While P2 can improve communications vs. email, the basics of writing work hand in hand with P2.
Goal: Write better, more impactful P2 posts and comments. This applies to emails, essays, letters, support pages, announcements… you get the idea.
Communication is oxygen at Automattic. Most often, we share messages via the written word. Writing better means you as the author are more effective in sharing ideas and decisions, while the reader benefits from improved clarity and understanding. These benefits compound over time.
Writing is as much editing as creation. To cut and trim is to sharpen and improve. Better writing happens when you reduce the text to its essential meaning.
Start with a clear message. What do you want to say?
- Use an outline.
- Keep to one main topic.
- Read the text out loud.
- Pay attention to your tone.
- Use active verbs.
Make it better:
- Reduce and trim.
- Ask a teammate to read and give feedback.
- Add a summary or split into shorter posts.
- Add hyperlinks to connect the dots.
- Avoid acronyms and jargon.
- Illustrate with an image or graph.
- Check for correct typography and punctuation.W
Use a tool:
- Find focus with distraction-free, fullscreen editors.
- Run your text through a spelling and grammar checker like Grammarly.
Writing & Editing Tips and Techniques
Use an outline to structure your document. If you are prone to rambling; don’t wing it. Start with an outline to keep the focus on your main points.
Cut and trim. Edit. What’s not needed? What can you remove? Can it be one word instead of two?
Tool recommendation: Grammarly.
Write a summary (tl;dr). Then, consider publishing just that summary instead of the rest. Is it enough to get your point across?
Keep to one main topic. If you need to share more, consider splitting up the posts into a series. The result is a focused discussion that’s easier for readers to digest.
Books: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White and Revising Prose by Richard Lanham are two thin and digestible desk references. On Writing Well by William Zinsser is a longer book, well worth reading at least once.
Read the text out loud. Or try the voiceover utility on your computer or device. You’ll catch things when listening back; delete extra filler words — like extra in this sentence!
Aim for active verbs. Too often poor writing gets stuck in passive construction: “We began testing…” rather than “We tested…”. Or, “We’re working on it…” versus a more concrete statement. Watch out for both passive verbs and gerunds, verbs ending in -ing.
Then, ask a teammate to read it; a second opinion can catch errors and improve tone. “Does the tone read the way I intended?” “What could I cut and still keep the main points?”
Tone impacts your message. Remember your audience and consider cultural differences. It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear. As much as possible use human language and avoid jargon and acronyms.
If you’re writing something technical for developers, you can use specific language and jargon. When you share a public support document for a less savvy audience you might opt for simpler language.
Book: Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Frank Luntz.
Examples: Anti-Glossary and Thoughts on acronyms.
Add images or illustrations to cut down length and spice up your text. For explanatory or technical topics, consider adding a graph or visual aid. Add pizazz!
Book: Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte.
Link a full word or phrase to describe its destination instead of adding a link to an extra “here” word — Not only is a longer phrase easier to click on, but it’s more descriptive and memorable.
Quick example: Read the full report here. — OK. Read the full report. — Better!
Know and use correct typography and punctuation. When done right, correct character usage helps your text truly shine! Readability improves your message. Heck, even lawyers can learn a few tricks to make contracts slightly more pleasurable to read, and a lot easier to understand.
Books: For any interest level: Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton; Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss; and Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works by Erik Spiekermann.
For geeks and true fanatics, The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst.
Write and read something every day. Practice. Yes, reading more will help with your writing, too. Copy from the best! To communicate clearly and effectively — especially in writing — is a core strength of our profession.
Use tools to speed you up and catch errors. Whether built-in spelling or a fancy grammar tool.
The spelling and grammar checker built into your OS or your text editor should catch errors like duplicate words and typos. Online editing tools like Grammarly can improve your writing style and reduce cruft — and you’ll likely learn from the suggestions.
For focus, find the simplest tools to remove distractions.
- Pen and paper.
- Simplenote on any phone, tablet, or desktop web.
- Start a new Google doc with doc.new in Chrome.
- Use any editor app and make it fullscreen to remove distractions. Sublime Text and TextMate on macOS are wonderful writing environments, as is the older WriteRoom app.
- The WordPress Gutenberg editor is default fullscreen.
Bonus: A bit of inspiration from On Writing Well by William Zinsser.
Zinsser describes writing as a craft anyone can improve with attention and practice. “This is a craft book.”
Intangibles that produce good writing: confidence, enjoyment, intention, and integrity.
Clear thinking becomes good writing.
If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.
Be natural, how we write is how we define ourselves.
His four “articles of faith” are an inspiration: “Clarity. Simplicity. Brevity. Humanity.”