
Style (the way it is written)
• Does it look neat, and elegant?
• Is it concise, with an exact use of words and economy of style?
“If in doubt, cut it out!”. Learn to be laconic!
For example instead of saying forward planning, just say planning – there is no such thing as backward planning! Words such as very, just, quite, perhaps, maybe and really should all be removed
• Is is simple, direct and lucid? (See table on right)
For example a bureaucrat would write:
Political organisation administered directly via the populace, intended for the employment of the general community, on behalf of each and every one of the citizens of the nation.
Abraham Lincoln wrote:
Government of the people, by the people, for the people.
See “Flush the buzzwords” for more about this
• Are paragraphs too long?
Paragraphs of less than 10 lines are easier to read.
• Is a blank line left between paragraphs to aid clarity?
• Are sentences too long? A sentence should contain just one idea.
• Sentences with more than 30 words should normally be split.
• Is the first sentence interesting/ Does it draw the reader in?
• Have you avoided unnecessary jargon?
• Is the style suitable for the intended audience?
A scientific report aimed at an audience of non-scientists would have to be written in simpler and more jargon free language.
• Are bulleted lists used where appropriate?
• Have you used short, concrete, familiar words rather than long, obscure, complex words?
• Use the active words where possible rather than the passive voice? “It is recommended ….” should be replaced by “We recommend” as this is simpler and more direct
• Have you kept wordy phrases to a minimum?
• Have you avoided repetition?
• The Plain English Campaign recommends
sans serif fonts (e.g. Arial, Verdana) such as this, as clearer and easier to read than serif fonts (e.g. Times New Roman, Garamond) such as this.
Content (what you are writing about)
• Have you carefully checked the spelling and punctuation?
• Have you thought through in advance what you want to say?
• Have you a clear objective?
• Have you listed the essential points you wish to make?
• Have you made these points clearly?
• Have you developed your argument in a logical way?
• Have you allowed detail to obscure the main issues?
• Is the content positive and constructive?
• Have you shown an interest in the reader by writing with warmth, sensitivity and friendliness?
• Have you edited it through several revisions, honing the text until it is just right?
• Have you left it overnight if possible: your mind will assimilate it better and you will come back with a fresh view.
The writing rules of George Orwell
• Never use a long word where a short one will do.
• If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
• Never use the passive voice (e.g. “Bones are liked by dogs”) where you can use the active voice (“Dogs like bones”).
• Never use jargon if you can think of an everyday equivalent.