analysis we will explore how to improve written communication. Read this article from the Harvard Business Review: Questions: 1. In your current posi

  we will explore how to improve written communication. Read this article from the Harvard Business Review: 

 

Questions:

1. In your current position, how frequently do you need to communicate in writing?

2. Considering the points made in the article about good business writing, what do you need to do to improve?

3. How will your current writing ability hinder or help you achieve the position you aspire to reach?

4. How important do you think written communication will be to help you achieve the position you aspire to reach? 

Business Communication

How to Improve Your Business
Writing
by Carolyn O’Hara

November 20, 2014

You probably write on the job all the time: proposals to clients,

memos to senior executives, a constant flow of emails to

colleagues. But how can you ensure that your writing is as clear

and effective as possible? How do you make your

communications stand out?

What the Experts Say
Overworked managers with little time might think that improving

their writing is a tedious or even frivolous exercise. But knowing

how to fashion an interesting and intelligent sentence is essential

to communicating effectively, winning business, and setting

yourself apart. “As Marvin Swift memorably said, clear writing

means clear thinking,” said Kara Blackburn, a senior lecturer in

managerial communication at the MIT Sloan School of

Management. “You can have all the great ideas in the world and if

you can’t communicate, nobody will hear them.” Luckily,

everyone has the capacity to improve, says Bryan Garner, author

of The HBR Guide to Better Business Writing. Effective writing “is

not a gift that you’re born with,” he says. “It’s a skill that you

cultivate.” Here’s how to write simply, clearly, and precisely.

Think before you write
Before you put pen to paper or hands to keyboard, consider what

you want to say. “The mistake that many people make is they start

writing prematurely,” says Garner. “They work out the thoughts as

they’re writing, which makes their writing less structured,

meandering, and repetitive.” Ask yourself: What should my

audience know or think after reading this email, proposal, or

report? If the answer isn’t immediately clear, you’re moving too

quickly. “Step back and spend more time collecting your

thoughts,” Blackburn advises.

Be direct
Make your point right up front. Many people find that the writing

style and structure they developed in school doesn’t work as well

in the business world. “One of the great diseases of business

writing is postponing the message to the middle part of the

writing,” says Garner. By succinctly presenting your main idea

first, you save your reader time and sharpen your argument

before diving into the bulk of your writing. When writing longer

memos and proposals, Garner suggests stating the issue and

proposed solution in “no more than 150 words” at the top of the

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first page. “Acquire a knack for summarizing,” he says. “If your

opener is no good, then the whole piece of writing will be no

good.”

Cut the fat
Don’t “use three words when one

would do,” says Blackburn. Read

your writing through critical

eyes, and make sure that each

word works toward your larger

point. Cut every unnecessary

word or sentence. There’s no

need to say “general consensus of opinion,” for instance, when

“consensus” will do. “The minute readers feel that a piece of

writing is verbose they start tuning out,” says Garner. He suggests

deleting prepositions (point of view becomes viewpoint); replacing

–ion words with action verbs (provided protection to becomes

protected); using contractions (don’t instead of do not and we’re

instead of we are); and swapping is, are, was and were with

stronger verbs (indicates rather than is indicative of).

Avoid jargon and $10 words
Business writing is full of industry-specific buzzwords and

acronyms. And while these terms are sometimes unavoidable and

can occasionally be helpful as shorthand, they often indicate lazy

or cluttered thinking. Throw in too many, and your reader will

assume you are on autopilot — or worse, not understand what

you’re saying. “Jargon doesn’t add any value,” says Blackburn, but

“clarity and conciseness never go out of style.” Garner suggests

creating a “buzzword blacklist” of words to avoid, including terms

like “actionable,” “core competency,” “impactful,” and

“incentivize.” You should also avoid using grandiose language.

Writers often mistakenly believe using a big word when a simple

one will do is a sign of intelligence. It’s not.

Read what you write
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Is your point clear and well

structured? Are the sentences straightforward and concise?

Blackburn suggests reading passages out loud. “That’s where

those flaws reveal themselves: the gaps in your arguments, the

clunky sentence, the section that’s two paragraphs too long,” she

says. And don’t be afraid to ask a colleague or friend — or better

yet, several colleagues and friends — to edit your work. Welcome

their feedback; don’t resent it. “Editing is an act of friendship,”

says Garner. “It is not an act of aggression.”

Practice every day
“Writing is a skill,” says Blackburn, “and skills improve with

practice.” Garner suggests reading well-written material every

day, and being attentive to word choice, sentence structure, and

flow. “Start paying attention to the style of The Wall Street

Journal,” he says. Invest in a guide to style and grammar for

reference — Garner recommends Fowler’s Modern English Usage.

Most importantly, build time into your schedule for editing and

revising. “Writing and reworking your own writing is where the

change happens, and it’s not quick,” says Blackburn. “The time is

well spent because good writers distinguish themselves on the

job.”

Principles to Remember:

Do:

Plan out what you will say to make your writing more direct and

effective.

Use words sparingly and keep sentences short and to the point.

Avoid jargon and “fancy” words. Strive for clarity instead.

Don’t:

Argue that you simply can’t write. Anyone can become a better

writer with practice.

Pretend that your first draft is perfect, or even passable. Every

document can be improved.

Bury your argument. Present your main idea as soon as

possible.

Case study #1: Don’t be afraid to share
When David McCombie began working as a management

consultant at McKinsey & Company, he immediately realized that

the writing style he’d honed at Harvard Law School wasn’t well

suited for executive-level communications. “It was the structure

of my arguments,” David says. “I was getting feedback that I

needed to get to the point more quickly.”

With legal or academic writing, “you’re going to generally start

with building up the case, and put the main point all the way at

the end,” he says. “But in business communications, it’s best to

start with your conclusion first.”

To make his writing more direct and effective, David asked

several senior colleagues for all of their past presentations and

reports so that he could mimic key elements of their format and

style. He also copied trusted colleagues who were particularly

skilled communicators on important emails and asked for their

feedback.

David has carried these practices to the private equity firm he

founded in Miami, the McCombie Group. “I send anything that’s

important to my partner and he reads it over,” David says, adding

that he knows better than to take the edits personally. “We talk

about whether there is a better way to convey an idea, how we can

be more succinct.”

Improving his writing has had a direct effect on David’s ability to

become an influential voice in his field. He’s currently writing a

book on his private equity firm’s niche market, The Family Office

Practitioner’s Guide to Direct Investments.

“Even if I knew good business writing from the get-go, I think

continually improving your writing and taking it to the next level

is absolutely key to success,” David says. “The more you do it, the

easier it becomes.”

Case study #2: Study good writing
Tim Glowa had already built a successful career as a strategic

marketing consultant when he decided to set his ambitions a little

higher. “I wanted to be perceived as a thought leader,” Tim says,

“and to do that, I needed to have a point of view and I needed to

put that point of view out in public.”

He knew that crafting smart, digestible op-eds and research

papers was key to improving his professional reputation. His

writing was already well received by colleagues and peers but

much of his experience was rooted in academic writing. So he

began reading business publications, like McKinsey Quarterly, for

style. “I studied how they communicate,” Tim says, “and made an

effort to make my own writing more direct and concise.”

He also incorporated an outlining ritual into his writing. Before

writing reports and memos, he now begins with a short outline of

the three main objectives. “You can’t just start typing and expect

to go somewhere,” he says. “That’s like going for a walk and not

knowing where the destination is.”

Tim, now the cofounder of a marketing analytics firm called Bug

Insights, believes the efforts have made him a more effective

communicator, improving not just his longer writings, but his

emails and even his voicemails. “It filters down into virtually all

my communication,” he says. And his work is finding an

audience. Several of his papers have been downloaded more than

100,000 times, and a Fortune 50 company recently used one of his

papers in an internal training and development program.

Tim is gratified at his progress, but says he’s not going to stop

putting in the extra effort. “You have to work at it,” he says.

“Anytime you develop a new skill, you have to study it.”

Carolyn O’Hara is a writer and editor based in

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