10 random acts of kindness for readers (and editors)

I’ve been reading and editing a lot of project reports and documents lately, and as I have, I’ve been keeping a running list of common errors and missteps shared by many writers.  Here are ten in random order; I’ll add to the list as my editing marathon continues.

  1. Use the real state abbreviation when writing.  Postal codes – MO for Missouri – are only used in address blocks.
  2. Capitalize only first word and proper nouns in headlines.  Don’t cap every word or, god forbid, every letter; there’s plenty of research to show that landscape capitalization is far easier to read.
  3. Use “more than” or “less than” when talking about numbers or quantities, not over or under. More describes a numerical relationship; over a spatial relationship. 
  4. Scan the document – every occurrence of “to … ” signals an opportunity for using a more active voice. “The project will prompt economic growth”; not “the project is designed to prompt economic growth.”
  5. Lead virtually any organizational email, letter or document with a call to action, then build the case and context for taking the action, not the other way around. Doing so helps orient the reader and makes for more succinct, tighter writing. 
  6. Explain why you are introducing new information and why it matters.
  7. Link images with body text. Caption all images.
  8. If presenting a series of items, make clear whether it is a rank order list, alpha list or organized by some other principle, or if it’s a random list.
  9. Avoid acronyms.
  10. Construct bullets or lists throughout the document in a parallel fashion. Don’t start one bullet with a verb and the next one with a noun.  Pick one style and stick with it, as is the case with this list.
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2 responses to “10 random acts of kindness for readers (and editors)

  1. I have been told by those younger than myself that writing “Flagstaff, Ariz.” is a sure way to get flagged as “old school.” In some contexts, “Charlotte, NC” is easier on the eye than “Charlotte, N.C.” for the same reason that makes landscape capitalization easier to read. But your advice is generally consistent with every stylebook ever written.

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