In past posts I’ve written about how to make your text easy to read. In this post I will touch on typography—an important aspect of your document which isn’t about the words. Typography is the style and appearance of printed matter. These ‘rules’ are adapted from Purdue University Online Writing Lab.
- Avoid using more than two types of font in one document.
- Make sure you can read all the text against the background. If you are using colour make sure the colours work well together and will print clearly in black and white (not everyone has a colour printer).
- Unless instructed otherwise, left-justify your body text.
- Use a simple serif font such as Times New Roman or Cambria for body text. (Serifs are the small projections which finish off letters in some fonts.)
- Use Arial or other sans serif fonts such as Franklin Gothic Book or Calibri for headings.
- Avoid unusual fonts for professional documents.
- Use 10 or 12 point font for body text.
- For headings, bold the text or use a different font; bolding and underlining looks ugly and is difficult to read.
I’ve just got one more thing to add. If your organization has a style guide, follow it. Organizations develop their style guides because they want you to use them to present a consistent brand image. If your organization doesn’t have a style guide, think about creating one.
(In case you’re wondering about the owl photo, the Purdue Online Writing Lab calls itself Purdue OWL.)
The terms ‘editing’, ‘revising’ and ‘proofreading’ are often used interchangeably these days. But they are actually three distinct processes. Doing each one separately, rather than editing, revising and proofing at the same time, helps me when I’m writing.
What are the differences? The definitions provided in the High Impact Business Writing course, offered as a MOOC by University of California, Irvine, are a good place to start. The following information is adapted from the course material.
- Done as soon as the draft is completed.
- Sentence level review.
- Check and refine spelling, punctuation, grammar, and word choice.
- It’s one sided: the editor makes corrections.
- Consider the document as a whole. Does the writing stay on point? Is it well organized? Does the writing support the point?
- Judge the voice and tone. Are they appropriate for your audience?
- Consider the questions raised and observations made. Are they logical? Do they follow?
- A dialogue between the writer and reviewer.
- A time to expand and clarify ideas, rather than correct errors.
- Often involves moving paragraphs, removing weak arguments, or adding supporting data.
- Done after editing and revision – the final stage.
- Actively seek spelling, spacing, punctuation and grammar errors, and make corrections.
- Consider overall appearance of the document.
So three different processes, each with different aims, each requiring a different approach.
By separating them and considering each process separately, you will find that you can tighten your writing, think about your aims and audience, and finish with more successful, error free, work.
Image source: http://apmgraphics.com.au/index.php/proofreading-marks/
Just a few days ago I discovered a useful text analysis tool. It seems it’s used regularly in education these days, so some of you may already be familiar with it. You can use this tool before you write, to plan your writing, and you can use it at the end to make sure you’ve got everything covered.
The tool is SOAPSTONE.
When we look at the first part of the word, SOAPS, each letter stands for something that we need to think about with our writing.
The final part of the word, Tone, refers to the tone of our writing.
To use this tool effectively there are a series of questions to ask yourself.
- Who are you?
- What is your perspective on what you are writing?
- What are your values in relation to what you are writing?
- What details will you reveal?
- Why is it important that your audience know who you are?
- How does your knowledge of the occasion affect what you are writing about?
- What are you writing for, and how does it fit into the bigger picture?
- What are the characteristics of your audience? And their values?
- What assumptions are you making about your audience?
- How are the audience members related to you?
- Why are you addressing them?
- What to you hope to accomplish with your writing?
- How would you like your audience to respond?
- What do you want them to do?
- What evidence are you going to provide to your audience?
- What are you talking about?
- What do you want your audience to feel?
- How will your attitude make the piece of writing more effective?
- What is your attitude? (Try choosing a few words before you write that accurately reflect the attitude you want to convey)
Try using this tool next time you write. Thinking about, and answering, each of these questions will help you make sure that your writing achieves what you want it to achieve.
I’ve put the questions into a downloadable checklist that you can print and keep on your desk.
Sometimes I find tips for better writing in unexpected places. That happened this month. I recently dropped in at a family history exhibition and met Carol Baxter. She’s an author and the ‘History Detective’. She has a newsletter and in the most recent edition she included such a great writing tip that I had to share it with you. So this tip is adapted from Carol Baxter’s newsletter. Carol calls it ‘chronological writing’.
So what is chronological writing? At its simplest it’s about writing things in the order that they happened. Most of us probably do this quite unconsciously at the macro level, when we are thinking about the overall structure of our writing, but Carol’s tip was about doing it at the sentence/paragraph level. In her words, ‘It’s much easier for a reader to comprehend what we are saying when the first occurrence is written first and the second occurrence is written second.’
For the first example I’ll use Carol’s text, then I’ll follow it with a business example.
Take a look at these three sentences.
- Mary fed the cat then went to the shops.
- After feeding the cat, Mary went to the shops.
- Mary went to the shops after feeding the cat.
The first two the actions are written in the order they occurred. First feed the cat, then go to the shops. The third breaks the rule. As a reader you are following Mary to the shops but then you have to go back in time to where she is feeding the cat.
Now there’s nothing wrong with the third sentence. It’s just that if you write many of these sentences in your piece, your reader might become confused about what is happening when.
- At the meeting we reviewed the proposal and quotes, then decided to buy the XYZ printer for the department.
- After reviewing the proposal and quotes at the meeting, we decided to buy the XYZ printer for the department.
- At the meeting we decided to buy the XYZ printer for the department after reviewing the proposal and quotes.
Again, the third example is not wrong. It’s quite clear. But turn your timelines around too often and you may end up with a confused reader.
Why not add chronological sentences to your editing checklist? Ask yourself, ‘Are my sentences following the order or events?’ If they’re not, is that okay – or are there too many that aren’t?
BTW, you can find Carol’s website here.
When you’re editing your first draft, it’s a good idea to check if you have used parallel structures. Checking this will help make sure that your sentences are grammatically consistent, and using parallel structures makes your sentences easier to read.
What is a parallel structure?
If your sentence has sections that have similar content and function, write them in a similar way.
For example, make sure verbs tenses are consistent.
- He was researching, drafted and writing the report.
- He researched, drafted and wrote the report.
- Before the meeting we need to: draft the agenda, arranging the venue, setting up the refreshments, and invite the participants.
- Before the meeting we need to: draft the agenda, arrange the venue, set up the refreshments, and invite the participants.
It’s also important to think about other types of words.
- Small group meetings will take place both in and outside of the main conference hall.
- Small group meetings will take place both inside and outside of the main conference hall.
Usually we make this kind of mistake when we’re in a hurry, so make sure you have time to read through your writing before you have to send or submit it.