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Business Writing

The Case for Strong Business Writing

Understanding Effective Business Writing

Understanding Effective Business Writing

Great business writing isn't just about style. It's about survival. If your sales copy isn't compelling, people won't buy your products. If your inter-office communications are unclear, that will hold back collaboration. No one will invest in your business if you can't articulate why it's going to succeed. 

Experts have even identified bloated, jargon-filled writing as a warning sign that a company has deeper strategic or execution problems it's trying to paper over with bloviating prose. 

Business Writing is a Customer Service Problem

Business Writing is a Customer Service Problem

Writing is not about you, your feelings, or your accomplishments. It's about serving the reader. 

You're not the star--the reader is. Help them get what they want, as quickly and effectively as possible. They might want to solve a problem. They might want to be persuaded. Give 'em the goods.

BABAK NIVI

If the tweet isn't compelling, the rest isn't compelling.

BABAK NIVI

Good writing gets the reader’s dopa­mine flowing

Good writing gets the reader’s dopa­mine flowing

Whether it’s a succinct declarative statement in an email or a complex argument in a report, your writing has the potential to light up the neural circuitry of your readers’ brains.

Good writing gets the reader’s dopa­mine flowing in the area of the brain known as the reward circuit. Just like good food or a hug, well-­executed writing makes us feel pleasure, which makes us want to keep reading.

The magic happens when your writing has one or more of these characteristics: It’s simple, specific, surprising, stirring, seductive, smart, social, or story-­driven. 

Simplicity

Simplicity increases what scientists call the brain’s “processing fluency.” Short sentences, familiar words, and clean syntax ensure that the reader doesn’t have to exert too much brainpower to understand your meaning.

By contrast, studies have shown that sentences with clauses nested in the middle take longer to read and cause more comprehension mistakes.

Cutting extraneous words and using the active voice are two ways to keep it simple. Another tactic is to drill down to what’s really salient and scrap tangential details.

Specificity

Specifics awaken a swath of brain circuits. Think of “pelican” versus “bird.” Or “wipe” versus “clean.”  Our neurons actually “embody” what the words mean: When we hear more-specific ones, we “taste,” “feel,” and “see” traces of the real thing.

Using more vivid, palpable language will reward your readers. Another specificity tactic is to give readers a memorable shorthand phrase to help them retain your message.

On Writing Well

On Writing Well

William Knowlton Zinsser

707

Rewriting is the essence of writing

Rewriting is the essence of writing

Professional writers rewrite their sentences over and over and then rewrite what they have rewritten.

William Zinsser

"But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”

WILLIAM ZINSSER

A reader's attention span

  • A reader's attention span is about 30 seconds. And this is usually a person assailed by many forces competing for attention.
  • In the past, those forces were relatively few: newspapers, magazines, radio, spouse, children, pets.
  • Today they also include multiple electronic devices for receiving entertainment and information, as well as a fitness program, a pool, and that most powerful competitor, sleep.

The value of solid writing skills

The value of solid writing skills

  • Being a good writer helps you stand out from the crowd.
  • Repeated writing mistakes affect your reputation and credibility in the future.
  • Your writing is one of the primary mediums in which you will be judged throughout your life.
  • Your writing communicates your thoughts, and it’s important that those thoughts are conveyed in the clearest, most eloquent way possible.

Kurt Vonnegut

"Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing.

KURT VONNEGUT

The “5 Ws + H” method

... for establishing what and how you will write:

  • Who: Who is my audience?
  • What: What do they need to know?
  • When: When does this apply, when did this happen, or when do they need to know it by?
  • Where: Where is this happening?
  • Why: Why do they need this information?
  • How: How should they use this information?

The first draft

The first draft

The first words you write are the first draft. Writing is thinking. You'll rarely know what exactly you want to say when you start writing.

The time you put into editing, reworking and refining turns your first draft into a second draft, and then into a third. If you keep refining it over days or weeks or even years, it eventually becomes something great.

Common errors

Most writing mistakes are widespread, but good writers just get better at spotting them. Some things you'll learn to watch for are:

  • Overuse of jargon and business-speak, like "utilize" or "endeavor" instead of "use" or "try."
  • Clichés are stale phrases that have lost their impact and novelty through overuse. If you are used to seeing it in print, don't use it.
  • The passive voice. The subject of the sentence should be the person or thing taking action, not the thing being acted on. "Harry wrote this article," is better than "This article was written by Harry."
  • Rambling. When you are not sure what you want to say, it is easy to phrase it in three or four different ways. A single concise sentence is generally better.

Give it some space

Give it some space

When you write something, you get very close to it. It is nearly impossible to distance yourself from it straight away to edit properly.

The longer you can leave a draft before editing, the better. Half an hour to two days is enough of a break to edit well. When you do edit, read your work out loud. You'll catch more problems and get a better feel for how everything flows.

Drowned In Information

Drowned In Information

Our coworkers are often not able to read or understand our messages due to the sheer barrage of information already trying to get their attention. There are text messages, emails, document updates and other notifications vying for eyeballs and mindshare.

To be successful in conveying our message, we need to design it in such a way that can grab people’s attention. Marketers are experts in designing words that, based on research and data, make people stop and take action. Their tricks can be applied to our memos, emails, reports and messages so that your teammates actually end up reading them.

Begin With The End

The interface designers at Amazon are experts in providing an intuitive, often exciting digital experience. They start with the end goal in mind and ask the following questions:

  1. What is the problem that we are trying to solve?
  2. Who are our users and what are they trying to do?
  3. What assumptions are being made?
  4. How can this thing be simpler?

We can apply these techniques by asking the same questions towards ourselves and our readers.

Front Loading The Crucial Stuff

Front Loading The Crucial Stuff

If we aren’t talking about the important stuff from the word go, people stop paying attention, usually in about 10 seconds.

Newspaper headline stories follow the ‘inverted pyramid’ technique where the most critical information is on the first paragraph. One can organize an article or product interface in such a way that if the reader only reads the first few sentences, the crucial information is still communicated.

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