Business Writing


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Nine steps to get to grips with business writing. It forms the basis of our writing workshops.

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  • We can all talk. Why do we change when we go into print?[Ask the audience] Anyone care to improve on this?
  • Forget what you've learnt about writing rules and form. Your conditioning. Your perception of other peoples’ expectations.You can talk, can’t you? A good start is to write like you talk.School – declensions, tenses, all that internal infrastructure stuffUniversity – theses, dissertations ‘the academic style’Work - the company way Fear of other peoples’ judgement is crippling. Forget ‘em until near the end of the process
  • Know your typical reader. Know their objectives (What's in it for me?). Look outward, not inward. Their needs, not your offerings.Know your objectives. (What do you want them to do?) [Sign, enquire, engage...]Focus on all three. Write for one person (the toughest?), even if it's an imaginary one. [Anecdote: A major museum asked me to create a 30-page proposal for the trustees. Turned out I’d known one of them since childhood. I wroteas if the project to be funded was reality. (And they were already basking in its glory.) And I targeted my childhood friend because, if it persuaded him, it would sway most of the others. It worked.]Your job will be to lead them from what is familiar (their needs) to what is new (your offer).
  • Plan a simple structure. Start. Middle. End. Encapsulate. Expand. Conclude.(To help: use mind map maybe. Or outliner (if it's flexible).)Ideally, people should ‘get’ the general idea of your story without reading to the end except, maybe, to look at the conclusion too, where you draw the threads together.It’s like telling a joke backwards: give ‘em the punchlinefirst, then tell ‘em the joke. Then remind them of the punchline.
  • Write like you talk. Natural. conversational. From the heart. Use the readers’ language. Emotion. Belief. Honesty. Knowledge. Evidence. Natural authority. Conversation, humour and emotion all make your story more memorable.
  • Review. Use your head. Read it out loud if you’re worried.Be ruthless: that turn of phrase or structure you were so pleased with might need to be jettisoned.(In a later slide, I wanted to quote Mark Twain. In the end I abandoned him for a less famous, but more appropriate, American CEO) (Use Spelling & Grammar check. But don't trust it – ‘loose’ and ‘lose’, ‘break’ and ‘brake’, etc won’t be caught. And even the Microsoft UK English still Americanizes some words (like that one). Use the Gunning Fog index. My stuff is always around 12. That means 12 years of full time education needed to understand it at first reading. Lower is better. Or activate the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tools in Word.) Watch out for reading-ease programs mistaking bulleted lists for a long sentence.Flick from head to heart and back again.Sleep on it, if you have that luxury. [Repeat the process. But bear in mind diminishing returns.]Two online Gunning Fog index calculators:
  • Decide on whether to use 'we' and 'our‘ or company name. A company is singular, incidentally.Definitely use 'you' and 'your‘.
  • Active. Concrete. Story (these are from real life, from your experience – like the museum/childhood friend one). Use analogies (“like this, but different in this way”). Always positive in style (even if the content isn't). [The first line is a joke. It’s a passive sentence deliberately. The next two are improvements.]
  • Simple. Short (words, sentences, paragraphs). Clear. No jargon. No weird words. Explain acronyms. No padding. Avoid clichés and stale expressions like the plague. (That was one!) [The quote at the top is intended to show the opposite of ‘simple’. The other two show ‘before’ and ‘after’.]
  • Business Writing

    1. 1. Business Writing<br />David Tebbutt<br /><br />1<br />
    2. 2. Who talks like this?<br />2<br />David Tebbutt –<br />
    3. 3. Forget the past<br />3<br />David Tebbutt –<br />
    4. 4. Focus on your reader<br />Your reader<br />You<br />Their objectives<br />Your objectives<br />4<br />David Tebbutt –<br />
    5. 5. A simple structure<br />Encapsulate<br />Expand<br />Conclude<br />5<br />David Tebbutt –<br />
    6. 6. Write from the heart<br />6<br />David Tebbutt –<br />
    7. 7. Review from the head<br />7<br />David Tebbutt –<br />
    8. 8. Person or institution?<br />8<br />David Tebbutt –<br />
    9. 9. Active voice<br />The use of the passive voice is to be discouraged <br />Avoid the passive voice<br />Use the active voice<br />9<br />David Tebbutt –<br />
    10. 10. Simple<br />“It is sagacious to eschew obfuscation”*<br />He exhibited an utter lack of comprehension<br />He didn’t understand<br />In order to address this problem, a new methodology was utilised ...<br />I found the solution using a new method ...<br />*Norman R. Augustine, in ‘Augustine’s Laws’. He was CEO of Lockheed Martin.<br />10<br />David Tebbutt –<br />
    11. 11. Summary<br />Forget your conditioning<br />Know the reader and objectives<br />Start, middle, end<br />Write from the heart<br />Review from the head<br />Decide on ‘person’<br />Be active, concrete and clear<br />11<br />David Tebbutt –<br />