When I work with a trainer at the gym to get me back on track – literally – with what works best to strengthen my core, which in turn helps my posture, my whole body and my mind-set, he repeats four key body positions:
1. Shoulders back
2. Belly button/tummy in
3. Hips forward
4. Mind focused
When you write, your core strengths come through when you use this mantra: Back, in, forward, focus.
1. Go back over what you’re written: proof. Proofing may seem time-consuming, but it’s one of the most important parts of polishing what you write. If you don’t have time to proof, when will you have time to do it over? I know I’m not the only person who’s pressed the “send” button only to re-read my e-mail or document later and find I’ve misspelled a word, left out an important point, used a “you” instead of a “your,” or not punctuated a sentence correctly. Take the time.
Going back over your document gives you a different perspective than when you initially write; it helps bring your message on point. Have someone else proof it too; I recommend someone not in your department to see if s/he has questions. If that person has questions, one of your readers will too. Another set of eyes is golden when the person sees something you missed, a mistake you made, or a confusing point your wrote.
2. Are the most important points in your document? What’s the point of your document or e-mail? Do you want the reader or readers to reply? Do you need to send them only information? Are you giving them information that will make their lives safer, more profitable, or enlightened? It’s not what you write, it’s how you write. It’s how the readers interpret your writing, and each person will interpret it differently. What do you want them to feel, think or do differently after they’ve read what you’ve written? Include the essentials for your readers to make a decision or to be able to perform the task that you asked of them.
3. Make your points move your message forward. Do all your sentence complete the thought? What’s the ultimate goal of your writing? What’s at its core? Strong sentences move the missive forward, strong paragraphs move the goals forward, and vivid points move you and your reader forward; that’s your point.
Take out all the extraneous words, sentences, paragraphs, and jargon. When you proof – and someone else proofs too – ask, “Is that sentence necessary?” How many words do I really need to get my point across and move it forward? An average sentence for a business letter is 12 words; in a technical document it’s 20. (Yes, I’ve exceeded the rule in some places!) What can you delete? What sentences or words can you take out and still have your sentences and points vivid and comprehensible? If you had to pay $10 per word and you had a certain budget – $2000 – and yet your document exceeds $2,800, what can go? I understand that you’re possessive of your thoughts and words, and yet…get to the point: move it forward. Take out the fluff or the jargon; give the information to your reader(s) in concrete and comprehensible language. Less is more in writing.
4. Focus on your readers and what they need: what you want them to take away from your document. Is it clear to them what you want them to do? Focus more on your readers and their needs, than on what you have in your head. Focus on their time, their understanding and their success, not yours.
Good writing core strengthening:
1. Go back over your document and re-read; proof.
2. Make certain that all pertinent information is in the document.
3. Create words and sentences that move your reader(s) forward to a specific goal or piece of information.
4. Focus on the outcome; focus on your readers.
Keep building your core writing strength just like you would your core body strength: it takes time, commitment and some training.