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While most of us possess technical writing skills of some kind, we can all use a refresher course in good writing before preparing text for a publication. Here are some tips that will help you write clear, concise, readable copy that will communicate your message to your audience.
Consider your audienceKeep in mind your audience’s reading level and knowledge of the subject. Two brochures on the same surgical procedure — one for patients and the other for physicians — require very different writing styles. Put yourself in your target audience’s shoes — write in a way that draws the reader’s attention to the substance of the writing. Write at the appropriate reading level for the appropriate audiences; please don’t write higher than an eighth-grade reading level.
Determine your purposeDecide what you want your readers to do, think or feel after reading the publication. For example, you may want them to register for a conference, understand more about a service or procedure, think highly of the staff in your department or feel comfortable coming to UCLA Health. Keep in mind your purpose throughout the entire piece.
Begin with an outlineThink about the main points in your message and how you want the information to flow. Draft an outline of your main ideas to help you get started. You may want to share the outline with a colleague for feedback before you begin writing.
Write, rewrite and write againRevising is part of writing. After you’ve compiled your first draft, review it with a critical eye and edit it using the guidelines in this manual. Ask co-workers to critique the copy; be willing to incorporate suggestions. Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. Consider reading it aloud to yourself to see if it makes sense.
Use the active voice instead of passive voice, and put statements in a positive formFor example, write: “The department sponsored a lecture,” rather than “The lecture was sponsored by the department.”
Keep it specific and concise.Most people have a lot of reading to do each day. Keep your text as concise as possible to make your piece more readable. Use details rather than generalities to explain a main point. Include concrete examples to which your audience can relate. Eliminate repetition, remove unnecessary words and condense long phrases. Avoid jargon, clichés and wordy prepositional phrases. As examples:
Avoid as a matter of fact at this point in time in close proximity true facts past history mutual cooperation is in the process of utilized
Use instead in fact now, today near facts past cooperation is used
Avoid using formal or scholarly tone unless necessary A conversational tone is more readable and usually more effective for UCLA Health publications. Technical documents may require a more formal tone. Again, consider your audience.
Choose verbs carefully Strong, descriptive verbs add color to copy and eliminate the need for wordy phrases.
Avoid verbs ending in –ing. For example:
Do not use nouns as verbs. For example:
Use bullets effectively Bulleted text helps highlight information and make the text more readable. Overuse of bullets, however, can make brochures and similar pieces look awkward. Bullets and lists are especially useful for digital content, which we will discuss later in this style guide. When the order isn't important, list the items alphabetically. Always capitalize the first letter of each bulleted item. If the list includes any fragments, do not end items with periods.
Example: The job duties include:
If the list comprises complete sentences, use periods at the end of each item.
Proofread/spell check Proofread carefully in addition to using your computer’s spell check.