Written by Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training
After you have worked hard to collect meaningful data, the big challenges are how and how much to communicate. Consider these tips when you work on your next report or presentation that includes data.
- Focus first on your message, not on the numbers.
When planning your communication, focus first on the big idea or points you want to make. Then incorporate the data that will help your audience understand and appreciate your points. Be sure your big idea gets center stage, not the numbers.
- Explain the data.
Numbers mean nothing on their own. They need interpretation. Avoid asking readers or your audience to “review the attached spreadsheets.” Why should they review them? Which numbers should they pay attention to and why? What do the numbers indicate?
- Put data in context.
Make it clear whether numbers are positive, negative, or neutral. If you tell a sales rep that she visited an average of six prospects per day, compare that number to the goal number of prospects. If a client walks 5500 steps in a day, state whether 5500 is the magic healthy number or only halfway there. If expenses are 18 percent over income, say why the reader should care. Explain that the account balance will be €0 by 2018 if nothing changes.
- Paint a picture with your numbers so people can see them.
Even simple expressions like “a tenfold increase” or “a 30 percent drop” can seem vague unless your audience can see them. If numbers have decreased dramatically over a decade, do not use words and numbers alone. In a bold-colored graph, show the deep drop year by year, month by month over 10 years.
If your numbers are so large as to be abstract, paint them in recognizable mental pictures such as an area as large as Italy or a distance of 100 Greyhound buses. (Think of your audience when you choose the image.) How hot is 158 degrees Fahrenheit? Hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.
Or show the numbers reduced to their essence. Jack Hagley’s graphic “The World as 100 People” (www.jackhagley.com/The-World-as-100-People) presents the world as though it were only 100 people. For instance, 83 of the world’s 100 people are able to read and write; 17 are not.
- Highlight important numbers.
A wall of numbers is as intimidating as a wall of text. Pull out essential numbers and focus on them. If you are presenting financial data, show just a small portion of it at a time on a slide or a page–just the portion you are discussing now. If you refer to and show just a small part, your audience will not say, “Where are you?” and “What are you talking about?” And always render numbers in a large enough font that you do not have to apologize for it.
Make it easy for your readers to find important numbers. If a client has asked for your fee, for example, don’t bury the number in a paragraph. Instead, render the number alone on a line or as part of a short heading, like this:
Your investment: US$19,000
- Prominently display the legends for tables and charts of numbers.
Ensure that your audience will know instantly that 3000 indicates 3,000,000 and that your balance is positive rather than negative. Use abbreviations such as K and M only if you are certain your readers understand them. (To some people, M means thousand; to others, it means million.)
- Use only the essential, compelling numbers in the body of your document.
If numbers weigh down your document, your readers may forget your main point. So move most of the supporting tables, lists, charts, and graphs to the appendices. In a presentation, hold back some slides of data, and show them only upon request. Remember: The numbers are not the message; they serve the message.
If you think of your communication as music, your most important message comes through the soloist. The numbers are the accompanists. They play an essential role, but they should never drown out the soloist. If they do, your communication will not reach and change your audience.
Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, the rules for good writing are fundamentally the same.
1. Express, not impress.
Good writing is not about the number of words you’ve produced, the quality of the adjectives you’ve written or the size of your font–it’s about the number of lives you’ve touched! It’s whether or not your reader understands you. It’s about expression, not impression.
2. Simple sentences work best.
– The only possible option in order to accelerate the growth of the food industry is to focus on the fact that the target market of this business demands convenience, competence and cost-effectiveness.
– Better: The food industry can grow faster if food trucks focus on convenience, competence and cost-effectiveness.
3. Active, rather than passive.
– The offering price was established by the real estate vendor and the negotiation process was initiated by the real estate buyer.
– Better: The real estate vendor set the offering price, and the real estate buyer started negotiating.
4. Know who your target audience is.
Who are you writing for? Who do you expect to read your article, your book, or your blog post? Will they care about what you’re talking about? Will they understand the message that you’re trying to get across? Good writing isn’t generic; it’s specific because it’s targeted towards a group of people with something common binding them.
5. Read it aloud.
Reading your works out loud allows you to notice something that you might not have noticed if you were just reading it silently. Go on, read them out loud now. Also, try to listen to your work objectively as you read it. Are you making sense? Or are you simply stringing a couple of words together just to fill a gap?
6. Avoid using jargon as much as possible.
Not everyone in your audience will know what a “bull market” is. Not everyone knows that “pyrexia” is basically the same thing as “a fever”. And surely you can come up with a better term for high blood pressure than “hypertension”?
7. In terms of words, size matters.
Please, don’t strain yourself by browsing the Internet, looking for complicated and fancy-sounding words. Less is always more.
– The man gave a me look so sharp that I sincerely believed it could pierce my heart and see my innermost fears.
– Better: The man glared at me.
8. Being positive is better than being negative–even in writing!
– I did not think that the unbelievable would not occur.
– Better: I thought the unbelievable would happen.
9. Set aside time for revising and rewriting–after you’ve written the whole content.
I’m not suggesting that you should edit each time you’ve finished a paragraph–that would just be tedious. What I’m telling is that you should first give yourself some time to finish the content prior to editing. Write away. Don’t edit yet. Don’t focus on the grammar yet. Don’t worry about the syntax, the synonym, the antonym or the order that you’re using.
Write for yourself, but mostly, write for your target audience. Write the message clearly and don’t be afraid to express your thoughts. Don’t censor yourself yet. Let the words flow. Don’t erase what you’ve written yet.
Right now, it’s all about expression, about art and about your imagination.
All the editing and the fixing will come later.
10. Write. All the time.
Good writing is simply always writing. Write when you’re sad. Write when you’re scared. Write when you don’t feel like writing.
These words generally end in “phagous“, from the Greek phagein, or “vorous“, from Latin vorare, both verbs meaning “to eat“. Which suffix you want to use depends on whether you feel like having souvlaki or spaghetti.
|allotriophagy||craving for strange foods|
|anthropophagous||(again) eating humans|
|aphagia||inability to eat or swallow|
|arachnivorous||feeding on spiders|
|autocoprophagy||eating one’s own feces|
|autophagy||feeding on body’s own tissues|
|bibliophagist||one who devours books, literally or figuratively|
|calcivorous||feeding on or living in limestone|
|cardophagus||donkey; something that eats thistles|
|comburivorous||consuming by fire|
|detritivore||animal that eats decomposing organic matter|
|dysphagia||pathological difficulty in swallowing|
|endophagy||cannibalism within a tribe; eating away from within|
|exophagy||cannibalism outside one’s own group|
|foliophagous||eating leaves; eating folios of books|
|fructivorous||feeding on fruit|
|gamophagia||destruction of one gamete by another|
|geophagy||practice of feeding on soil; dirt-eating|
|glossophagine||eating using the tongue|
|graminivorous||feeding on grass or cereals|
|granivorous||feeding on seeds|
|gumnivorous||feeding on tree saps|
|herbivorous||eating only plant matter|
|hippophagy||feeding on horses|
|hyperphagia||eating too much|
|kreatophagia||eating of raw meat|
|larvivorous||feeding on larvae|
|lignivorous||feeding on wood|
|lithophagous||stone-swallowing; rock-boring; eating rock|
|lotophagous||feeding on lotuses; indolent; lazy; dreamy|
|mallophagous||eating wool or fleece|
|meconophagist||consumer of opium or heroin|
|meliphagous||feeding upon honey|
|microphagous||feeding on small creatures or plants|
|monophagous||feeding on only one type of food|
|mucivorous||feeding on plant juices|
|myristicivorous||feeding upon nutmegs|
|myrmecophagous||feeding on ants|
|necrophagous||feeding on the dead|
|nectarivorous||feeding on nectar|
|omnivorous||eating anything; eating both plant and animal matter|
|omophagy||eating of raw flesh as a ritual observance|
|ossivorous||feeding on bones|
|paedophage||eater of children|
|pagophagia||eating trays of ice to help offset iron deficiency|
|phytivorous||feeding on plants|
|phytophagous||feeding on vegetable matter|
|placentophagy||eating of the placenta|
|poephagous||eating grass or herbs; herbivorous|
|poltophagy||prolonged chewing of food|
|polyphagous||eating many types of food|
|psomophagy||swallowing food without thorough chewing|
|saprophagous||feeding on decaying material|
|sarcophagous||feeding on flesh; carnivorous|
|stercovorous||feeding on dung or excrement|
|thalerophagous||feeding on fresh vegetable matter|
|theophagy||sacramental consumption of a god|
|univorous||living on only one host or source of food|
|xerophagy||eating of dry food; fast of dry food in the week preceding Easter|
3. Avoid “Dear Sir” or “Dear Sirs” as a greeting. It excludes the possibility of a woman as your reader. Instead, whenever possible, learn the reader’s name and use it. If you cannot discover your reader’s name, use a generic term such as “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Credit Representative,” or use “Dear Sir or Madam.”