by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Allow me to introduce myself. I am a writing machine. My first article was published when I was 5 years old, 59 years ago; I’ve been a writing machine ever since. I’ve made a fortune knowing how to manipulate the incredible English language.
Sadly, I am in the minority. Having taught writing courses at many institutions of higher learning, including Harvard, I long ago came to the conclusion that most people would rather get a root canal than struggle with the dicey business of writing so people will read, understand and respond to what they write. Needless to say this costs them big bucks, since if you cannot use your own language, the lingua franca of the world, as the essential tool it is for business and life success, you lose much of the value of that language. And that is a crying shame.
I want to help you out, and I’ve therefore created the list below of key points which when mastered dramatically improve the way you write and the results you get.
1 ) Just because you’re a native English speaker doesn’t know you know anything about writing our complicated, sophisticated, absolutely splendid language. Speaking and writing are two separate, though related, things, and must be seen as such.
Start from the proposition that you are, shall we say, “challenged” by writing in English. There are many reasons why this could occur: you weren’t properly taught. Although teachers unions may strongly disagree, the fact is most teachers are not trained to write words that get results. Thus, they are unable to teach their students, who thereby start off their life-long relationship with writing the right words on the wrong foot. What’s more, most never manage to overcome this poor start; instead of trying to overcome the problem, they find ways to minimize or even avoid writing altogether. That is surely what throwing the baby out with the bath water means.
2 ) Admit you have a problem that’s not going to get better on its own.
As a business writer for my entire (now long in the tooth) adult life, one of the saddest things I see is respected business leaders not only unable to write the Queen’s English proficiently but proud of themselves because they mangle it in both its spoken and written manifestations. Yes, proud of themselves… each embarrassing misusage and mistake proving their warped satisfaction that they are therefore “people of the people”, thereby immune from proper usage. Just to state this proposition is to prove what a zany idea that is… yet it is common.
3 ) Force yourself to write more and better.
Like so many things in life, the more you write, the better you’ll get. Most business people are poor writers because, being VIPs, they delegate such “minor” tasks to others. What seems at first glance to be something rational and efficient, upon second glance proves to be nothing more than a means to slough off something you strongly dislike. Now hear this: even if you are the Chief Poobah of the world, indeed because you are that self-same Poobah, you need the ability to write the right words to get the results you must have to expand your clientele and business altogether.
This means no longer delegating all writing projects which ordinarily accrue to people of your dignity and position, but accepting at least some of them, not least to give yourself necessary practice… with the clear understanding that practice does most assuredly make perfect.
4 ) Less is always more.
Brevity, it is said on the highest authority, is the soul of wit. It’s also the key to ensuring that what you write will be carefully read and easily understood.
Poor writers are prolix writers; they write too much, edit too little, and manage to kill any fruitful results that might come by burying the objective in verbosity thereby suffocating the writing and ensuring its failure.
When you sit down to write any document whatsoever, your objective, 100% of the time, is to
state what you aim to achieve
Then, succinctly, marshal your arguments, with the preeminent and clear focus on what the recipient gets from you by taking the promptest possible action.
This means that if you want results, your invariable focus must be on the “you” you are writing to; getting this person’s attention, interest, then action is what all good business writing is about… such writing may never win the Nobel Prize for Literature… but who cares? It can make you rich.
5 ) Use numbers to structure what you write.
Good writers, particularly good writers in a hurry (are there any others?) use numbers to ensure readership and clarity. Thus,
“I have three reasons for contacting you today….”
“There are 6 major reasons why you must respond today….”
“Here are the 5 reasons you’ll want to take advantage of this offer now….”
Get the picture? Numbering provides structure, and it makes both writing and reading of what you write easier. Remember, you do not need to win prizes for your prose; it need only be good enough to get the results you desire.
6 ) Always write for the “you” receiving your writing.
Good writers, and by that I mean fast, efficient, easy to read writers, know a secret which, until now, has been unknown by you: that English prose sings when you make it “you” centered, the you in question being the person you are addressing your words to.
All people are egotistically and I-centered. Don’t fight City Hall on this one; take advantage of this fact, to your substantial advantage. The words you write should always be about, for, directed at and done (whether explicitly or not) for “you”, the person you must never forget you are writing for.
7 ) Read your words aloud… and save your breath!
Want to know whether what you’ve written will achieve your purpose? Read it aloud to yourself. If you find yourself meandering through dense thickets of words and punishing verbosity, difficult “show off” words and elusive meaning and directions, you need re-write (as every Hollywood director knows).
Sentences should never be longer than you can comfortably read in a single breath, no fudging either.
Key points should be made, emphasized, stressed… but always in short sentences.
Your writing should have a cadence which reading aloud will demonstrate. The best writing is writing that moves you briskly through the subject at hand, without a single superfluous word.
As you implement these steps and begin to see tangible results which will only improve, you will be glad, even blissful, that the bugaboo of being a poor writer is now gone… never to return.
What will fill its place is one result after another achieved by deft use of the written word you feared at the beginning of this article… and now rejoice as one of the absolutely essential tools for enhanced business success. And that’s a fact you can write home about!
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc. providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses.
Republished with author’s permission by Graham Lee – The Income Zone
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