Q: Steve – I attended a webinar you gave and you suggested that these days most small businesses also have to be content creators if they want to get noticed online. My issue is that I didn’t finish college and I don’t think that writing is my strong suit. So what does someone like me do? -Jeff
(Part 2 of 2)
In my last column, I shared some thoughts on the state of business writing today and explained why the days when you could get away with being a bad business writer are long gone (basically because content today is easily shared, whether you want it to be or not, so you need to be putting your best foot – or sentence – forward.) That is why my Number 1 rule for business writing today was Don’t Be Boring.
Number 2? Let’s see.
Rule No. 2: Check the jargon at the door:
This is a correlation to the first rule, but one which nevertheless merits its own entry. Far too many business people love to drop big words, jargony words, into their writing, apparently under the mistaken belief that it makes them sound smart. Of course, usually the opposite is true.
Example: Here is an email solicitation posted at the website, Clear Writing With Mr. Clarity: “The purpose of this research is to investigate how companies can maximize their innovation orientation by aligning their organizational structures to external situations.”
Huh? That means absolutely nothing. Sure specific industry language (which is usually what jargon is) sometimes has its place, but too often it is simply a pompous shortcut that adds nothing to the synergy of the desired outcomes. See?
Rule No. 3: KISS:
Keep It Simple, Stupid is a very good rule to remember when writing for business. Of course your writing will sometimes need to be complicated, but 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 follow and understand, the better.
Rule No. 4: Say what you mean, right now:
Probably the best book on writing is Strunk & White, The Elements of Style. There are all sorts of valuable lessons to be gleaned in its few pages, but I think the most important one is this: Keep it short. Don’t use more words when less will do. Brief sentences rock.
And, while Elements of Style was written long before the Internet was invented, the lessons are even more salient in this e-age because we have much shorter attention spans today. People bore quickly. Short sentences, shorter paragraphs, bullet points and the like, keep things moving along and keep people’s interest (hopefully!).
Rule No. 5: Writing is Re-writing:
This is my favorite, and most important writing rule. I always tell my kids this (even the college sophomore English major), and they have long tired of hearing it, but it nevertheless remains true. I know that I certainly don’t like this rule when an editor wants whole chapters of a book re-done. Too bad for me. Good writing, especially good business writing, usually requires a few drafts before it is easy to understand, interesting, and carries a punch.
Writing is re-writing.
Today’s tip: Motivating staff is an issue many entrepreneurs face. So how do you do it? Magic Johnson, who has become one of the great entrepreneurs of our time, suggests that “To keep your team engaged and on task, you have to serve their needs, not yours.” The way to do that is to “think of your employees as fellow entrepreneurs.” Share the blessings, make them stretch, surprise them, reward them. (From 32 Ways to Champion a Business by Magic Johnson.)