Write for understanding

Virtual First | Communication Kit

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a too-long email or jargon-packed strategy doc. Hard-to-understand writing costs businesses billions of dollars each year—and it’s frustrating! But simple writing can be a business advantage. It respects everyone’s time and helps you make decisions faster. Use this exercise to make your emails, docs, and presentations clear and reader-friendly.

25 MINS | PERSONAL EXERCISE

Step 1: Learn the top 5 rules for good writing

Great writing is simple, human, and easy for anyone at your company—not just experts—to understand. Before you start editing, take a look at Writing 101 below. When you’re done, reflect:

  • The rule I most often nail is _______ 
  • The rule I most often break is __________ 
Writing 101

Could you cut that in half, please?

Use this primer to improve any piece of writing.

Writing 101

Step 2: Grade your writing

Pick 2–3 emails or docs (yours or someone else’s) that are long, confusing, or hard to relate to. Then fill out the writing scorecard below. When you’re done, reflect: Is the writing easy to understand, or could it be simpler? Notice any patterns or themes?
Writing scorecard

Is your writing reader-friendly?

Do you put your bottom line on top (BLOT) or bury the lede? Use this writing scorecard to find out.

Step 3: Try a rewrite

The secret to great writing isn’t brilliance—it’s editing. Pick a low-scoring writing sample from your writing scorecard. Then follow the steps in the writing worksheet below. (Don’t worry, cutting sentences is painless.) When you’re done, take a step back and review the draft. Can a reader scan it and quickly “get” what you meant?
Writing worksheet

KISS: Keep It Simple, Silly

Use this writing worksheet to tighten up a piece of writing. (Stumped about translating jargon? Try the jargon cheat sheet, too.)

Jargon cheatsheet

Extra credit: Mind your tone

Brief responses like “Sure.” or “Why did you do that?” can come across just fine in person. But over chat or email, when teammates can’t read your body language or facial expressions, they can seem rude. Keep your tone relatable by dropping an occasional emoji (grinning cat with smiling eyes) or exclamation point (“Sounds great!”) into your writing. 

More resources

3 easy wins

Build the habit

  • Tomorrow: Pick one rule you often break, and try to avoid it in your next email
  • Next week: Cut a doc in half
  • Quarterly: See if you can go a full week without writing any jargon words