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7 Tips to Keep Your Reports Short and Client-Friendly

Clients don't have time to read through dense blocks of copy with meandering language. And neither do you. These tips can help you keep written communication to-the-point.

By Cathy Hutchison   •  October 9, 2017 7:15 pm EDT

Tags: aec, architecture, avl design, business, client relations,

How much written information do you have to process in a day? How much do you have to produce?

The ability to scan text has become a digital world survival skill. We don’t read things the same way we did 10 years ago. Which means our reports have to change.

Clients don’t have time to read through dense blocks of copy with meandering language. (And, let’s be honest, neither do you.) Here are seven shortcuts to make your reports more client-friendly:

1. Run a find/replace for the word “that” and delete it.

Did you know the word “that” is only necessary 10% of the times it is used? Remove it, and it makes your sentences stronger.

Example: “Widen the corridor so that circulation is improved.” becomes “Widen the corridor so circulation is improved.” Better yet, “Widen the corridor to improve circulation.”

Exceptions: Constantly replacing a necessary "that" with "which."

2. Use the Hemingway Editor to improve readability.

When you paste your copy into the Hemingway app (www.hemingwayapp.com), it highlights lengthy (run-on), complex sentences in yellow—prompting you to shorten or split them. It tags even more dense and complicated sentences in red so you can rewrite them.

As you use the Hemingway App over time, you begin to notice the bad habits that make your writing difficult to read. It makes you better.

3. Leverage headers, subheads and bulleted lists.

Magazines use headers and subheads to make information easy to scan visually. Readers who scan a magazine can readily tell which information is in which section and stop on what most interests them.

Few clients will read every word you write. Make the most of the information by using headers, subheads and bulleted lists so the document is easy to navigate and clients don’t have to read a novel to understand what you are trying to tell them.

4. Reduce the number of words that end in -ing.

The biggest problem with -ing words is they are used too often when the simple present (or past tense when absolutely warranted) can be used instead.

Whenever possible though, write in an active vs. passive voice.

5. Be specific.

Readers connect more deeply with concise sentences.

General phrases like “today’s congregations” or “the importance of education facilities” are oftentimes too vague to be effective. Use words you would use if the client were sitting across from you, such as “the parishioners who currently attend the 11:00 service” or “the parents who care about children’s education facilities.”

6. Delete your first sentence.

Did you know you can usually delete your first sentence and make your paragraph stronger? Even more surprising, you can often lose the entire first paragraph of a document and make the report stronger.

In our rapid-pace work world, our clients appreciate brevity. Sometimes all we have to do to get it right is highlight and hit the DEL key.

7. Use graphics.

There are a number of online tools which can rapidly create infographics. Visme (www.Visme.co) is a favorite. It is low cost and there are an array of templates that make it easy to find one to match what you want to communicate. Another popular favorite is Canva (https://www.canva.com/create/infographics/) which has free levels to get you started.

As the volume of information we are required to process each day increases, the way we communicate is going to shift and change. Church designers are not immune. Luckily, it isn’t hard to learn the art of brevity. It just takes some intention to create it.

[Editor's note: Items 1, 5 and 7 amended from the original.]


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