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Write Selection Criteria: honing your writing skills to become an excellent writer

I have to admit, first up, that I am not a writer. I wish I was. I would love to be able to carft words together, avoid spelling and grammar mistakes and have words form eloquently on the page.

But I am not. So unfortunately I cannot teach through example.

(To be honest, I struggle when it comes to writing. I am a government recruiter, I sit on selection panels and train recruitment staff - writing isn't what I do or what I'm passionate about. But I am passionate about empowering government job applicants and helping them to excel with their selection criteria, so writing is unfortunately something I have to do, just like you do if you are wanting to apply for a government job).

However, I can give you some basic principles that you can apply to your writing, that will help to improve the readability of your selection criteria. Some of these tips I have used myself to take my writing for plain old aweful, to readable!

What's on this page?

  • What is good writing?
  • Selection criteria writing mistakes that you make
  • Improving your selection criteria writing
  • How to ensure scanability
  • Tips for when you are selection criteria writing

What is Good Writing?

Good writing must:

• Be specific in its use of words
• Be free from ambiguity
• Be logical in its presentation of arguments
• Be smooth in its flow from one idea to the next
• Be considerate of its readers

Now we know what theoretically good writing is, let's take a look at bad writing.

Selection Criteria Writing Mistakes That You Make

Selection criteria as a general rule are inescapably full of three things:
1. Facts
2. Opinions
3. Inferences

Most statements addressing selection criteria contain a lot of inferences (make a blanket statement and leave the selection panel to read between the lines or put the dots together), a moderate amount of opinions (sentences or paragraphs without any evidence to back them up, or someone’s general knowledge), and few facts.

Good statements addressing selection criteria are the exact opposite. They have lots of facts and barely any opinions or inferences.

To get smart, you need to eliminate as many opinions and inferences as possible. If you write something that isn't a fact, support it with a fact if you can. The way most applicants do this is by providing real life examples of the skills, abilties and knowledge in action.

Here's a quick exercise for you. If you have applied for a government job before and written some selection criteria statements, pull them out. Highlight in one color everything that is an opinion or inference. Then, underline everything that is a fact. Solid selection criteria should be over 50% underlined. Excellent selection criteria will be 80% + underlined.

Improving Your Selection Criteria Writing

“Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.” Benjamin Franklin

N. Watson Solomon is a writer and Professor of Journalism who teaches that effective writing requires the understanding of three principles:
1. Berevity
2. Clarity
3. Scan-ability

If you already work for the government you have probably heard the communication buzz words “clear and concise”. These related to berevity and clarity.


Berevity is the elimination of words, phrases, clauses and sentences that are not needed. This is concise writing. It means direct and to the point. The editing section of this book has tips for ensuring berevity.


Clarity is the logical presentation of data, facts and ideas in an unambiguous manner. This is clear writing. The selection panel should only need to read through your application one time to get a clear picture of who you are and what you can offer to the position. If your application is not clear and there is any doubt in the selection panel’s mind, your application is heading closer to the ‘no’ pile.


Scan-ability is the use of visuals such as headings, lists and tables that allow the reader to take in large amounts of information, even if they are scanning the document. Most panel members will be scanning applications as they do a first cut. They will then read them in more detail before their final shortlist. Making sure that someone is able to scan through your application and still come away with the main points, is really important for this reason.

How to Ensure Scan-ability

In terms of structure, your paragraph should have a topic sentence towards the beginning. Often when writing selection criteria, applicants tell a story and then end with a conclusion, which is the strength, skill or ability they are trying to convey.

From a reader’s perspective, the selection panel are trying to maintain a lot of information before they reach the conclusion. When reading a pile of selection criteria, there’s only so much information that can be retained. A better solution is for you to introduce your strength, skill or ability (this is your key claim) first, and then expand with your example. This will also stop a selection panel member missing your main points if they are skimming your application (when skimming people tend to read the first parts of paragraphs and leave the ends).

If the selection panel were to only read the first few sentences of every paragraph, they should be able to get a clear understanding of your strengths against the selection criteria and what you can offer.

Tips For When You Are Selection Criteria Writing

• Don’t delete anything. If you write something and then decide that you don’t want to use it anymore, just cut it and paste it at the bottom of the page, or in another word document. You never know when that text will be useful later in your editing process or for another selection criteria.

• Don’t repeat a word more than once in a sentence. Of course apart from the standard the, and, of, a …

• Write as you talk. But not how you would talk at a barbeque. Be light and conversational, but use the same tone and language you would use in a business setting with people you don’t know. A common mistake in selection criteria is that applicants are either too formal, making the reading task tedious, or they are too informal particularly in instances where they know the selection panel.

• Use simple words and omit unnecessary ones. Government writing is full of long, dry words and descriptions, legalise and jargon. It’s tempting to follow this pattern and write your selection criteria in the same way, if for no other reason than to sound impressive. But, do you enjoy reading government policies and regulations? I bet the selection panel don’t either. And I bet they will enjoy reading selection criteria that are more simple and direct than those that are labouring. Avoid using legal and technical jargon

• Use short sentences. Break up your sentences and make them shorter, including only one idea per sentence. They will be easier to follow especially when conveying complex information. Long sentences risk losing the main point. Where possible, stick to subject-verb-object format in a sentence. For example,
"I (subject) write (verb) selection criteria (object)" as opposed to "selection criteria are written by me."

• Use short, well structured paragraphs. Writing experts recommend no more than 250 words per paragraph that should be made up of three to eight sentences. Short paragraphs will break up your material so it’s easier to comprehend and will also help you organise your ideas.

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