By Priti Dadlani
I recently offered to do a business writing seminar as part of a one-hour lunch and learn.
The organizer and I were overwhelmed when 60 people signed up (we had space for 15 people max). We ended up adding three additional sessions and plan to offer more in the fall, as well as Part 2 of the seminar.
It’s heartening that so many people care about good writing and more importantly, that they want to improve their own writing. In my last post, I discussed why good writing is vital in business.
As promised, in this post I’m going to share my writing tips with you.
Let me be clear: this is by no means good writing according to Priti. I’ve picked up a few writing techniques over many years of working as a journalist, often filing daily stories on deadline. But I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing.
I’ve compiled these tips by integrating my personal experience with advice offered by experts in publications such as Forbes; Entrepreneur; Fast Company; Inc. and even The Business Development Bank of Canada.
I’ve also relied on the classic Elements of Style, co-authored by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, particularly for rules of grammar and proper sentence structure.
It turns out that the rules of good writing are pretty universal and enduring.
By the way, I still have the Elements of Style I bought when I was a journalism student. I keep it at my desk as a reference guide as I write. I recommend you do the same. Before we get started, do you know what other books E.B. White is famous for writing?
10 Tips to get you started:
1. Shorter is better.
- Use short, simple sentences. One thought per sentence. Avoid joining two sentences and thoughts together with an “and.”
- Never use a long word when a short one will do: Examples: Plan instead of strategize. Think instead of postulate.
2. Be conversational.
- Write as you speak. Read aloud what you’ve written to ensure this. Don’t be afraid to use contractions: can’t, won’t, don’t.
- Feel free to use pronouns: I, we, us, you and me.
- Show, don’t tell. Use details to create an image of what you’re trying to say in the reader’s mind: The sheets are luxurious. The sheets are made of 1,000 thread-count Egyptian cotton.
3. Use the active voice.
- Use strong verbs instead of an adverb to prop up a weak verb: Retweets of Priti’s tweets grew quickly after the issue hit the media. Retweets of Priti’s tweets spiked after the issue hit the media.
- Let the subject lead: The class was led by Eden. Eden led the class.
4. Know your audience.
- Who are you writing for? Tailor your message to them.
- Avoid jargon (unless you’re writing to insiders) and acronyms when possible. If you must use an acronym, write it out in full on first reference.
5. Get to the point.
- The big idea should be in the first paragraph, preferably the first sentence.
6. Use bullets and lists.
- Useful to break down complex material into more manageable bite-size tidbits. Easy to read.
- Write an introductory paragraph, no more than two, and then use the bullets to illustrate and summarize.
- One point per bullet. Three to five bullets max.
- With lists, aim for a total of 3, 5 or 10 items. One thought/point per item.
7. Watch out for tricky words – know proper usage/meanings.
- Examples: that/which; affect/effect; into/in to
8. Be credible.
- Back up your points with facts, figures, and graphics.
- Think like a reporter to anticipate and answer the reader’s questions.
9. Cut clutter.
- Get rid of unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. They bog down your writing: Example: The subway was really delayed this morning. The subway was delayed this morning.
10. Remember “the ask.”
- This is a sales technique. When you write, particularly emails, write with a goal in mind. What do you want to accomplish? Ask for it. Be bold. Tell the reader what you want him or her to do. Set a deadline, outline next steps. Don’t be wishy-washy. Give a date and time when you need it done by.
Do you have a good writing tip you’d like to share?