One surefire way to improve your scientific or technical writing is to sharpen your aim. Your ultimate goal is simple: Make readers understand your message. A few changes to the form and content of your text will help you hit that target.
Sharpen your content
The key to helping readers understand your writing is making it easier to read. After all, most readers want to understand your point; otherwise, they’re wasting their own time and effort! Help them by making these three changes:
- Simplify the language. Use shorter words whenever possible. You can “employ,” “utilize,” or “leverage” all you want, but why bother when “use” works just as well, is easier to translate, and is perfectly clear? Also, focus on concrete language: Provide a specific figure or metric instead of using vague words such as “very,” “rather,” “many,” or “small.”
- Stay positive. Positive writing is easier — and more pleasing — to read. Positive text tells the reader what’s possible and identifies opportunities rather than disadvantages. Plus, positive phrasing allows you to be clear and assertive.
- Get active. Learn the difference between active and passive voice, then use active voice to make your content soar. Active phrasing states who or what is performing an action.
Active:Our team designed and performed the experiment to test this hypothesis.
Passive: The hypothesis was tested through means of an experiment that was designed and carried out by our team.
Active writing clarifies and shortens your text, making it easier and faster to read, and it elicits a more positive response from readers.
Streamline your format
How you format your content can also have a huge effect on its accessibility. Follow these tips to give readers a roadmap through your content:
- Use shorter sentences and paragraphs. Readability studies confirm that readers pay closer attention to shorter sentences and paragraphs. Use this knowledge to draw — and keep — readers’ focus.
- Use bullets. Bulleted lists help readers find the important points in dense text. Use them to help readers move through documents quickly while picking up essential bits of information. However, be sure to reserve bullets only for the truly significant points — otherwise the reader may suffer ‘bullet fatigue’ and the impact is lost.
- Use headings and subheadings. Headings not only help to break up text, but they also help readers travel through a document quickly. Frequent, informative headings and subheadings help readers find the content they need and avoid distractions.
Use these techniques to guide readers through your document and make your point — every time.