Take the fear out of writing

We know the answer.

It’s fear.

White-knuckled, adrenaline-pumping, heart-stopping fear.

Informal research during the 20 years that Top Copy Communications has been in business indicates that the big F remains the single biggest cause of clichéd, clumsy and ineffective business writing.

Our experience shows that there is something about the combination of an empty Word file that needs filling and a complex message that needs conveying that paralyses people’s ability to communicate properly through a computer keyboard. Out of fear.

Let’s get back to basics. Effective writing means using straightforward words and phrases in a logical sequence that enables your audience to understand and internalise what you are telling them − then respond accordingly. In this sense, effective written communication is no different to verbal communication.

But when the fear of writing sets in, this simple logic gets thrown out.

Tension rises, vision blurs and the results can be a mess. Instead of using the same words and phrases that we would use when speaking to a real person, we resort to what we somehow think is Proper Writing (capitals intended).

Before becomes prior to.

Use becomes utilise.

Despite becomes notwithstanding.

Among becomes amongst and while becomes whilst.

Inexplicably, you lose the ability to use the active voice. Dog bites man now becomes man is bitten by dog.

Before long, you are resorting to atrocities such as thus and moreover; going forward, leverage and in order to. A simple change becomes a paradigm shift. And – worst of all – you stop talking about issues or addressing them. Inexcusably, your copy starts speaking to issues.

Your sequence gets scrambled and then your structure completely falls apart. Next thing, your message has completely lost its meaning and your audience is ordering another coffee and checking Facebook. Game over.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way.

If you’re finding it tough to stop a simple message from getting tied up in linguistic knots and corporate tosh, stop what you’re doing immediately. Stand in front of the nearest mirror. Look yourself in the eye and tell yourself what you are trying to write.

If there’s no mirror around, close your eyes and listen to yourself explaining your message to your favourite aged relative.

Now return to your keyboard and type in what you have just said. Even if you still feel the fear, just write it anyway. Read it back to yourself aloud and edit it down by 25%. Result!

See? There’s nothing scary about effective writing, after all.

  • Over the coming weeks, we will be posting our favourite examples of frightened writing. Of course, we will change any names to protect the innocent. The results are often amusing – but always instructive.

If you need to know more about how to take the fear out of writing, we'd be delighted to help. Please get in touch.

4 thoughts on “Take the fear out of writing

  1. This is a great blog!
    I am usually able to write quite clearly but I have very often seen the results of the muddled and fearful writing you say about! Your blog gives great insights and advice to these writers. I think this should be broadcast to writers of product manuals that give instructions!
    Shauna

  2. Hi Sionaidh,

    Many thanks for your feedback. I’m very pleased the post could offer some clarity – and also encourage you to take the fear out of your own writing. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any other questions.

    Regards

    Hilary

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