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Ten Principles of Clear Statements For Business Writing

Good writing aims to communicate a clear message.  In business writing especially, brevity and clarity are key to communicating effectively and getting buy-in from the key stakeholders in your audience.  The last thing a writer wants is to leave their audience wasting time trying to decipher complex text or dig through a clutter of unnecessary words.  

Given the need for precision in business writing, a set of ten “how to” principles was designed by Robert Gunning, the creator of the Gunning Fog Index.  Gunning believed that writers “need a set of principles that strike at the root of Fog …to serve as a useful guide to clear thinking, and thereby to clear writing”.

Ten Principles of Clear Statements

  1. Keep sentences short
  2. Prefer the simple to the complex
  3. Prefer familiar words
  4. Avoid unnecessary words
  5. Put action in your verbs
  6. Write the way you talk
  7. Use terms your readers can picture
  8. Tie in with your reader’s experience
  9. Make full use of the variety
  10. Write to express, not to impress

Not all principles will apply in everything you write but using some appropriate combination of the principles will help you create documents that paint a clear and concise picture for your reader.  In writing materials in the healthcare consulting world, for example, principles 7 and 8 can be indispensable in gaining support from key stakeholders.

Use Terms Your Reader Can Picture and Tie in With Your Readers’ Experience

Healthcare professionals use very specific language in their work.  In producing documentation for a healthcare consulting engagement, using terms your reader can picture, and using their experience as context, makes a substantial difference in writing concisely and keeping the reader engaged.  

Take for example the terms “wheels out” and “wheels in”.  To the average person, these will read as something to do with car repair, or possibly an arrival time.  But to a healthcare professional, they will instantly paint a picture of a patient bed rolling into or out of an operating room and will start them thinking of turnaround times associated with surgery.  Best of all, the use of that terminology requires no explanation, thereby reducing the length of the document being read.

Using principles 7 and 8, in this case, created a powerful and clear message with minimal words.

Keep This List with You

Not every one of these principles is going to apply to every business document, but the ability to use precise language tailored to your audience is key to increasing your likelihood of getting stakeholder buy-in.  To begin writing clearly and keeping your reader engaged, keep this list with you.