How to write clearly

3. Get your document into shape

If your outline includes a summary, begin with that: you may find it is enough! Put it at the begin­ning because that is the first (and sometimes the only) part that people will read.

When you start:
  • If your outline includes a summary, begin with that: you may find it is enough! Put it at the begin­ning because that is the first (and sometimes the only) part that people will read.
  • Pay particular attention to links that will help read­ers to follow your logic and reasoning. Choose headings and other ‘signposts’ that will enable them to find key information to save you repeat­ing it throughout the document. Use informa­tive headings and sub-headings to highlight the most important points of the document. A heading such as ‘Mergers need to be monitored more carefully’ is more informative than ‘Monitor­ing mergers’.
  • Consider how best to make your points and keep your document reader-friendly: could you use icons, graphs, or tables instead of text? Do you need a glossary or a list of definitions?
  • After the beginning, the next most frequently read part is the conclusion. A reader may skip every­thing in between to get to the conclusion. Make it clear, concise and to the point.
  • Show your readers the structure of longer docu­ments by including a clear table of contents.


As you write:

Keep cutting! Be tough - ask if each sec­tion and each word is really necessary. Cut out superfluous words, but make sure the message is still clear:

cloudy.png The deadline to be observed for the submission of applications is 31 March 2012.
cloudy_sun.png The deadline for submitting applications is 31 March 2012.
sun.png Application deadline: 31 March 2012.


Two common problems at the European Commission:
  1. Recycling an earlier text without adapting it properly

    Older models may be unclearly written and may not reflect new circumstances and new drafting practices. Take care to make all the necessary adaptations.

  2. Cutting and pasting

    You may have to use passages from a variety of documents to assemble a new text. Beware of inconsistent terminology, repetition or omission: these can undermine the internal logic and clarity of the end result.


© European Union, 2012

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