Writing That Works (1981) is the definitive guide to business writing. These blinks are full of advice on how to write clear, compelling and succinct business communications, covering everything from quarterly reports to presentations, emails and even resumes.
When it comes to writing, it’s easy to let your prose get overly complicated. But this will make you lose your reader right off the bat. A better approach – and an easy one to implement – is to focus on simplicity and a natural feel.
Short paragraphs, sentences and words are the name of the game, but that doesn’t mean sacrificing meaning.
For instance, the Wall Street Journal is famous for its readability, and it never publishes an opening paragraph that exceeds three sentences. So, be like the Wall Street Journal; keep your paragraphs short and replace longer words, like utilize, with shorter ones, like use.
A natural feel is also essential, which is why you should write like you speak and avoid potentially confusing terms. For example, rather than writing, “the arguments are fivefold,” write “there are five arguments.”
Natural writing means avoiding jargon and technical language. In fact, the more specialized your language, the greater your chances of creating a misunderstanding. According to Harvard University paleontologist and author, Dr. Gould, young scholars only use convoluted, confusing language in the first place because they’re scared of not being taken seriously.
That being said, if the reader and writer share a common technical language, some jargon may be appropriate.
A good rule of thumb for keeping things concise and natural is to replace or remove unnecessary words as you go. As an example, instead of writing, “at this current point in time,” you could just write “now.”
Doing all of the above will dramatically improve your writing. The next step is to make it as specific and accurate as possible.
This means avoiding generalizations that require readers to believe you, like “our program drew more new students than ever before.” Instead, use specific claims that eliminate all uncertainty, like “student enrollment tripled to 210.”
Specifics also decrease exaggeration, which will help you maintain the trust of readers. To stay specific and add energy to your writing, use an active, personal voice whenever possible. For instance, you should write “we recommend,“ as opposed to “it is recommended.”