Last week I spent 5 days in South Haven, Michigan with a group of my closest friends. We have been vacationing near Lake Michigan for 12 years, but have been meeting for the past 35 years. Each month we read and discuss a book. This past month we read Watership Down, a book we read years ago but had largely forgotten. It was something about rabbits… As we grow older (we are all in our 60’s and 70’s) we joke that one day we will be able to read the same book each month because we won’t remember what we read.
This week I’ve been working on chapter 22 in the Nutrition Communication book for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The title of this chapter is “Nutrition Communicators Write to be Read, Understood, and Remembered.” I wonder, what makes writing memorable?
Numerous studies have examined how well we retain information, especially medical information, conveyed through various means. It is disheartening to learn that most of what we read, or are told, or even see on a video is forgotten. And much of what is remembered is recalled incorrectly. How can we write in such a way to be read, understood, and remembered? Chapter 22 describes many characteristics of quality writing. Here are my top 3:
Write with the audience in mind
Effective writing makes the reader feel it was written just for them. To accomplish this, the nutrition communicator benefits from completing a needs assessment of their target audience. Equipped with the results, they can address their audience’s needs and concerns.
Audience-centered writing provides evidence pertinent to the target audience and uses illustrations they find meaningful. Find out what your audience cares about. Choose examples wisely. When writers identify what their audience wants and needs to know, they are able to write with the audience in mind.
Write with a clear focus
Quality writing is focused. The purpose and main idea are clearly stated. If you cannot convey your overriding message clearly and concisely, work on it until you can. Before you begin writing, know where you are going. Have a plan. Outline your writing.
The main, overriding message – your big idea – must stand out at the center of your writing. When someone reads what you write, they should quickly and easily be able to identify your main idea. Focused and logical writing is evident from beginning to end. The main idea should be clear in the opening, supported throughout the body, and restated in closing. Make it memorable and actionable.
Each paragraph ideally begins with a strong topic sentence that clearly states the main point of that paragraph. Each sentence that follows flows logically and supports the topic sentence by providing evidence, context, illustrations, or supporting examples. The paragraph ends with a summary statement or a suitable transition to the paragraph that follows.
Organize your writing around your key messages. Help the reader identify what these are with clear headings that help the key messages stand out from the text. Repeat key ideas and provide a summary list at the end.
Write in the modern style
The modern style of writing uses active voice. It is clear and concise. Vague or confusing language is avoided. The subject of the sentence is a person or a thing which is easily visualized rather than an abstract idea. Active voice means that the subject does the action. Passive voice means the subject receives the action. Read these two examples:
A: The revision of the article will be completed by the intern.
B: The intern will revise the article.
Which one is clearer? B is written in the modern style and uses active voice. “Old” writing (A) uses passive voice and sounds wordy.
Modern writing is conversational, using common, everyday words. Unnecessary words are eliminated. Each word counts. Sentences vary in length and average about 15 words. When writing for lay audiences, use contractions, personal pronouns, and words that elicit emotion. Be direct and include a call-to-action. Lastly, never accept your first draft as your final draft. Write. Review. Revise. Repeat.
When we write with our audience in mind, have a clear focus, and use active voice, we are writing to be remembered. Stay tuned for next week’s blog for more ways to write well and become a better writer. What is quality writing to you?