The HBR Guide to Better Business Writing, by writing expert Bryan A. Garner, gives you the tools you need to express your ideas clearly and persuasively so clients, colleagues, stakeholders, and partners will get behind them. This book will help you: Push past writer’s block, grab and keep readers’ attention, earn credibility with tough audiences, trim the fat from your writing, strike the right tone, and brush up on grammar, punctuation, and usage.
About the author:
Bryan Andrew Garner is an American lawyer, lexicographer, and teacher who has written more than two dozen books about English usage and style. As a student at the University of Texas School of Law in 1981, Garner began noticing odd usages in law books, many of them dating back to Shakespeare. They became the source material for his first book. Since 1990, his work has focused on teaching the legal profession of clear writing techniques.
You cannot get past your writer’s block unless you start and keep writing:
Losing your writing drive is a common obstacle in business writing. All writers suffer from writer’s block from time to time. Sometimes the ideas come too slow, or even you are trying too much to perfect a phrase that makes it impossible for you to complete the process.
The author of Writing with Power, Peter Elbow, mentions that the primary key to overcoming writer’s block is to begin writing. Rather than waiting around for the perfect words, just start writing. Approach your writing plans firmly and uncritically.
Rather than stopping to refine or reject an idea, write it down and move on. Whichever way, create a draft. It will build you a frame to work on and straighten your momentum. Most people use the brainstorming method because they know that when they review these ideas, later on, they will refine some and discard others. Why not take the same route in writing? While drafting your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses, make sure to jot down everything that comes to mind.
To maintain a steady momentum and focus while writing, you should separate your writing time from your editing one. When you write your draft down, your ideas might be irrelevant or off tangent. The draft might be full of grammatical errors. Although, rather than messing with your thoughts right while writing them, wait until you read and revise to try to fix those mistakes.
Another tip is to mark “XXX” when you can’t remember or think of a word. Or you can use a similar word. No matter what you do, the point is to move on as fast as possible – prevent blockage. If you use a sentence you don’t really like, underline it, and improve it later.
Keep on the go. Finish a sentence while just starting with a new one. The faster you write, the more time you have to edit, revise, and perfect.
Also, you can avoid writing distractions by disabling the spell-checker. The word processing software should make your writing easier, not act as your instant critic.
Before you take on the indulging process of writing, turn all the features that slow you down. After you finish composing time, go ahead and turn them back on and examine the necessary suggested changes. This is much practical and easier than fixing every mistake right on the spot.
If you want to maintain your momentum, ignore the mistakes while writing and come back later to fix them. When you separate and organize, the whole writing process will be easier and have better quality.
If you want to win over your readers, you have to learn how to meet their needs:
You, being a business writer, need to be aware that your readers are time-pressed, content-driven, and looking for a solution. Keeping this in mind goes a long way in helping you come up with content that will please and engage every business reader.
You must grab your reader’s attention from the first sentence of the introduction. A business reader usually judges from the introduction if the rest is worth their time or not. You should begin your piece of writing by giving them an apparent reason why they should read it. Use the introduction to establish the utility and relevance of the writing as a whole.
As Barbara Minto – author of The Minto Pyramid Principle – mentions, there are four vital elements of an effective introduction.
The situation: it is primarily a descriptive, quick sketch of the current business situation that acts as an anchor to the reader.
The complication: it is the issue that unsettles the situation in the story you are presenting. It’s the reason you’re writing the message or report.
The question: “what should we do?” “How can we do it?” or “what’s wrong with what we tried?” the question can be implied instead of directly subjected.
The answer: it is your feedback to the question and your solution to the problem.
After you’ve put together an interesting and concise introduction, it’s time to concentrate on the argument and compose a case for the solution you advocated. First, before you begin putting sentences together, showcase your argument and data as little blocks of information.
Second, while working from the up-down, use these blocks to construct a pyramid – less or more like a flowchart. The information at the bottom should expand and support the points above.
Building the pieces of your arguments this way will make your writing much easier, and you will be able to portray your point in a highly engaging manner.
Moreover, to keep grasp of your reader’s attention throughout the whole text, avoid trying to impress people with words. Business-wise, good language is not fancy language; it is a clear and useful one. It should serve one purpose – deliver clear information and ideas without drawing attention to itself.
Other than that, you should always highlight your key points at the top of each document, then organize and deliver the body text logically. Otherwise, the audience will not be able to catch your train of thoughts. If people get confused, they don’t get persuaded.
Finally, keep in mind that you are not writing a murder mystery. Lead any argument of yours with its key point. Business readers seek clarity, not suspense.
Compose your emails in a way that the reader will enjoy reading them:
In business, learning how to compose an email that will directly grab people’s attention is vital. To make sure not to send out emails that will go down the drain of unread messages in the inbox, keep your words clear, relevant, concise, and easily readable. Otherwise, don’t send emails at all because no one is going to read them anyway.
As for writing a proper email that people will read, the first step is to announce its purpose or topic. This is the only thing you are sure that the recipient will actually read. Try to be as specific and transparent as possible when you introduce your subject line; make it catchy.
Besides, keep your message short and never drift off-topic. Whenever your email is too wordy or long, readers will often have a hard time digesting it. An Android or iPhone smartphone shows only 60 words per screen. So keep in mind, what seems short on your computer is a tremendous epistle on a smartphone.
Also, your email should stand for one message only. Never pile multiple topics in one email and expect others to read it. Try using as few words as possible.
Concentrate on the strongest arguments and make sure you deliver context. Set a suitable tone and always format before pressing send. Your email should always be appropriate. Unless you’re sending the email to family and friends. Cut the cute; it is business time.
Use bolded headings, numbered lists, bullet points to allow the reader to scan your main points. And finally, never forget to revise. The last look of tightening, correcting, and clarifying can be a life savior. Never take it for granted.
Lose length without losing meaning – trim the fat off your writing:
How to lose the length without losing the meaning as a business writer? Here’s how:
The first step is to make the structure simple. Cut out introductions and dive right into the point. Make sure you give only as much foundation as you need.
Maybe your background info is well written and informative, but if the text can survive without it, lose it. If not, summarize and move on. Get rid of all unnecessary details.
The second step is to stick to the specifics and to butcher the generalities. Specifics are the soul of your argument; generalities are just side notes.
Thirdly, make the most out of formatting. Usually, you may consider illustrations and headings as an unneeded space. The truth is, they can do a really good job in limiting your usage of words and ultimately pass your message across smoothly.
For example, you can use maps, diagrams, tables, etc.… It will make your message clear and direct.
You should consider downshifting your tone a bit. Use contractions to help avoid the long, formal style that bureaucrats use. Unless you want to kill people with boredom.
In the end, a business writer’s primary goal is to sell his idea. To do that, he has to please and attract viewers. Business writing isn’t a piece of cake, but if you follow certain points, you’ll notice a significant difference and great results.