Are your reports grinding readers down?

athlete in racing wheelchair moving at speed with background blurredGetting someone to read a document is often a bit like pushing a car that won’t start.

You have to overcome a ton of inertia at first. But it then takes much less effort to keep them moving.

You’re already halfway there if you can get them to read the first few sentences. That’s why a strong intro is critical, as I explained in my article This Netflix technique works for documents too.

But you then need to keep them reading. Because if you do let them stop, you’ll be back to the hard part all over again.

Reduce friction

Remember, people read until they can stop. Then they do.

They’re always at risk of coming to a juddering halt as soon as they encounter any friction. So you need to create a smooth path to keep them moving.

It’s easier to push a car along a tarmac road than a gravel track. And a surefire way to throw gravel on your reader’s path is by using needlessly complex language.

This might be jargon that your audience doesn’t understand. Often, though, it’s not jargon but Documentese.

That’s my collective name for the strange words and phrases that live only on the pages of proposals and management reports. And they all create friction.

We never just write that things happened ‘because’ something else did but in view of the fact that it did. We don’t ‘improve’ a product but add value to it. And nowhere is ever ‘near’ somewhere. It’s in close proximity to it.

Grinding halt

This is the grit in our documents that brings readers to a grinding halt.

Reading is not a natural process for the human brain. So it always takes a little effort. Adding in words and phrases like these wear us down, often to the point where we stop reading altogether.

So one of the keys to keeping readers reading is to remove as much of this friction as possible.

Low-friction writing

To discover how to achieve this, check out my colleague Kathy Gemmell’s free, in-depth guide to writing readable documents. (Readability is also a core part of all our high-impact writing programmes.)

You can read more about the hidden dangers of Documentese here: Even big topics need small words.

And I’ll be returning to this topic again, as it’s an important one that deserves more airtime.


Image credit: Seth kane / Unsplash

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