Writing for Clarity: A Business Writing Primer

business writing

Business Writing that is simple to understand is no better to have skill. In this modern age of over-communication, each one of us is a writer, and effective writing is a skill that requires practice and attention to detail.

It’s not just about grammar and punctuation, but much more than that. Some essential components make particular writing soggy and others compelling and enjoyable. Steven Pinker’s book, The Sense of Style, has delineated this subject. Pinker, a Harvard psychology professor, has an uncanny knack for making technical issues accessible and even enjoyable. In his book, he offers practical advice for improving your business writing, from identifying common pitfalls to honing your use of language.

Business Communication: The Path is More Complex

Let’s talk about business communication for a minute. It’s a pretty broad topic that covers everything from advertising and public relations to internal communications and event management. Essentially, it’s any communication used to promote a product, service, or organization or relay information within a business.

You might think that communication in the business world is pretty straightforward, but the stakes are higher; even the tiniest miscommunication can have enormous consequences. That’s why clarity is crucial. You have to be consistent, concise, and honest to ensure your message is received loud and clear.

And it’s not just external communication that’s important. Internal communication is just as vital, if not more so. For example, a communications director or a CEO is responsible for crafting messages sent to employees. If those messages aren’t clear or are ambiguous, it can lead to all kinds of problems, creating mistrust and hostility to decreased productivity and morale.

So, communication failures can have serious consequences, especially in the business world. The results can be truly amazing when you get it right.

To ensure clarity in communication, it is important to avoid using complex technical terms that can confuse the message. Instead, focus on delivering clear and concise messages that are easily understood.

The Path Goes to Clear Thinking

At the heart of effective communication lies clear writing. As Marvin Swift once said, “Clear writing means clear thinking”. And there’s no denying that this is true. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your ideas are, if you can’t communicate them clearly, you won’t be heard. So in effect, your ideas are only as good as your ability to communicate them

To think clearly, one must engage in a rigorous process of questioning and analysis, weighing the nuances of a situation and drawing novel conclusions. This process often entails challenging one’s initial assumptions and eschewing the influence of mainstream media sources or other preconceptions.

At the core of clear thinking lies the ability to identify and eliminate logical fallacies. It requires an acute awareness of the many ways arguments can be flawed or misleading and a willingness to seek out feedback that can help expose such flaws actively. Even when feedback may be uncomfortable, the clarity of thought that comes from listening and taking constructive criticism to heart is essential for cultivating strong, nuanced insights.

It is not just about putting words on paper but also about creating connections that transcend time and space. As Steve Jobs once observed, it is only through looking backward that we can genuinely connect the dots and make sense of the seemingly disparate threads that make up the tapestry of our lives. However, for someone like Warren Buffett, writing is essential for refining and clarifying his thoughts. Through reading and reflection, Buffett can distill complex ideas and insights into clear and actionable concepts, helping him to make better decisions and achieve greater success.

For writers, this means engaging in introspection and reflection, even when the words may not come easily. And even in the face of creative blocks or uncertainty, we open up new pathways in minds and challenge ourselves to forge connections that may not have been apparent.

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Write Less: Big Is Bad

As Liz Wiseman, the author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, puts it, we live in a world where we’re armed with technologies like smartphones, instant messengers and video calling platforms. These technologies allow us to operate in rapid-response mode, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, we can quickly communicate with our colleagues and get things done. On the other hand, the cumulative word count can wreak havoc on our productivity, leaving us continually searching for the signal in the noise.

So, what can we do about it? Liz Wiseman recommends a 24-hour waiting period before sending a message to a colleague. When another recipient could or should answer, give that person the right to first respond. If they don’t respond, clarify that you’re looking for them to jump in.

This waiting period is more than just a batching tactic. It’s an opportunity to ask ourselves some crucial questions:

  • Do I need to send this message now? Can it wait until later?
  • If I do need to send it, does more than one person really need to receive it?

Asking ourselves these questions, we can become more disciplined in our use of technology and prevent ourselves from getting caught up in the noise. Keeping our casual conversations separate from our professional channels is also essential. Of course, having non-professional bonds with our colleagues is okay, but we need to be mindful of when and where we engage in casual conversations. Keeping these conversations quarantined from professional channels helps to maintain a professional environment and prevents distractions.

The crux lies in separating our casual conversations from professional channels, and disciplining ourselves when using technology in the workplace is critical for improving productivity and maintaining a professional environment.

As Shakespeare once wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and Mark Twain humorously quipped,” he understood the importance of concise writing and its impact on readers.

So, how can we apply this knowledge to our business writing? By keeping it simple and straightforward. Avoid using complicated words and phrases when a simpler one will do. Don’t try to impress your readers with your extensive vocabulary if it’s not necessary. Instead, focus on delivering your message clearly and concisely.

The power of simplicity in writing is undeniable. As the great writers before us have shown, brevity is indeed the soul of wit. So, let’s take a cue from them and keep our business writing simple, clear, and effective.

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Flip It

Don’t let your writing get lost in a sea of niceties and vague language. Instead, invert the order and lead with the need. Starting with a clear, concise statement of your thesis or argument will immediately capture your reader’s attention and ensure they understand exactly what you’re trying to convey. From there, you can build out your piece in a way that supports and expands upon your central message.

The Soul

I feel Pinker is spot on when he says that effective writing or business writing requires a strong emotional connection between the writer and the reader. It’s not enough to communicate information clearly and concisely. You have to speak to your audience and get them to feel something, whether it’s a sense of urgency, excitement, or even a call to action.

That’s what makes writing genuinely impactful. It’s about conveying facts and figures and using language and storytelling to create a real connection with your readers. And when you can do that, you can make a difference in the world.