Free Advice on Document Writing

Here’s my pet peeves when it comes to document writing:

  1. The document is worded the way the author thinks rather than how it is supposed to be read
  2. The content is answering a question that is irrelevant to the subject or focus of the issue at hand
  3. The audience is completely forgotten in the pitch of the document
  4. The formatting is inconsistent and tardy
  5. Slang or other informal terms are used

If you want to make sure that your document serves its intended purpose, and that it will be read, then keep the following in mind:

  1. Write it the way you want it to be read, not the way you’re thinking it out loud. It shows.
  2. After every statement or three, ask yourself if you’re still answering the right question or responding to the right need. If not, delete and rephrase. The last thing you want is a really good answer to the wrong question! 
  3. If you’re writing a document intended for junior level staff, go into approproate detail that will be needed to guide them in what they need to do. If it’s for senior management, including irrelevant detail will lose their attention as well as give the impression that you’re petty or nitpicking.
  4. Take the time to align your margins, justify your text correctly, and apply suitable capitalisation to your headings and sub-headings. A shoddy looking document is that much more difficult to take seriously.
  5. Using cool terms that are the latest social buzz may sound cool to your friends and social networking buddies, but it leaves a bad after taste in a formal document because it undermines the professionalism of the reader, and assumes a level of familiarity that is most probably inappropriate.

Hope that helps. And I hope that some sorry sod is spared the pain of having to read a crappy document as a result of these simple points being applied.

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