A lot of people overlook the impact of business writing but knowing how to fashion an interesting and intelligent email, blog, report or memo is essential to communicating effectively, winning business, and setting yourself apart.
You can have all the great ideas in the world but if you can’t communicate them effectively no one will ever know.
But the great news is that this is a skill you can cultivate with a few basic principles and lots of practice.
Writing techniques vary depending on what you are writing – a blog should be more conversational than a board report, a meaningful tweet will require more imaginative brevity than a LinkedIn post, your ‘AboutMe’ webpage will demand knowledge of how to get people to buy into you whereas a business plan demands a more staid yet just as effective method of conveying information.
All far too much to include in one article so here I aim to layout some general guidelines as a start and write some more specific blogs to follow in the coming weeks.
Take A Minute
“Taking time to do nothing often brings everything into perspective”
Before you pick up a pen or open the laptop, take a minute!
I worked with this great CEO once who came back from a meditation week in California and immediately started making everyone close their eyes for a minute at the beginning of meetings. Needless to say there was a lot of muttering about touchy feely American ideas but personally I thought it was a fabulously effective idea.
The thinking behind it is to take a minute to think about what you want to achieve and focusing on how you will go about achieving it.
Taking a step back to gather your thoughts is a really great idea for writing too. If you wade straight in the danger is that you will work out your thoughts as you are writing which isn’t conducive to a structured approach.
Practice Makes Perfect
“I fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practised one kick 10,000 times.”
A bit of a cliché but true in this case.
I have always loved writing but it is a muscle. No one starts out as a great writer, it is something you learn on the job.
Reading well-written material every day, and that doesn’t mean lots of highbrow literature. Consciously read everything – that article you read in your favourite newspaper, the blog that caught your attention on Twitter, the sales blurb for the new car you would love to buy. Be attentive to word choice, sentence structure, and flow.
And one thing that few people do? If you stop reading something because it annoyed you, turned you off or bored you to death. Spend a few minutes doing the same in reverse, what was it that got under your skin?
Cut The Fat
“Brevity is a great charm of eloquence.”
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Writers know that brevity is crucial. In writing, as with many things in life, “less is more.”
A great copywriter knows how to trim the fat from any article to craft relevant, engaging content that wins an audience. Writing for an audience demands that you can both inform and entertain, you won’t be doing either they are wishing you would just get to the point.
Anyone can write huge chunks of rambling content, the real challenge is writing a punchy and succinct piece that gets to the point and captures the readers’ attention.
This is generally my last stage in the writing process … I tend to let my mind wander and my fingers tap away uncontrolled in the first draft but when you have the structure and the content that you want on the page it is time to get to distilling your message.
Reread every sentence as if it stands in it’s own right – does it add value to your piece as a whole? Is it a simple structure? It takes more work to write a short post, you may find you spend twice as much time editing as you do writing. But you owe it to your audience to put the effort in.
Know your own downfalls
“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it”
I am painfully aware that left to my own devices rambling and over complicated sentence structures are a vice of mine. It is such fun to write in a stream of consciousness style but it is generally not easy or fun for any of my audience to read.
Bad habits are only a problem if you ignore them. Be honest with yourself!
Periodically reread what you are writing
“The first draft of anything is shit”
As with a great chef who tastes their food as they go along you should periodically take a step back and reread what you have written.
Put yourself in the shoes of the audience you are writing for – Are you still on the right track, could the paragraphs be more effectively ordered, are you rambling or keeping to the point you want to make?
Plan out your structure
Present your main idea as soon as possible
Use words sparingly
Keep sentences structure simple
Avoid jargon and “fancy” words
Strive for clarity
Edit out the unnecessary relentlessly