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Writing to Reach Your Readers

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1 Writing to Reach Your Readers
A Widening Access Workshop Prepared 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 skills Around 700,000 adults in Alberta have some difficulty with reading Over 20% of adults in Canada have serious difficulty with reading Another 20% of the adult population can read but not well International 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 Pringle Alberta literacy tutor

5 Exploring Readability

6 What are the benefits of clear writing?
Encourages clients to read your documents Makes documents more accessible Improves response to requests Reduces miscommunication Encourages participation Helps clients feel included

7 How do I produce a clear written message?
Consider the following five ‘readability’ points: Overall appearance - layout and design 2. Organization of material 3. Use of language 4. Sentence length and structure 5. 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 checker Thesaurus Grammar checker Readability levels Style checker

9 Check the readability levels of your documents on MS Word
Check your document text for: Sentence length Passive sentences Readability level Grade Level Unfamiliar words and jargon

10 Aim for the following checker results
Sentence length: Max 20 words per sentence Passive sentences: Avoid if possible, max 0% - 5% Flesch reading ease: Min 60%, aim for 75% plus Flesch/Kincaid level: Grade 7.00 (average reader) Grade 4.00 – 5.00 (ESL reader)

11 Determining reading levels
Beginner example I 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 analysis Short simple, repetitive sentences of 4-8 words Short simple words mainly of one syllable. (Flesch/Kincaid grade level 0.3)

12 Determining reading levels
 Intermediate example I 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 analysis Short but more fluid sentences of 6–12 words Short, simple words mainly of one or two syllables (Flesch/Kincaid grade level 2.2)

13 Determining reading levels
More advanced example I 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 analysis Conversational sentences of 10 – 20 words Conversational but not sophisticated words of one to three syllables. (Flesch/Kincaid grade level 7.7)

14 Steps to increase readability
Keep your readers in mind Express ideas concisely and clearly Write short simple sentences Break text into short paragraphs Keep each paragraph to one subject Use common words and simple direct phrases

15 Steps to increase readability
Use one or two syllable words Avoid jargon and English idioms Use active voice wherever possible Use inclusive tone Use question and answer format where appropriate

16 Elements of readability
3 key elements: Sentence length and structure Word choice – simple and jargon free Active voice – avoid passive sentences

17 Sentence length and structure
Let your sentences make sense on first reading: Use subject, verb, object construction where possible Use active verbs Avoid passive voice Avoid long sentences (over 20 words). Keep your sentences to one idea Avoid unnecessary jargon Use 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 0.0 Grade level The 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 46.1 Grade level 10.0

19 Word choice Use simple everyday words:
Write as if some one is asking you what you mean Use a thesaurus to find simple alternative words Avoid jargon phrases and acronyms Cut out unnecessary words

20 Simple words make sense
Instead of: Use: accomplish ascertain disseminate endeavor expedite facilitate formulate in lieu of locality optimum strategize utilize do 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 that about 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. Words Words per sentence: Passive voice: % Flesch readability: Flesch/Kincaid grade level: 11.7

26 Clear writing version Do 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. Words Words 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 action Main idea highlighted at the beginning Questions formatted as bullet points Unnecessary phrases and excess words deleted Consistent and common vocabulary - dropped “itinerary” Sentences shortened and simple sentence structure used where possible Passive 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 language Jargon Clear writing expression Prioritized evaluative procedures have been established based upon acceptable performance criteria to map progress We will evaluate our progress at the end of the year Utilise input from varied sources Implementing effective new strategies to optimize performance

30 Clear writing exercises (2)
Changing passive to active voice Passive Voice Active voice Mistakes have been made which require immediate rectification We have made mistakes that need correcting Arrangements 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 Word Open “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 20 Passive 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 format Focus on what readers need to know Make it easy for the reader to find important information Provide a formal table of contents for long documents Place your main ideas near the beginning Respond to predictable reader questions

33 Layout and design principles
Some key points to remember: Keep your information short and to the point Avoid giving too much or irrelevant information Most readers look at graphics and headlines first They are unlikely to read from page to page unless there is good reason

34 Things to incorporate and things to avoid
Justifying text It 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 the right 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
Emphasis PUTTING 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
Fonts Choose 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 headings Which heading gives a better sense of what the article is about and the action needed? Sustainability Review We Need Your Help to Keep our School Open

38 Lists, bullets and highlights
Vertical lists Vertical lists highlight information in a visually clear way. They help readers focus on important material by: highlighting order of importance listing the sequence of events identifying all the steps in a process providing information in an easy to read format adding white space

39 Paper and Ink Colour Use dark ink on light paper.
Avoid green on red at Christmas time Avoid yellow or pale orange on white Use 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 you Check with some of your readers if they think the graphics and illustrations are appropriate Don't use too many graphics

41 Using Graphics Using Graphics
Place all graphics and illustrations as close as possible to the text they refer to Place them on the page in a way that does not interrupt normal reading patterns Make sure all graphics and illustrations are clear and the captions are easy to read Be 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 school Read

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:

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