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Writing Effectively

Summary

  • Tremendous is a remote company, and written communication is more important here than normal.
  • This doc provides a set of tips to improve your writing

The core principle

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"You’re not the star—the reader is. Help them get what they want, as quickly and effectively as possible. They might want to solve a problem. They might want to be persuaded. Give ’em the goods." - Venture Hacks

Write for your audience, not for yourself. Consider what you want the reader to do, and orient the writing around that. Do this because you know your audience's time is valuable. They'll thank you for it.

The tips

Start with a summary

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A good summary absolves the reader from reading further. But they will still want to. - Venturehacks

Ideally, a summary should highlight the key points and emphasize the conclusion.

Frame the doc

Why are you writing this? If it's in response to a question someone asked, or prompted by a discussion, quote or link to it so that the reader understands the context.

Write for the lowest common denominator of context. Readers familiar with the subject matter can skip a “background“ section easily, whereas readers unfamiliar with the subject matter won’t know how to contextualize the brief without some background.

Organize

Organized, well-grouped thoughts make a document easier to parse.

One useful principle is to group things in such a way that they're MECE - mutually exclusive, and collectively exhaustive.

Prefer lists

Lists are a consequence of organized thoughts. They don't need to be bullets or numbered items. For example, this section is organized into <h3s>, all in parallel structure.

Read out loud for clarity

Reading your writing out loud, line-by-line, will expose awkward and confusing sentences, or flaws in logic.

Eliminate extra words

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The best way to do that is simply to be concise. You don’t have to sell us on you. We’ll sell ourselves, if we can just understand you. But every unnecessary word in your application subtracts from the effect of the necessary ones. So before submitting your application, print it out and take a red pen and cross out every word you don’t need. And in what’s left be as specific and as matter-of-fact as you can. - Paul Graham

Keep things concise! The best way to achieve this is to read through your own writing, and ask "how can I get the same message across with half the words?"

Enable “scannability”

Some strategies for this:

  • Selective bolding
  • Use of headlines that reflect topics
  • Avoid “word walls”, or lengthy blocks of text
  • Use tables and bullet lists
  • Move lengthy descriptions or supporting details into a footnote or linked Appendix

Other resources

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Writing basics for the web

Readings