4 tips to simplify complex writingThis time of year, corporate sustainability reports bloom like algae in a lake.

These reports show the efforts a company makes to do the right things for the environment and the community. However, the language that describes what they do is often thick with jargon. And there’s no getting around multi-syllable words like “sustainable” and “environment.” It can make for a dense, hard-to-understand document.

Here are four ways to explain a complex topic so readers will understand:

  1. Use the active voice
    “When possible, use the direct and more vigorous active voice.” – The Canadian Writer’s Handbook.
  1. Write short and cut out unnecessary words
    “Omit needless words.” – Strunk & White, The Elements of Style
  1. Use short, familiar words (average of five characters per word)
    “When there is a choice of words, prefer the short to the long, the familiar to the unfamiliar.” – The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling guide, which includes a helpful section on recommended “plain words”
  1. Avoid jargon
    “Translate business jargon into plain English.” – The Canadian Press Stylebook

You can also make these reports easier to read by:

  • Writing to the reader (“you”)
  • Breaking long, complicated sentences into shorter ones (aim for an average 14 words or less)
  • Breaking paragraphs into fewer sentences (averaging just two or three)
  • Using bullet points.

Have you found a more concise way of saying many of the terms in sustainability reports, including “sustainability” itself? Do share! And let me know if you need help editing your reports for readability.

See examples of the four tips in my newsletter, Wordnerdery.

Related reading:
Fight for readability with five easy fixes
Writing for the web? Follow these tips to help impatient readers
Confusing to the max: A 105-word sentence

Image: “franky242” and FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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