Your typical business week could include a variety of writing activities. Among them:
- your resume
- progress report on a key project
- job description
- assignments for your team
- proposal for a merger or acquisition
- news release
- article for a trade magazine
- pitching an angel investor
Whatever the writing task, you remain on the lookout for ways to become more effective with your written messages. Why? Because better writing would improve your credibility, reduce confusion, prevent conflict, stimulate team work, boost productivity, and ultimately generate more profit.
You are familiar with the standard recommendations for honing your writing skills: write several drafts, have a colleague or friend offer feedback on your draft, put your draft aside until the next day when you can read it more objectively, and hire an editor. Now look at three unconventional writing improvement methods you may not have considered.
FIRST: Read articles and books by the most popular business writers
They didn’t become best-selling authors by luck or accident. Study their writing styles. Note how frequently they document their instruction by citing case histories and relevant data. Learn how they take financial material that could be dull in the hands of a less imaginative writer, and make the information interesting through profiles of well-known business moguls. Jot down samples of their creative and often humorous play on words passages. Reading a half dozen highly acclaimed business books per year will introduce you to writing strategies you weren’t familiar with in the business arena.
SECOND: Watch spellbinding movies
Next time you cue up a dramatic movie for your evening entertainment, keep pen and paper nearby so you can make notes about the film’s methods for holding your attention. Maybe after a few minutes you will jot down “lively dialogue.” Later on, think of how you could include that script strategy in your business writing.
For instance, suppose your company had interviewed a candidate for a sales management position. Hours later, you send this memo to the CEO: “Marilyn and I disagreed about the candidate we interviewed this morning for the sales management position. I thought he would be a good leader, but she felt his style was outdated.” Your message is clear, but quite run of the mill.
Following the pattern you detected in last night’s movie, you could put your summary in dialogue format:
I said, ‘”Ed would take charge of our sales team quite easily the first day he came to work.” Marilyn disagreed by saying, “This guy is too slick for me, quite artificial. More like the classical snake oil sales hustler than today’s well-informed product rep.”
Movie watching will give you other ideas. Just as movies hold you breathless until they reveal the culprit in the last scene, build suspense in your writing and don’t tip your hand until the final paragraph, such as: “Having considered these four possible alternatives for solving our company’s budget crisis, now I’m going to give you a fifth remedy—the one I endorse and recommend.”
So, while your family is accusing you of wasting time watching more movies than you once did, you’re finding ways to attract and keep readers through your job related writing.
THIRD: Learn a foreign language
Words for business and professional people are like bricks for brick masons, brushes for artists, and golf clubs for the touring professional-tools to get the job done. When you write, your success is directly dependent on the tools you have acquired and mastered.
Traditional ways of expanding your vocabulary, such as working crossword puzzles and keeping a list of new words you look up in the dictionary, remain helpful. However, learning at least one foreign language ushers you into a new dimension of word appreciation and interpretation. You discover the derivation of long-familiar words, giving you nuances you had missed. For example, politics came originally from the Greek word polis, which meant city-where of course many political figures made their headquarters. Ethos pertained to character, and led to our word ethics. Logos referred to our reasoning power, which we call logic. So seek opportunities to study unfamiliar languages. Possibly you live within a few miles of a college that offers non-credit language courses available one or two evenings a week. Also, pull off your bookshelf those language books you used to prepare for an overseas vacation.
In summary: To add vigor and clarity to your business writing, read a popular business book every couple of months, analyze the tactics movies use to keep viewers enthralled, and discipline yourself to study at least one foreign language.