Writing Tips

General Writing Tips

  • Be brief and to the point.
  • Use simple concrete language and short uncomplicated sentences.
  • Use language appropriate for your audience.
  • Avoid acronyms, jargon, business speak, and unnecessary technical language.
  • Include all of the most important information, including calls to action, in the first paragraph.
  • Organize your remaining points in a logical sequence from most to least important.
  • Create bullet-point lists to facilitate quick understanding.
  • Use strong verbs and avoid passive voice.
  • Edit to remove unnecessary words.
  • Proofread for spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Acronyms

Avoid using acronyms unless the entities to which they refers are commonly known by their acronyms (examples include ITS and CIO).

Always spell out the name of the entity on first reference. If using its acronym in the same message or article, it is permissible to use just the acronym.

Example

Campus Technology Services (CTS) provides desktop support for the Yale community. CTS manages the ITS Help Desk and a team of distributed support providers (DSPs).

Passive Voice vs. Active Voice

Passive voice is a sentence construction that places the active subject behind the verb (frequently a form of “to be” followed by a past participle). While grammatically correct, passive voice weakens the clarity of your writing and is best avoided.

Examples

Passive voice: The report was edited by the communications team.
Active voice:  The communications team edited the report.

Passive voice: After the server was compromised, it was shut down by the Information Security Office.
Active voice: After unauthorized users compromised the server, the Information Security Office shut it down.

Bullet Points vs. a Numbered List

Use bullet points to create an unordered list of key points that readers can quickly grasp. Our operational message template now uses a format that begins with a summary of three or four bullet points.

Use a numbered list for the ordered steps of a process, or for a list whose title specifies a number (e.g., “Top 10 Tips for Better Writing”).