April 2011 Write It Right
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Write It Right

By Steve Strauss. ARCHIVE:

I once had a job in a law firm where all of the junior lawyers had to take a legal writing class once a week. I struggled to learn the firm's style which was, like the firm, formal, dry, and boring. In the end, I was fired because I was told that I didn't write well enough (right before my first book was published - ha!)

It was a fortuitous experience, however, as being fired forced me to start my own business (a law firm) and that in turn changed my life; voila! Here I am fortunate enough to writing about business to you today.

But I must confess that I was indeed not the greatest legal writer around. I had a hard time confining what I wanted to say into the structures dictated by precedent and expectations. I have had far more success and enjoyment writing about business. But even in business I find too many people who think there are writing Rules that Must Be Followed.

There are, but they may not be the ones that you think. So here then are my Top 4 Rules for effective business writing, whether it be for a brochure, a proposal, a business plan, a blog, or whatever.

Rule No. 1: Check the Jargon at the Door. Lawyers love Latin, because, among other reasons, they think that Latin makes them sound smarter than everyone else. What they don't realize is that it usually just makes them sound arrogant.

Business people also can fall into the same trap, only we use jargon instead of Latin in an attempt to impress. For example, how many times have you read or heard about someone wanting to "interface" when what they really mean is talk? Or what about something like the "need to leverage investments in our IT infrastructure to drive profits." What does “leverage” in that sentence really mean? You got me. The worst culprits are words that have been bastardized: Actionable, incentivize, operationalize, and so on.

Jargon sometimes has its place, but too often it is simply used as a lazy shortcut that adds nothing to the synergy of the point. See?

Rule No. 2: Keep It Simple: Of course your writing sometimes has to be complicated, but more often than not, if you want people to understand what you are trying to say, simplicity carries the day.

Think about it. When someone is reading your business writing, they have no idea where it is going or what the point is. The easier you make it for them to understand, the better. Here's an example of how to do it wrong:

"The SonicBlast Millennium Co. takes the latest in state-of-the-art communication technologies and 24-bit encrypted software and uses them to create a world-class safety infrastructure. The top-down value proposition for you is that your communications management systems and internal proprietary processes will be more secure."


"The SonicBlast Millennium Co. safeguards communications. 100% guaranteed"

Rule No. 3: Writing is Re-writing: I always tell my kids that “writing is re-writing.” They don’t like it, but it’s true. Good writing, especially good business writing, usually requires a few drafts before it is easy to understand, interesting, and carries a punch.

Rule No. 4: Make it Snappy, Pappy! The greatest sin in business writing, yet the easiest one to commit, is to be boring. But your business writing need not be boring. In fact, the more you use your creativity, the more interesting it is for your biz, the more memorable your writing will be, and the better results you will get.