Presentation on theme: "Writing to Reach Your Readers"— Presentation transcript:
1 Writing to Reach Your Readers A Widening Access WorkshopPrepared by Michael Wallace. Widening Access for Adult Literacies Project.Photos are stock or used with permission of participants.‘Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple’
2 Clear writing begins with clear questions Who are your readers?What do they need to know?What is the simplest way to inform them?Prepared by Michael Wallace. Widening Access for Adult Literacies Project.Photos are stock or used with permission of participants.
3 Why is clear writing important? 4 in 10 Canadians don’t have adequate literacy skillsAround 700,000 adults in Alberta have some difficulty with readingOver 20% of adults in Canada have serious difficulty with readingAnother 20% of the adult population can read but not wellInternational Adult Literacy and Skills Survey 2003
4 “Hard to read documents are as much of a barrier to people with limited literacy as are steps for people who use wheelchairs”Janet PringleAlberta literacy tutor
6 What are the benefits of clear writing? Encourages clients to read your documentsMakes documents more accessibleImproves response to requestsReduces miscommunicationEncourages participationHelps clients feel included
7 How do I produce a clear written message? Consider the following five ‘readability’ points:Overall appearance - layout and design2. Organization of material3. Use of language4. Sentence length and structure5. Tone – How you speak to your reader
8 Check the readability levels of your documents on MS Word Turn on the following in MS Word:Spelling checkerThesaurusGrammar checkerReadability levelsStyle checker
9 Check the readability levels of your documents on MS Word Check your document text for:Sentence lengthPassive sentencesReadability levelGrade LevelUnfamiliar words and jargon
10 Aim for the following checker results Sentence length: Max 20 words per sentencePassive sentences: Avoid if possible, max 0% - 5%Flesch reading ease: Min 60%, aim for 75% plusFlesch/Kincaid level: Grade 7.00 (average reader) Grade 4.00 – 5.00 (ESL reader)
11 Determining reading levels Beginner exampleI do not drive to work. I take the bus. I save money this way. I do not have to pay for gas. I do not have to pay for parking. I save money on gas. I save money on parking.Beginner analysisShort simple, repetitive sentences of 4-8 wordsShort simple words mainly of one syllable.(Flesch/Kincaid grade level 0.3)
12 Determining reading levels Intermediate exampleI don’t drive my car to work. I take the bus instead. This saves me money because I don’t need to pay for gas or parking. Parking is very high – $5.00 a day. That would be $25.00 a week!Intermediate analysisShort but more fluid sentences of 6–12 wordsShort, simple words mainly of one or two syllables(Flesch/Kincaid grade level 2.2)
13 Determining reading levels More advanced exampleI could drive to work, but I decided to take the bus in order to save money. When I include the costs of parking, gas and maintenance, I figure I must be saving around $ a year.More advanced analysisConversational sentences of 10 – 20 wordsConversational but not sophisticated words of one to three syllables.(Flesch/Kincaid grade level 7.7)
14 Steps to increase readability Keep your readers in mindExpress ideas concisely and clearlyWrite short simple sentencesBreak text into short paragraphsKeep each paragraph to one subjectUse common words and simple direct phrases
15 Steps to increase readability Use one or two syllable wordsAvoid jargon and English idiomsUse active voice wherever possibleUse inclusive toneUse question and answer format where appropriate
16 Elements of readability 3 key elements:Sentence length and structureWord choice – simple and jargon freeActive voice – avoid passive sentences
17 Sentence length and structure Let your sentences make sense on first reading:Use subject, verb, object construction where possibleUse active verbsAvoid passive voiceAvoid long sentences (over 20 words).Keep your sentences to one ideaAvoid unnecessary jargonUse inclusive tone
18 Sentence length counts Relating to the Fall 2004 Convocation, this letter from the Office of the Registrar should be used to gain one hour’s free parking in either the Education or Stockton car parks in order to allow graduates to collect their convocation packages and academic apparel any day or evening during the next week in preparation for the ceremony which will be held on Saturday 14 November.Reading Ease 0.0Grade levelThe Fall 2004 Convocation is on Saturday 14 November. Please collect your graduation packages and academic gowns any day or evening this week. This letter gives you one hour’s free parking at either the Education or Stockton car parks.Reading Ease 46.1Grade level 10.0
19 Word choice Use simple everyday words: Write as if some one is asking you what you meanUse a thesaurus to find simple alternative wordsAvoid jargon phrases and acronymsCut out unnecessary words
20 Simple words make sense Instead of:Use:accomplish ascertain disseminate endeavor expedite facilitate formulate in lieu of locality optimum strategize utilizedo find out send out, distribute try hasten, speed up make easier, help work out, devise, form instead of place best, greatest, most plan use
21 Cut out unnecessary words Instead of:Use:with regard to by means of in the event that until such time during such time in respect of in view of the fact on the part of subsequent to under the provisions of with a view to it would appear that it is probable that notwithstanding the fact thatabout by if until while for because by after under to apparently probably although
22 Active Voice Use the active form of a verb instead of the passive “We decided” instead of “It has been decided”“The committee agreed on a new procedure” instead of “A new procedure was agreed upon by the committee”
23 Change passive to active Passive sentences have two basic features, although both may not appear in every passive sentence:a) A past participle (generally a verb ending ‘ed’)b) A form of the verb ‘to be’e.g., ‘Mistakes must be rectified before new proposals may be considered’
24 Change passive to active In passive voice, the subject is either missing or is being acted upon, e.g.High failure rates have been recorded in exams this year.The exam was failed by one third of the students.In active voice, it is clear ‘who’ or ‘what’ is performing an action, e.g. One third of the students failed the exam.
25 Writing examples Unnecessary interruptions to classroom activities It has come to our attention that many children are not always clear about how they will be getting home at the end of each day. We would therefore be grateful if you would please ensure that in the mornings before your child leaves for school they know what their plans are for the end of the day. This includes: are they traveling on the bus, are they being picked up, and if so who is picking them up, or are they perhaps walking home?Although it is recognized in the school office that there may be emergencies which arise from time to time requiring changes to normal itineraries, if children know their plans in advance then interruptions are not required to be made to regular classroom instruction time in order to pass on messages. Thank you for your assistance in this matter.WordsWords per sentence:Passive voice: %Flesch readability:Flesch/Kincaid grade level: 11.7
26 Clear writing versionDo your children know how they will get home after school?Before your children leave for school each morning, please make sure they know how they will get home. Ask them these questions:Do you know how you will get home today? Who will pick you up?Will you travel by bus? Will you walk home today?Will you be picked up?If children know their plans in advance, then we do not need to interrupt classroom activities to pass on last minute messages. If there is change of plans due to an emergency, please contact the office and we will pass on the message to your child. Thank you for your help with this.WordsWords per sentence:Passive sentences: %Flesch readability:Flesch/Kincaid grade level:
27 What changed? Clear writing changes made: Tone changed from “telling off” to a positive call to actionMain idea highlighted at the beginningQuestions formatted as bullet pointsUnnecessary phrases and excess words deletedConsistent and common vocabulary - dropped “itinerary”Sentences shortened and simple sentence structure used where possiblePassive sentences changed to active voice
28 What changed? Clear writing changes made: Examples of changes from passive to active voice:“it is recognized in the school office that there may be emergencies” changed to “If there is a change of plans due to an emergency”“interruptions are not required to be made” changed to “we do not need to interrupt”
29 Clear writing exercises (1) Changing jargon to clear and simple languageJargonClear writing expressionPrioritized evaluative procedures have been established based upon acceptable performance criteria to map progressWe will evaluate our progress at the end of the yearUtilise input from varied sourcesImplementing effective new strategies to optimize performance
30 Clear writing exercises (2) Changing passive to active voicePassive VoiceActive voiceMistakes have been made which require immediate rectificationWe have made mistakes that need correctingArrangements are being considered with regard to providing onsite supervision for young children.Action on the car parking problem has been delegated to the parent- teacher sub-committee.
31 Clear writing exercises (3) Workshop CD Exercises using MS WordOpen “Clear Writing Exercises” file.Choose one or more writing extracts.Use clear writing principles to rewrite the extract.Use MS Word readability tool to check results.Aim for the following results:Words per sentence: Max of 20Passive voice: 0%Flesch readability:Flesch/Kincaid Grade Level: 5.0 – 8.0
32 Layout and design principles Some key points to remember:Organize information in a logical straightforward formatFocus on what readers need to knowMake it easy for the reader to find important informationProvide a formal table of contents for long documentsPlace your main ideas near the beginningRespond to predictable reader questions
33 Layout and design principles Some key points to remember:Keep your information short and to the pointAvoid giving too much or irrelevant informationMost readers look at graphics and headlines firstThey are unlikely to read from page to page unlessthere is good reason
34 Things to incorporate and things to avoid Justifying textIt is important to justify text to the left and have ragged right-hand margins. It makes the text much easier to read.Text that is justified to theright is more difficult to read.We may think that it looks tidier to have both sides of the text justified, but in fact it makes text more difficult to read because the spacing varies between words. It also sometimes leads to hyphenated words.
35 Things to incorporate and things to avoid EmphasisPUTTING EVERYTHING IN CAPITAL LETTERS IS NOT A GOOD TECHNIQUE FOR EMPHASISING INFORMATION. ALTHOUGH IT MAY DRAW THE READER'S ATTENTION TO THE SECTION, IT MAKES IT HARDER TO READ.Similarly, underlining will draw the reader's attention, but it makes it hard on the eyes.In both cases, it is better to use bold and/or italics but only for important issues or words that need emphasizing.
36 Things to incorporate and things to avoid FontsChoose a solid, plain typeface that is easy to read. Don't combine more than three different typefaces on the same page because it will give a busy, confusing appearance.Similarly, underlining will draw the reader's attention, but it makes it hard on the eyes.A sans serif typeface is good for titles because it draws your eye down into the body of the text. Some examples of sans-serif fonts are Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, Tahoma.
37 Things to incorporate and things to avoid Informative headingsWhich heading gives a better sense of what the article is about and the action needed?Sustainability ReviewWe Need Your Help to Keepour School Open
38 Lists, bullets and highlights Vertical listsVertical lists highlight information in a visually clear way.They help readers focus on important material by:highlighting order of importancelisting the sequence of eventsidentifying all the steps in a processproviding information in an easy to read formatadding white space
39 Paper and Ink Colour Use dark ink on light paper. Avoidgreen on redat Christmas timeAvoid yellow or pale orange on whiteUse dark ink on light paper.Avoid low contrast like yellow ink on white or black on dark paper.Use dark ink (blue or black) on light paper (white or cream).Avoid large passages of light print on a black background.
40 Using Graphics Using Graphics Use graphics with caution Make sure that they mean the same thing to your reader as they do to youCheck with some of your readers if they think the graphics and illustrations are appropriateDon't use too many graphics
41 Using Graphics Using Graphics Place all graphics and illustrations as close as possible to the text they refer toPlace them on the page in a way that does not interrupt normal reading patternsMake sure all graphics and illustrations are clear and the captions are easy to readBe wary of using charts to explain information. People with poor math skills can find charts hard to understand
42 Word Art Welcome to our school Although word art might look good, it can be difficult to read. Use it sparingly.Welcome to our schoolRead
43 Clear Writing checklist When your draft document is ready, use the ‘Clear Writing Checklist for Printed Materials’ to check its readability status.Provide a draft copy to a range of staff members, clients, customers and program participants to get there responses.
44 More clear writing resources Books:On Writing Well, William Zinsser (30th ed, Collins, 2006)Sin and Syntax, Constance Hale (Broadway Books, 1999)Get to the Point, Rose Grotsky (Praxis Adult Skills Development, 1994)Websites: