March 19, 2013

Writing Like A Pro

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Here is a hard truth: much business writing is awful.  Considering the importance of clear and concise communication to success in business, it is amazing how few people take it seriously and invest the time and energy necessary to become capable writers.  But a low bar creates opportunity; those who can write competently are standouts.  To become a writing superstar in your organization, start by following the five simple guidelines below.

  1. Because the best writing communicates clearly, avoid jargon and unnecessarily long or obscure words.  It is easy to forget that writing is for communication, not for proving your smarts.  Though words or phrases like “pseudepigraphical” or “socialize the synergistic application” might impress some, they will leave most in the dark.  So get out of the jargon rut by thinking of words that communicate the same concepts in clear, well-understood English.
  2. Correct grammar and spelling are not optional.  Failing to use correct grammar makes one appear ignorant or careless, neither of which is desirable.  To prevent embarrassment, use spell-check and dust off your grammar books.  An invaluable writing and grammar resource is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.
  3. Use the active voice; avoid the passive voice.  The active voice is punchy, direct, and concise: “The dog bit the boy.”  The passive voice is flabby at best, and ambiguous or evasive at worst: “The boy was bitten.”  To appear confident, decisive, and informed, use the active voice whenever possible.
  4. Be positive, not negative.  This is different from being upbeat or peppy; being positive in writing means being concrete and specific whenever possible.  For example, rather than saying, “Results did not meet expectations,” say, “We achieved 50% of our goal.”  Positive phrasing increases the utility of your words; negative phrasing tends to multiply words while communicating little or nothing.
  5. Proofread everything, including e-mail.  Even outstanding writers benefit from at least one proofreading before circulating any kind of business writing.  Trustworthy nitpickers are the best proofreaders.  If such a person is not available, step away from your own writing for as long as possible before reviewing it yourself.  This is especially important for e-mail, where it is easy to miscommunicate by being chummy or flippant.

Though there are many other important business writing tips, committing these to memory and implementing them will help put you on the path to successful business communication.