Tag Archives: grammar

7 Reasons Why Good Business Writing Matters: No.6

1) Writing poorly is rude to your readers

2) Bad writing makes you look bad

3) Bad writing leads to misunderstanding

4) Writing well saves everyone’s time

5) Writing well can give full expression to your great ideas

6)   The process of improving your writing forces you to clarify your ideas

Good writing is not only a result of clear thinking; it is also a cause of it. The process of writing forces you to plan and structure your thoughts, to clarify exactly what you mean, and to make your case in a logical and persuasive way.

Very often when I’m writing an article or a report I will change my opinion on the subject during the writing. You might expect this would happen during the research – that I would read around the subject, speak to experts, and then form an opinion – but that’s not always the case. In fact very often I find that where I do form an opinion at that stage, once I start writing I find all sorts of holes in my argument.

Pushing half-baked opinions and viewpoints through the white heat of the writing process can cut out our lazy assumptions, it can make us rigorously question our beliefs, and it can drive us to nail down exactly what we want to write. The outcome is that when we do write it, we are much more confident and vastly more compelling.

Sometimes the result of this process is that I discover I don’t have anything worth writing. I find out that my view on the subject is either hackneyed or ill-informed. In those cases I stop writing on the subject. At least it’s me who finds that out, not my readers.

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7 Reasons Why Good Business Writing Matters: No.1

In the last few blog posts I’ve explained to you why I’m writing this book on business writing. I’m now turning my attention to why you should be interested in it. Why exactly does writing well matter?

Some wonder why this question needs to be answered. “Rules are rules,” they tell us – “They’re meant to be obeyed”. I don’t subscribe to this view. Just because rules exist it doesn’t mean we have to follow them.  Personally I always need to see a clear, logical reason why I should do something, and I’m assuming you’re the same.

If you’re not, if you prefer to keep your life simple and follow rules just because they’re there, then you can skip this chapter. Lucky you -you can spend more time focusing on how to get it right.  If though you are like me and need first to understand why you should get it right, here are seven reasons why I believe good business writing matters.

1)    Bad writing is rude to your readers

I might not believe in rules but I do believe in good manners, and asking someone to read badly written text is just plain rude.

If you fail to use the correct punctuation you make it hard for the reader to know when sentences end and finish, what is speech and what not, where one idea ends and another begins, and so on. It’s the equivalent of someone asking you directions and you mumbling something about it being “up there, somewhere a bit further on”. It’s not very helpful.

Poor structure and clunky flow means the reader has to stop, re-read, and try to put your thoughts into a logical order. You shouldn’t be asking them to do that; you should be polite enough to do it for them.

Perhaps the worst of all is forcing your readers to wade through a morass of jargon, management-speak, vague words and generic phrases. We all know how that feels: it’s mind-numbingly dull. Your mind wanders, you have to fight to pay attention, and you constantly feel that perhaps it’s you, the reader, who is just too stupid to understand this complex, dense text.

If they have the option they’ll probably stop reading, but if they don’t then you’ve condemned them to spend time being bored. What could be ruder than that?

Number two follows tomorrow….

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Breaking the silence

Sorry about that.

The silence I mean.

I’ve been away, I’ve been busy, all that, but the real reason I’ve been silent is that I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I should be writing about in this blog, and I’ve been planning what I’m going to write about. It should come as little surprise then that what with all this thinking about writing and planning writing that I’ve decided I’m going to write about writing.

It is after all one of the few subjects I really know anything about.

Over the next year I’ll be using this blog to write my next book – Good Business Writing – and this broadly is what I’ll be covering:

1. Why I’m writing this
2. Why writing matters in business
3. No one writes in the same way
4. The process
5. The fundamentals of the English language
6. What to include and what to leave out
7. Writing clearly
8. Bring your ideas to life
9. Making your writing flow
10. Inspiring your readers
11. Common errors to avoid
12. Putting this theory into practice

I’ll cover a chapter every month with 4-8 posts. Each chapter will be around 3000 words and will contain theory, examples, and real-life case studies of people who’ve succeeded in business by doing this well.

And lucky blog readers you’re going to get all this free! All I ask in return is that you give me feedback – tell me what works, what doesn’t, what you agree with, what you disagree with, what I’m missing out and what I’m covering in too much detail.

So, let’s begin….What do you think to this idea? Will you read it? Will you tell others about it? Is there a need for a book on business writing? Has someone already written one that you can’t see me bettering? What do you think to my content? Anything I’ve missed? What would you find useful in a book like this?

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Five tips for improving your writing: 1

Good business writing is clear, direct and simple. It says what needs to be said in as straightforward a way as possible.

Why?

1)     No one has time to decipher your message; you need to make it immediately accessible for your reader

2)     Clear writing is a symptom of clear thinking. You’ll find that simplifying your writing will help you to clarify your thinking.

Many people think it’s easy to write simply. In fact it is much more difficult to write simply than it is to produce over-blown, jargon-filled text. Getting it right is not easy, and that’s why I run training courses specifically for PR professionals to help them produce this kind of good business writing. Over the next five days I’ll be posting a tip a day from this section of the courses. I hope you find them useful.

TIP ONE: use short sentences

Short, punchy sentences are easier to read – they also have more impact. Longer sentences, with convoluted phrases and clauses tend to appear like argument; shorter sentences tend to appear like fact. People are more likely to read and believe your copy if you use short, simple sentences.

Consider this example:

“As Manchester United and Arsenal, the two most successful clubs of the past twenty years have proven, success in footballing terms comes from continuity of management, and so Everton, if they want to achieve long term success, should be looking to support their manager, David Moyes, rather than firing him straightaway.”
Now compare it to this version:

“Successful football clubs have continuity in their management. Look at the two most successful clubs of the past twenty years: Manchester United and Arsenal. David Moyes may currently be struggling, but, rather than fire him straightaway, the Everton board should be supporting him. That is the way to ensure long term success.”
Which is easier to follow? Which is more convincing?

So, while you should vary the length of your sentences, you should favour short sentences.

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The Death of the English Language

Here is the text of a talk I gave last Thursday evening to my Toastmaster club – London Corinthians. Let me know your thoughts….

(NB. All characters are entirely fictional, apart from my Dad who is entirely real, but would never be that rude about the leader of the Conservative Party)

Everywhere I go people tell me that the English language is dying.

I was in the pub the other day with my mate Dave who was incensed by the careless way people use apostrophes (I know – I really should get myself some more interesting mates).

“I was driving past B&Q the other day,” he said. “And they were offering to sell me BBQ’s WITH an apostrophe. Everywhere you look people are throwing in these apostrophes – CD’s, 1980’s. It’s even on proper road signs now!”

“Road signs?” I asked.

“Yes! I was driving down to Somerset last weekend. I was relaxing and enjoying the country views, when I drove past a sign telling me this road was unsuitable for HGV’s. There’s no apostrophe in there. Is there?!”

“No,” I said, nodding vigorously. “Certainly not.”

“Well why do they keep putting them in there?”

“I don’t know,” I said, before quickly finishing my pint and heading home.

But before I got home I had to pop into the supermarket to pick up some bits. I joined the nine items or less queue, and as I stood there wondering whether or not Dave was right and the English language is indeed going to Hell in a handcart, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

It was an elderly lady. “Have you seen that sign?” She pointed at the sign above the till.

“Yes I have,” I said, and politely pointed out that I only had three items.

“Yes, yes,” she said. “But it’s wrong isn’t it? The sign. It says ‘less than nine items’. Anyone with half a brain knows it should be ‘fewer than nine items’.”

“Yes,” I said. “Of course it should.” Before I was summoned to the till.

Back home there were yet more people brimming over with rage at the deterioration of our language. Mum and Dad were staying for a few days.

“Look at this,” shouted my Dad as soon as I put my head round the living room door. He was pointing at the TV where he was watching the news.

“What? What’s happened?” I asked, immediately worried that something terrible had happened.

“This Cameron fellow,” said my Dad. “He’s an absolute imbecile.”

I looked at the TV to see the Leader of the Opposition grinning in full interview mode.

“Agreed,” I said. “What’s he done now?”

“He keeps on telling me I know what he means. Y’know. Y’know. Y’know. That’s all he says! Well I don’t know, do I? If I did know why would I be sat here listening to him give this ruddy interview?!”

You see what I mean?

Everywhere I turn there are people telling me that the English language is dying. And it is a worry, especially for me as a professional writer. If the English language dies then I’m out of a job!

And that’s part of the reason I love coming to Toastmasters. Here I’m amongst fellow language lovers.

There was a fellow at my last Toastmaster club – Manchester Orators – who was especially keen on preserving the language. Stephen was a superb speaker, a very successful businessman, and an all round good egg. I remember him giving a speech in which he told us of the day his daughter came home from university with some rather dramatic news.

“Dad,” she said. “I’ve got something to tell you. It’s important.”

“Well,” said Stephen. “You’d better come into my study then.”

“Dad, it’s this,” she said, obviously nervous. “I’m…I’m gonna have a baby.”

Stephen recoiled in shock and horror. For some time he didn’t know what to say. His daughter waited for him to collect his thoughts. Eventually he said: “You’re my daughter. I love you. Over the past 20 years I’ve paid for you to have the finest upbringing possible. You’ve gone to the best schools, you’re at one of the greatest universities in the world, and still you come here, and you have the nerve to say to me that ‘you’re GONNA’. You mean ‘you’re going to’!”

So, what lies behind all this?

Well, I recently found this rather revealing quote. It was in a book called ‘Attitudes toward English Teaching’, and the authors had spent a long time observing the teaching of English in schools. They concluded:

“Recent graduates, including those with university degrees, seem to have no mastery of the language at all. They cannot construct a simple declarative sentence, either orally or in writing. They cannot spell common, everyday words. Punctuation is apparently no longer taught. Grammar is a complete mystery to almost all recent graduates.”

Again, in his “Methods of Study in English” MW Smith said: The vocabularies of the majority of high-school pupils are amazingly small. I always try to use simple English, and yet I have talked to classes when quite a minority of the pupils did not comprehend more than half of what I said.”

I’m sure that many of these people who keep telling me that English is dying would agree with that statement. The only problem is that that the first book was written 1961. The second in 1885!

Look into it more closely and you’ll find that every generation throughout history has complained about declining standards of English. People were even complaining about declining standards of English as far back as ancient Sumeria. Among the first of the clay tablets discovered was one written by a teacher in which he complains about the sudden drop-off in students’ writing ability.

The point is of course that language changes. What was important in language 30 years ago is less so now. And what is important today will be less so in 30 years time.

So, while we should all try to uphold standards and communicate as precisely as we can, we shouldn’t lose too much sleep about it. In my view, rumours of the death of the English language have been very much exaggerated.

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