As a ghost blogger, I frequently write about the 7 this and 5 that. Everyone, even people who don’t like numbers, seems to love numbers in blog headlines. The number tells the reader how much they will learn in that post. Well, I am not part of the “everyone.” Mostly because, as a ghost blogger, boiling everything down to lists starts to get mundane. In short, as a ghost blogger, I hate lists.
Here’s the problem: I love lists. A list is one of the best ways I know to create Clear Communication. Good instructions – something I spent many years writing – are simply a series of lists. No fluff, no muss, it is hard to get confused with a concise list. (OK, so the concise part can be difficult for some people, but ….)
Now here I am writing a blog, under my name, jumping on the bandwagon of blogs with numbers in the headline.
So, what is the one step you can take to make your communication clearer? Use lists.
OK, now here’s an important caveat: when I talk about Clear Communication, I’m generally referring to explanations, instructions, or arguments. Clear Communication for fiction writing is a whole different kettle of fish.
When you are writing an explanation, you are breaking something complex into its simplest parts. Think about the book that comes with your car. Assuming you have not had troubles with your car, and manuals do not make the top of your reading list, you probably haven’t gone must past the description of the lights on your dashboard. All the owner’s manuals I’ve seen follow the same formula:
- Picture of the dashboard with numbered pointers to all the lights, nobs, and dials.
- A numbered list (corresponding to the pointers) telling you want each thing is. If it’s a simple thing, its description may be there; otherwise, there is probably a cross-reference directing you to more information.
Ta Da! You now know what everything behind your steering wheel is telling you, with just a simple list.
Recipes make the best example of how to write good instructions – in my opinion.
Here’s an example from a squash soup recipe I keep meaning to try:
Melt the butter in a large pot, add the onion & celery. Scoop squash into onion/celery mixture and cook until onions are translucent. Pour in enough of the chicken stock to cover vegetables. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer 20 minutes, or until all squash in tender.
Those are reasonably clear instructions, yet many people (including me) have troubles with instructions in paragraph form. I think it is because we read until the end of the paragraph and there is not a clear division of the steps. Now, let’s try a list:
- Melt butter in a large pot.
- Add the onion and celery.
- Scoop squash into onion/celery mixture and cook until onions are translucent.
- Pour in enough chicken stock to cover vegetables.
- Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low and cover pot.
- Simmer 20 minutes, or until squash in tender.
Yes, these instructions are far from perfect. Someone who really wanted to, could find a way to mess them up. On the other hand, in list form, it is obvious where one step ends and the next begins. I’m not as likely to miss the step of bringing everything to a boil before reducing the heat.
I’m not talking, Are too/Are not arguments here. Instead, I mean arguments where you are trying to convince someone that you are correct. Rarely does, “because I’m right,” present a compelling argument. Why are you right?
As with instructions, you could string all your reasoning into one paragraph and hope that you make your point. Or, you could create a nice list to give each point proper emphasis.
Chocolate is a health food:
- It makes people happy. Chocolate releases serotonin – the happy hormone.
- Chocolate contains antioxidants. In the simplest of terms, antioxidants help protect your cells.
- Other sources of flavonoids (the type of antioxidant in chocolate) include: colorful fruits, red wine, and teas – all of which pair excellently with chocolate.
(If you want my full presentation about chocolate as a health food, check out the blog.)
You could be debating politics, religion, or what to have for dinner; it doesn’t matter. When presented in this format, you are much more likely to at least gain understanding if not actual agreement.
1 Step Clear Communication
In short, the 1 step is to be exact in what all the steps are. The simple way to do that is by isolating each step as an entry in a list.