In this post, I discuss the seven Cs of effective writing and how to apply them to communicate in the clearest, most effective way possible.
If the purpose of writing is communication, then all writers need to be clear, coherent, complete, concise, consistent, correct and credible.
1. Be clear
It is important to be clear about your intention in writing and your purpose in communicating with your readers. For example, scientific, medical and technical publications may be complex and detailed, but that is no excuse for muddiness. As Strunk and White say in The Elements of Style, if you must be obscure, ‘Be obscure clearly!’ Remove obstacles between you, the writer, and what you want to say.
C-tip for clarity – If writing is unclear, it may need to be taken apart and put back together; a long sentence may need to be divided into two shorter sentences.
2. Be coherent
Is the writing logical and does it make sense and express your meaning, without gaps and contradictions? Do the headings flow in a meaningful sequence that makes them easy to follow? Are all the points connected and is the flow and tone of the writing appropriate?
C-tip for coherence – Look at grammar, punctuation, spelling and choice of words. Do the words say what you, the writer, want to communicate? Are there any points that are repetitious, confusing or ambiguous?
3. Be complete
Does the writing include all the steps in the argument so that it is easy for the reader to follow? Are all the loose ends tied up in the story? Have all the references been included? Do all the illustrations have matching captions?
C-tip for completeness – Check that your readers have everything they need to be informed and prepared for action, if required.
4. Be concise
When you are being concise, unnecessary words and phrases are deleted or replaced with a simpler version – for example, ‘the fact that’ or ‘the reason why is that’, can be replaced with ‘because’. Remove filler words, such as, ‘definitely’, ‘basically’ and ‘kind of’. You can go too far in deleting words, leaving a minimal, pared back version of the text. Would John Lewis be better to edit their slogan, ‘Never knowingly undersold’ as ‘Never undersold’? Probably not! Too much deletion sucks life out of the writing.
C-tip for conciseness – Aim to avoid wordiness and make every word count. A useful guide is that the active voice is more concise than the passive voice, and a positive expression is more concise than a negative expression.
5. Be consistent
Is your writing well-organised and consistent? If your writing is inconsistent, readers may doubt the accuracy and reliability of your facts. How are numbers, capitalisation, italicisation, quotations, hyphens and references being used? How many levels of headings and sub-headings are there? What rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling are being applied?
C-tip for consistency – Follow a house style or style sheet that lists conventions for spellings, capital letters, date format, numbers, units and references. Engage an editor to check the application of the house style or create a style sheet for your project.
6. Be correct
Correct communication is free from mistakes and errors and is easily understood by your readers. Thorough research and fact checking ensure that writing is honest and accurate. If you are using technical terms, are they known to your readers or do they need further explanation?
C-tip for correctness – Even the most experienced writers miss errors and typos. Engage an editor or proofreader to check your grammar, spelling and punctuation.
7. Be credible
If you are not known to your readers, does this piece of writing enhance your reputation? Common advice to aspiring writers is to write about what you know. If you are in unfamiliar territory – for example, if you are writing in a different historical period – have you completed thorough research so that there are no distracting inaccuracies?
C-tip for credibility – It is essential to do your research and ask a content expert to check your facts.
You may come across additional Cs, such as concrete, courteous and creative.
- concrete – does your writing stick to the facts and give details to enliven the message?
- courteous – is your communication friendly, open and honest? Do you write with the reader in mind?
- creative – does your message communicate creatively to keep your readers engaged?
Using the seven Cs as a checklist for your writing helps you to communicate effectively. This ensures that you stay clear, coherent, complete, concise, correct and credible.
‘Writing is long periods of thinking and short periods of writing’ Ernest Hemingway