EVERY so often, I stumble across resources that are invaluable to my writing process. We often rush through the world without taking the time to look to other sources that can help to improve our craft; but I thought that this week, I would share with you an excerpt from a book I found immensely useful to my business-writing career. The book is called “Writing Fitness, Practical Exercises for better Business Writing” by Jack Swenson. In this excerpt, he outlines why writing is important, sources that can help to better your craft and other useful tips that you may want to carry with you along the way.
Writing skills are essential
Anyone who earns a living at a desk knows how important it is to have good writing skills. A good letter can get you a job interview or win you a new client. An ability to write clear, concise memos and reports can help you move up the ladder in your organisation and win you a better job. On the other hand, poor writing wastes time and costs money. As one consultant recently said, “Profits improve only when our correspondence is read. No sale is made when a business letter ends up in the wastebasket.”
A high-tech world
Part of the challenge of clear writing is the nature of business communication. Business-writing is often necessarily technical and complex. This kind of writing makes special demands on a writer. A writer who has not yet learned to have sympathy for the reader is bound to create problems for himself or herself.
But isn’t writing ability less important in today’s high-tech world of computers and electronic data-processing? Don’t we now depend more on machines for precise, accurate communication? The experts say no. They maintain that good communication skills are more critical than ever. The spread of electronic communication devices makes better writing imperative. Size, too, is having an impact on today’s business needs. As Business Week pointed out (July 6, 1981), “The ability to write simple, direct prose that says precisely what you want it to say in the fewest words…has become rare—just when business and social organisations have grown too large for anyone to be effective face-to-face.”
Better writing now
Some readers may have reservations about the length of time it takes to develop good writing habits. You may believe it takes years to become a good writer. You may be reluctant to commit yourself to the time and effort you feel are necessary.
Let’s give that myth a decent burial right away. True, it takes time and energy to become an accomplished writer. No professional writer ever got to that level without using up a lot of pencils, paper and ink. But it does not take years or even months to become a good writer. Most people can make remarkable progress in a few weeks. Indeed, you should expect to see significant improvement quickly. The principles of effective writing are simple and easy to apply. You can prove to yourself that it is possible to learn to be a better writer by performing this simple test: dig a letter or memo out of your files; it doesn’t matter if you wrote it or it was written by somebody else. Then, pen or pencil in hand, go over the document sentence by sentence, crossing out any words unnecessary to make the meaning clear. When you have finished, compare the two versions. Read them aloud. Which looks and sounds better? Odds are it will be the one that is shorter and more concise.
Some helpful resources
If you want to begin developing better writing skills, you don’t have to sign up for a course or wade through a grammar book. All you have to do is apply a few simple principles of effective writing. For
readers who have the time and desire to pursue the matter of writing improvement further, some books that will also help you build your skills as a writer are “Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser, and “Better Business Writing” by Susan L.Brock. A grammar handbook is also handy. An excellent, brief manual that contains all you need to know about English grammar and usage is “English Simplified” by Blanche Ellsworth.
Building a foundation
Many writers have trouble with basics such as spelling, punctuation, grammar, and mechanics. It’s no disgrace to be a poor speller, just a weakness. A good beginning point for a self-improvement course on writing is with the basics of the language. If you are weak in this area, the first step is to admit it, then begin to build a foundation for improved skill with the language. A grammar handbook is a useful reference. You can also benefit by making it a habit to look up words you don’t know how to spell in the dictionary and writing them several times until you learn them.
One step at a time
If your basic skills are weak, don’t despair. Learning how to write is like everything else: it must be learned one step at a time. Isolate your biggest weakness and deal with it first.
Interested in contributing to this column on writing? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org