A Decalogue for workplace writing? Really?

I don't at all mean to depreciate the original עשרת הדברים. But having spent the metaphorical 40 days and 40 nights out in the wild of the workplace, dealing with sentences like this—

Therefore, this improvement is assumed to redistribute the source of the existing passenger generated flows being conveyed by the two existing system branches because of the redistribution of part of the population from the existing Terminal Complex onto the new Concourse. (41 words in the original)

—I feel a revelation coming on. So here are my 10 Commandments for Workplace Writing, with a few annotations.

I. Honor thy reader (the one who must USE your information).

Every reader is a client/customer. All customers have one concern, which is perfectly dramatized by the following question: CAN YOU HELP ME? And every business must be a FULFILLMENT CENTER. We all do business for the good of our customers/clients. Amen! So understand that it's only the READER who counts when you write. Serve each one well. And understand that READERS are actually USERS. If your information is not 100% useful...well, it's useless.

II. Thou shalt answer all thy reader’s questions (about the issue in question).

Workplace writing must be driven by an "issue," which is simply an area of shared concern between you and your user (reader). And all CONTENT MUST BE DRIVEN BY YOUR READER'S QUESTIONS about that issue. So know your reader's questions and make sure you answer them when you write. Questions are the manifestation of your user's interest. If you answer your user's questions, you'll always be targeting her interest!

III. Thou shalt not lie.

Nothing persuades like the truth. If you have to exaggerate, you're lying. So stop it. You are put on the good earth to be of service to your fellow creatures. Sooner or later, lies (and the greed that spawns them) will be discovered; then trust ends. How many good deeds does it take to overcome one lie? 10? 100? Or are lies, finally, somehow permanent?

IV. Thou shalt cut unnecessary information (that does not answer reader questions).

Think of all the information in your document (from tweets to formal reports) as an answer to your reader's questions about the "issue." Analyze every sentence/paragraph/section in terms of what question that information is answering. Be ruthless. Workplace readers (users) are busy. If any "answer" you provide doesn't link directly to a reader question, CUT IT.

V. Thou shalt begin with the answer (then explain as necessary).

When did we learn to put "conclusions" at the ends of documents? When did we learn to lead with background and contextual information, to explain before we reach our "thus" and "therefore"? As previously noted, workplace readers are very busy, and they hate to read (workplace writing), so begin with your answer, then explain. BTW, we do this when we talk to each other. You ask me a question; I start with my answer. Then, if you're interested (signaled by your asking follow-up questions), I can explain as fully as you need me to. This is most efficient. So get in the habit of doing this when you write!

VI. Thou shalt design documents well (so they keep the reader’s level of effort low).

Stop writing! Begin DESIGNING A READING EXPERIENCE (DARE)! Your reader is desperate to find useful information. Feed the eye-brain system. Maximize your reader's content-reasoning time. Do whatever it takes to emphasize the useful information and de-emphasize the interface. (Thanks, Dr. Tufte: www.EdwardTufte.com.)

VII. Thou shalt observe the known/new contract and keep it holy (whenever possible).

Sentences have two parts: the subject and the predicate. (Get over your grammar phobia. Every activity from mountain climbing and knitting to playing tennis and collecting stamps has its own specialized vocabulary to name important concepts vital to performing that activity. The vocabulary/concepts of grammar just happen to be the specialized vocabulary necessary for sentence-writers. If you are one of these, learn it! It's easy. You'll be glad you did.) Put "known" information in the subject of your sentence and "new" information in the predicate to keep paragraph coherence strong. The "known" information should point backward to words/phrases/ideas already mentioned; the "new" information points forward and moves the discussion ever onward. See the following site for more info on this truly helpful practice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HsoMhJN-DM

VIII. Thou shalt convert nominalizations (as often as possible).

Use verbs to state important actions. Don't turn verbs into nouns (nominalizations). Don't say we conducted an investigation. Say We investigated. Learn to spot nominalizations in your writing. Chances are they're making your writing wordy. When you find a nominalization (a verb that you've turned into a noun), try to convert it back into a verb and rewrite your sentence with that verb. This works out pretty darn well about 80% of the time--as I'll show you at the end of this post. When it doesn't work, keep the nominalization. They're not good for nothing.

IX. Thou shalt use plain English.

Plain English is about clarity, usefulness, and readability (usability). To create PE, you need nothing but useful content, logical and message-first organization, easy navigation, emphatic paragraphs, clear sentences, AND words your reader will understand. PE is NOT about dumbing down your information. If your information is not accurate, it's useless. You speak in plain English all day long (well, most of us do....).

X. Thou shalt proofread scrupulously (before hitting send).

Okay, to err is human. We all make misakes. Oops. But put a little love in your heart for your reader. Proofread your document before you publish it (make it public). Take a little pride in your work. You will be judged by your written work products (so will your business).

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Okay, I'm off my high horse. Now back to the jungle of that unfortunate sentence I quoted before (here it is again):

Therefore, this improvement is assumed to redistribute the source of the existing passenger generated flows being conveyed by the two existing system branches because of the redistribution of part of the population from the existing Terminal Complex onto the new Concourse. (41 words in the original)

The words "improvement" and "redistribution" are nominalizations. Turning these back into verbs gives me a clue about the logic of this sentence (what it's laboring to say). Here was my first revision (which is a little better).

Therefore, this improvement will redistribute the existing passenger-generated flows conveyed by the two existing system branches by redistributing some of the flow from the existing terminal Complex to the new Concourse. (31 words)

Here's my next revision, which converts "improvement" (a noun) to "improve" (a verb), YAY!

This change will improve traffic flow in the two systems by redistributing some flow from the existing terminal Complex to the new Concourse. (23 words)

You'd need to see the whole section to appreciate the change fully. But the Boss was happy because this sentence came from a response to an RFP. The company had only 10 pages to respond (absolutely not a character more) for a job that was worth millions of dollars. This revision was half as long (and twice as strong). The Boss realized that following Commandment VIII (and the other 9) would give them tons more space for important content. They revised in the spirit of these 10 Commandments. They got the job. AND they thanked me for my help.

"Glad to be of service," I said as I rode off into the desert sunset, knowing that readers (users) are active participants who just want to find the useful information. We write in the workplace to fulfill their wishes. So do that.