30

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WoUldN’T IT BE GREaT If EvERyThING yoU WRoTE WaS moRE INTERESTING,

cREdIBlE aNd EffEcTIvE? ImaGINE BETTER WEBSITE copy, BRochURES, EmaIlS,

lETTERS, pRopoSalS, BloG poSTS, pRESS RElEaSES...

B E T T E R BUSINESS WRITING
BY MATTHEW STIBBE

BadLANGUAGE.NET

30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING

CONTENTS
Foreword Introduction How to use this book 1 2 6 Day 25: Invent great names Day 26: Write a great presentation Day 27: Find time for writing Day 28: Break writer’s block Day 29: Working with pro writers Day 30: Final exercise 94 99 102 106 109 113

Day 1: Be a reporter Day 2: Interview someone Day 3: Ask the right questions Day 4: Find the story Day 5: Find the angle Day 6: Pick the right structure Day 7: Analyse bad writing Day 8: Analyse good writing Day 9: Write like a human being Day 10: Write for readability Day 11: Learn to concentrate Day 12: Play buzzword bingo Day 13: Eliminate the passive Day 14: Use shorter words Day 15: Use fewer words Day 16: Manage your writing Day 17: Get the right tools Day 18: Write a proper brief Day 19: Give good feedback Day 20: Write a great case study Day 21: Write a great press release Day 22: Write a better email Day 23: Write a blog post Day 24: Write readable web copy

7 10 17 20 23 25 28 31 33 36 40 44 47 49 52 54 58 62 65 68 72 80 84 90

BadLANGUAGE.NET

30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING

FOrEwOrD
“You’re alreadY a better writer than You think”
Wouldn’t it be great if everything you wrote was more interesting, credible and effective? Imagine better website copy, brochures, emails, letters, proposals, blog posts, press releases... You are already a better writer than you think. This book builds on what you already know with some techniques used by professional writers and some guided practice. My name is Matthew Stibbe. I am Writer-in-chief at Articulate Marketing, a marketing agency. I write for clients including Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, eBay and HM Government. Before that, I was a business and technology journalist. Before that, in the dawn of the internet age, I ran my own software company. This book draws on that experience, my blog and the writing seminars I run for my clients, to try to give you a 30-day course that you can use to improve the way you write. This is not a book of grammar and I’m not going to make you go back to school. If you want guidance on basic written English, I highly recommend Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and the Economist Style Guide is also excellent. Instead, I want to help you take the basic building blocks and recombine them in a more interesting, compelling and readable way. Mainly, I’m writing for people in business. Perhaps you work in marketing or PR. Perhaps you work in sales and write proposals all day. Whatever you do, you probably write emails, reports and presentations. If you want to improve your writing, this book is for you. Matthew Stibbe

EMAIL ME
matthew@stibbe.net

READ MY BLOG
Bad Language

HIRE ME
Articulate Marketing

1

This is what compels me to write this book and what drives the requirement for better business writing.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING INTrODUCTION “if we don’t find something pleasant. readers spend nearly all their time doing something other than reading your content. more newsfeeds and more websites than there were five or ten years ago.VOLtAIRE • You have no right to your readers’ time. As a result. in business. • 2 . but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely. stories. To earn your reader’s trust and get their attention. Good spelling. The Bad Language manifesto This is my manifesto. Emails don’t get to the point or make it too brusquely. The market for information is becoming more and more competitive. I think these truths are self-evident. Yet. simple and direct. more newspapers. Jargon. hype. punctuation and grammar are a start. interest and time. but the consequences are not. good writing is surprisingly rare. Good writing is a competitive advantage The ability to communicate effectively is a competitive advantage. deals fail. They are already as busy as you are. shortest words possible helps. There are more TV channels. readability is everything. Saying what you mean in the fewest. verbiage and conventionality get in the way of real meaning. waffle. Using the right format. at least we’ll find something new” . appropriate metaphors and the right document structure helps too. We experience bad writing every day: • • • • Power corrupts. That’s not all. Consequently. business suffers from bad writing. Websites waffle and waste your bandwidth and readers’ time In short. careers stumble and money is wasted. your writing needs to be clear. examples. more emails.BadLANGUAGE. You have to earn their trust. more magazines.

making no choices is also a kind of choice. The default option in most cases is bad writing. the objections they might raise and the things that are going to excite them. All those web pages need copy. most marketing campaigns are about what the company wants to sell. This has a real business cost. Yet somehow those pages get filled. there are many possibilities. but “in the expert’s mind there are few. they think that writing is a commodity. You always pay for writing. Good journalists are good reporters. You can improve your own writing skills. be relevant. You can hire a professional writer (Yay! Me!). Second. not what the audience wants to buy. you can choose where and how you spend your money. Any time you see “lorem ipsum” placeholder copy. a Zen Buddhist priest. Because most people can write. By analogy. writing happens. Get it wrong and you confuse readers. Your time costs money even if you don’t get an agency bill for it. which is where a journalist uses their own experience or ideas as the source for an article. It’s the same for writers. Writing happens and you always pay for it whether you do it yourself or you get an agency to do it.” We are all experts in our own world and the only way to get past that is to become professional beginners. You can change the way you manage writing. Good writing costs the same as bad writing. “In the beginner’s mind. Be a reporter. most people can kick a football. First.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING • See the world from your readers’ perspective. it’s a sign that the person in charge doesn’t think writing is important enough. Bad writing is expensive. Those blank pages need to be filled. you aren’t going understand the problems they want to solve. Too much writing is about the writer. Something that is a low priority. On the other hand. lose their trust and waste the money you spent getting them to read your stuff in the first place.BadLANGUAGE. However. Bad journalists self-source. but not everyone is David Beckham.” said Shunryu Suzuki. • • • • 3 . Substituting good writing for bad writing is free. bore them. unless you can see the world through your readers’ eyes. For example. They talk to people. Something that can be left until later. Editors talk about ‘self-sourcing’. their company and their problems. You can get your agencies to write better copy. They ask questions.

Coleco lost $35 million in just a few As a journalist. I would plan to do months when customers returned thousands of new one interview for each 250-500 Coleco Adam home computers because they couldn’t words of copy. understand the manual. it is very difficult to add up the costs that come from poor marketing collateral. mostly. obscure press releases or badly-worded letters. credibility and retention are the requirements of business writing.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING The cost of bad writing RULE OF tHUMB Bad writing is expensive. First. What we want is to persuade and inform people. I think we have to go back to why we write anything in the first place. I think people know this intuitively. It is possible to track the impact of clear product descriptions on sales. In business. When I talk to them. It can have direct operational costs: in 1983. This is how I make a living at Articulate Marketing. Writing fails if the reader doesn’t understand it. comprehension. I’m sure you’ve gone to a website to sample a ‘free’ online trial only to be put off by a daunting click-through contract or weasly small print.BadLANGUAGE. 50. Money just drips out in lost opportunities. Expensive website? Waste of money.000 brochures? Recycling fodder. On the other hand. we’re not really bothered about artistic expression or entertainment. most people admit that they’re not happy with their website or that they’d like more compelling product literature or case studies. well-written manuals on support calls and snappy website copy on traffic. so I know there is some demand out there! The cost of bad writing is two-fold. Consequently. you lose the money you spent delivering the words to the reader. But. bad writing is a leaky bucket. 4 . doesn’t believe it or doesn’t remember it or act on it. you lose the hoped-for result. I saw hundreds of press releases that took several hundred words just to clear their throat and get to the point. When I was a journalist. Second. Have you ever read a brochure that bored or confused you? Did you buy the product afterwards? To understand the cost of bad writing.

(A good shit detector. imagine you had a tool that could tell you how successful a piece of writing was at meeting these requirements.BadLANGUAGE.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING To help calculate the cost of bad writing. Think of readability as the ‘clickthrough’ rate for writing. 5 . The opposite of a bullshit detector. perhaps?) It would tell you how readable it was.

Allow 30-60 minutes per chapter.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING HOw TO USE THIS BOOk “do one thing everY daY that scares You. Each chapter ends with an exercise for you to complete. Start at the beginning and read through to the end. New sections building on preceding ones. The book was written as a step-by-step guide. 6 . Graze. per day. Browse around. This is probably the least useful but fastest way to get through the book. try things out. read it like a regular book. see how you go. Not efficient but fun.” – ELEAnOR ROOsEVELt • • There are four good ways to use this book: • Take the 30-day course.BadLANGUAGE.

BADLANGUAGE.” – DOnALD MURRAY .NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 1 BE A REPORTER “a good reporter is forever astonished at the obvious.

my editor used to say. it’ll become more and more automatic. The big difference between copy and code is that paragraphs don’t crash. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY pick a topic that is important and current to you. Use your emotions. This is the rule of ‘one-half. For example. 3. feel. one-sixth’. facts. a problem you are trying to solve or a product you are trying to sell. Half my time is spent researching and interviewing. The result will be stronger writing. Sweet. she wanted me to write with information. Only a sixth is spent actually writing. 1. touch. ‘report it out’ and what she meant was to go and talk to people and find things out. The reason that so much of it sounds bogus is because it’s like spun sugar. In other words. When I wrote for Wired. How does the topic make you feel? What feelings does it evoke? Does it bring up any memories? Does it create any tension or conflict? Think about the passage of time. What happened before? What will happen later? What precondi8 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 2. 4. observations and not just my own opinion and fancy words. Once you have done this a few times as an exercise. So the first exercise in this book is about finding information and grounding your writing in the real world. one-third. tasty but insubstantial. One-third is spent proofreading and editing. data. This is a guideline that I used when I wrote computer games (where the tasks were designing. testing and coding) but it works for writing too. There are no right or wrong answers – it’s more a question of paying attention. What can you hear. What I’m trying to do is to get you to step back from your writing for a moment. taste and see? Write down the words that come to mind.BadLANGUAGE.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 1 DAY DAY BE A rEpOrTEr key point: write with information RULE OF tHUMB Good writing is grounded in the real world. smell. . Apply your senses to the topic.

But right now. How do you stand in relation to your topic? How involved are you? What biases or attractions does it hold? How objective are you? Objective evidence. You. Sometimes. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 9 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . either on paper or using software. We’ll come on to the feelings and opinions of others tomorrow when we cover interviews. I like to use mind mapping techniques. 6. I have a Word document open and I just type things into it as they occur to me.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 1 DAY DAY tions apply to the topic you have chosen? What consequences flow from it? What weight or priority or likelihood do you give to the different consequences? What is the pace of change? 5. can you find any data that applies to the topic? Are there dimensions such as size. weight or volume that apply? Price? Are there any competitors? Can you research the topic online? What hard facts are available? Jot down your answers and thoughts. Mostly. though. The important thing is not to lose the information that you gather.BadLANGUAGE. such as the outline mode in Microsoft Word. At this early stage. I use a more structured outline. 7. yourself.

NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 2 INTERVIEW SOMEONE “the waY i work. the interview never becomes larger than the person being interviewed.” – KEn BURns .BADLANGUAGE.

find the story behind the story. even if we choose not to believe it)? Interviews matter.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 2 DAY DAY INTErvIEw SOMEONE key point: understand the other person’s point of view The easiest and best way to become a better writer is to learn to see the world from your reader’s viewpoint. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • 11 . (If you work in a technology firm. But it is nothing more than a focused. An expert inside your company who has something to contribute to something you are writing. think of it as a chat. a meeting or a conference call. book it. Here are some examples of people you could interview: • • • Someone in another department who will read a report you are writing. They are the best way of understanding a complicated situation and seeing it from someone else’s perspective. A potential customer who might buy a product you want to sell. Skip the usual suspects – the VPs and the CEOs – and get quotes and input from the guy who designed the hinge and the woman who optimised the code. do it. I quite like the journalistic connotation which is why I use the word. professional conversation. What matters to them? What are their problems? What excites them? What do they do when they aren’t reading what you write (which is almost all the time. Go to the shop floor. You go for a job interview or you face a press interview with equal anxiety.BadLANGUAGE. when was the last time you actually talked to a programmer or engineer?) Avoid spokesrobots. write up your observations and use it in something you write. What I want you to do today is go and interview someone. Interviews are the foundation of good reporting. take notes. This is just as true for business writing as it is in journalism. Plan it. but if it makes you feel more comfortable. The word ‘interview’ has negative connotations in business.

6. phone interviews.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 2 DAY DAY preparing for an interview is critical. Also. 4. 3.” This doesn’t work so well for interviews. Have enough time.’ It’s the same with interviewees. a phone interview cuts out travel time and waiting around for people to turn up. Mind you. what the secret of a happy marriage was. Here’s how: 1. I love phone interviews.BadLANGUAGE. Have a backup. I’ve done two or three email interviews in my time and they’ve all been unsatisfactory. The results have been stilted and unnatural. Sometimes a face-to-face interview is good. I ended up spending 15 minutes of an interview with Google’s Sergey Brin talking about digital Dictaphones instead of Google’s future. I prefer to use two recorders or one recorder and hand-written notes. a phone interview works best. I type quickly enough to take a more or less real-time transcript during a phone interview which makes this form of interview particularly efficient. He said. There’s something confessional about them and it’s easy to strike up a rapport with someone. And. Avoid email interviews. For face-to-face interviews. People find it quite hard to say ‘no’ to requests for help but make sure you explain why you want to interview them and what you hope to get out of it. ‘Find a nice girl and pray she says yes. for me. 7. More often.) Approach them nicely. Choose the right format. It can be helpful to say that the interview will be anonymous or that you will let them approve any quotations you write afterwards. who later became my best man. less intrusive and more focused on speaking rather than appearances and body language. Find the right interviewee. I was promised an hour-long interview with an airline executive for a profile I 12 2. (Alistair Cooke had a different recipe for marriage: “Frequent separation and increasing deafness. It’s easier to schedule. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 5. Nothing could be worse than getting back from an interview and finding that you didn’t have any record. it makes interviews much easier to schedule as most people can find 20 or 30 minutes in their diary but a face-to-face interview seems to require an hour and a lot more commitment. . Long before I got married I asked my friend.

Also. prepare and research in advance. I don’t prepare questions in advance and I always say ‘no’ to people who ask me to send them a list of questions. In fact. I would have pulled out altogether. Often they do this if they feel that their technical knowledge isn’t up to scratch or they want a PR minder. it becomes harder to attribute quotes. 9. Confirm the time and date in advance and send reminders. Partly.BadLANGUAGE. Your job is to steer the 13 . Avoid group interviews. minutes so I try to keep them short. Don’t give questions in advance. On the day. Churchill said that the mind cannot absorb more than the seat can endure and I find that telephone interviews pale after about 30-40. I talked to my editor and we agreed that I should do it. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 11. Don’t go on too long. look up their employer and review other related interviews for angles and questions. If I interview two people. but the three-page feature would be cut to a half-page news item. If you’ve done your preparation well. my interviews tend to be quite freeranging. this is because I don’t work that way and partly. DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 12. it should be an enjoyable and thought-provoking conversation for both people. One in four interviewees don’t turn up or aren’t available when I call them. I have an interview template in Word and I usually set this up before the interview with all the contact information and some initial thoughts and topics for the interview. Don’t plan on a really long interview. the PR involved said it would have to be a 15-minute phone interview. An interview is essentially a one-to-one situation but many people like to have a colleague join them. It’s also helpful to send an email reminder the day before. I do like to Google the interviewee. However. Left to my own devices. I’ve started sending Microsoft Outlook meeting invitations which form a sort of contract because they have to be accepted or rejected by the interviewee.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 2 DAY DAY was writing for a UK magazine. Also. 10. there’s no need to feel nervous during the interview itself. I don’t usually prepare a list of questions. 8. although I’ll sometimes have a list of topics to cover. you miss out on potentially valuable contributions. Only one person can talk at a time. I would rather do two separate interviews. because I don’t want people over-preparing.

you should be upbeat and positive. subjective and personal. How to record interviews. I also find it’s much easier to write something if I have my document open in one window and interviewee comments open in another. My interview style is discursive. I like to do interviews on Skype and use HotRecorder to record them to MP3. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 5. Observe the legalities. I transcribe all my interviews so that I have a Word document on file for future reference. My favourite interviews are the ones where I find common ground with the person I’m talking to and we have a fun.200-1. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 4. as it is charmingly known. Be yourself.’ Even if it weren’t a legal obligation. you have to tell people you’re recording a conversation because of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. This means I have to come to the party dressed as myself. stimulating conversation. but it’s also a kind of protection. I tend to say. Be enthusiastic. It’s a courtesy. They are also conditioned to think of an ‘interview’ as a potentially hostile situation and be on their guard.BadLANGUAGE. I tell people who I am. 14 3. ‘I’m keeping a record of this conversation to make sure I don’t forget anything. Introduce yourself. if you can. People like people who like them. I call it the government health warning. Transcribe interviews. 2. I also have a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard which is quieter than my old Dell keyboard so that the sound of typing doesn’t intrude on the interview. my relationship to the publication I’m writing for and what the piece is about. I like to introduce myself at the start of every interview. or RIPA. engage your sincerity simulator. Consequently. I think it is a courtesy to say so. RULE OF tHUMB A 30-minute interview equates to roughly 1. Doing it consistently means that any interviewee knows exactly where they stand. This leaves both hands free for typing notes. In the UK. A headset is a must and I use a Plantronics USB CS60 handsfree headset for Skype calls.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 2 DAY DAY interview while not getting in the way of the flow of conversation or the interviewee’s thoughts.500 words when transcribed. Do this genuinely if you can. Otherwise. I don’t record all my interviews. 6. 1. .

I’m not trying to trick people into saying something they don’t want to say. You should be talking about 10-20 percent of the time at most. interesting or honest. Shut up. I like to ask: ‘How would you like me to describe you in the article?’ Get past the canned speech.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 2 DAY DAY 7. Tech companies are notorious for acronym-laden job titles. The important thing is to get the interviewee’s agreement to whatever you use. A good interview sounds like an intelligent conversation over coffee not a stand-up PowerPoint presentation. Sometimes people get absorbed in details or get too waffly and abstract. Sometimes asking the same question three times will elicit. Building a rapport with them on non-controversial subjects (like their job title or their recent career history) can put them at their ease. Focus on what you need. especially with self-important interviewees. These don’t work well on the printed page.BadLANGUAGE. You don’t have to be bossy but it’s important that you get what you need from the interview and you steer it in the direction you want to go. a more honest. If an interviewee has been media trained. it means I have to listen to 10-20 minutes of self-important waffle prepared for them by their PR department. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 13. If this is the case. they are intense professional conversations and you need to concentrate. 10. Sometimes. contact details. human way. I’m trying to trick them into saying something in a natural. Usually. 9. Sometimes you have to let people do their duty and then you can get to the interview. . human answer. Sometimes you can pick up a word or a phrase in an answer which you can play back to the interviewee and get something much more intimate. on the third go. DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 12. I use a template form for all my interviews that captures: name (get the spelling right). time and date of interview and intended publication. Interviews aren’t scripted Q&As. 11. Job titles can be difficult. Don’t lose control. job title. I like to get a more informal job description agreed with the interviewee. my heart sinks. (This is my biggest weakness – I often end up interviewing myself!) Listen hard. you can get into a bit of a tug-of-war over who is in charge of the interview. Sometimes people have very long-winded or obscure titles. Capture the basic information. 15 8. Never forget that you are the CEO of the interview.

15. I find that many of my corporate interviewees – usually experts in their fields – have PowerPoint presentations. They might have a colleague or know an independent expert in their field who could give you additional information or a contrary opinion. A timely intervention is sometimes required to redirect the interview. do so. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 16 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . depth or detail. 14. Phrases like ‘do you have any stories that illustrate that point?’ or ‘how does this relate to the bigger picture?’ can be very useful ways to do this. Be courteous.BadLANGUAGE. Often this is as useful as the interview because it is the considered articulation of their ideas. One introduction beats a hundred cold calls. If you can provide a copy of the final article. Say thank you.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 2 DAY DAY Sometimes you need a specific quote or a good story. a blog or other material and they are usually happy to share it with me. Ask for collateral. It’s always worth asking if your interviewee has any written material that could add more colour. 16. Ask if there’s anyone else you should talk to.

their names are what and whY and when and how and where and who. – RUDYARD KIpLInG .BADLANGUAGE.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 3 ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS i keep six honest serving-men (theY taught me all i knew).

2. PR Newswire is a perennial source of fresh press releases. Sometimes. Pay special attention to gaps. as you move from the whole article to paragraphs and then individual sentences. where and who. Answering this question with clarity will help you write headlines and opening sentences. think about how these six questions affect the story: • what? This question forces you to concentrate on what is important and get to the point. why? This question forces you to examine motives. See how many you can find. There are two parts to this exercise: 1. Take something from your own recent experience and write a paragraph or two describing what happened. just try Google News. Make sure that you answer each question in what you write. entertain or inform them. DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 As you complete these tasks. but also the intentions of your readers and – just as important – your own. For a newspaper article. why. If you start with what. Answering the question ‘why?’ is the main way you add value to plain facts. how. when. Understanding your reader’s ‘why?’ is the main way of finding what will persuade. DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • 18 . you will automatically answer the reader’s most basic questions and ground your writing in truth.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 3 DAY DAY ASk THE rIGHT qUESTIONS key point: what’s important to the reader? A good starting point for any writing is Kipling’s honest serving-men. Something short like a press release or a newspaper article will work very well. Not just of the people in your story or your copy. Take an existing piece of writing and circle the answers to these questions in the text. you may spot gaps and non-answers.BadLANGUAGE. Understanding your own ‘why?’ will help you focus what you are writing so that it achieves the goal.

” from Shakespeare or the “the wine dark seas. I don’t see why business writing couldn’t be more specific about where things happen and. even if technology has changed. For example. allow the reader to be there too.’ is a classic evasion of the basic question ‘who did it?’ Answering this question will make your writing more forceful and easier to read. Without a date. my view is that including the dates helps readers understand the relevance of the case study. “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows. However..” from Homer. who? Have a look at your website or any of your company’s literature and see how often the subject – the person who is actually doing something – gets left out of sentences and paragraphs. a reader may be tempted to dismiss an old story out of hand. ‘It was agreed. Often.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 3 DAY DAY • when? It’s astonishing how many stories ignore this question. the service or lessons learned may still be valid. How did the project slip? How does the product save you money? How can we solve this problem? where? In novels and plays. writers work hard to convey a sense of place. with telling details. what good is a task allocation email without a deadline? How? This is where a writer can often supply the most useful insights. Equally. • • • 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 19 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . just to give two examples. companies deliberately omit it from a press release or a case study in case it makes them look out of date.BadLANGUAGE..

BOGARt (incidentallY. that is news. that is not news. because it happens so often. i alwaYs thought the perfect headline for wired was “geek bites robotic dog. but if a man bites a dog.BADLANGUAGE.”) .” – JOHn B.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 4 FIND THE RIGHT STORY “when a dog bites a man.

Important. Find a way to make information accessible and attractive. It’s not the science you remember but the moment of discovery. everything you write is a story.’ Readers like to identify with people in stories and to learn something from them.) Fresh. (We’ll talk about this a little more in a later chapter. but it does mean you have to identify what is special about what you are saying. Examples are ‘Scientist makes breakthrough’ or ‘Manager turns round failing company. It needs to speak to readers so it must have recognisable human elements.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 4 DAY DAY FIND THE STOrY key point: humans need stories to understand complex ideas Ultimately. two and three. Understanding the need for a story will help you communicate better. computer” is. The human brain is wired to receive and process stories. some day. Making predictions about the future is one way – “thanks to our new chip. relevant. this Aston Martin looks like Lord Greystoke but under the hood it’s all Tarzan. “On the surface. times. emotions. Entertaining. It features people. places. The ability to ask ‘what happened next?’ separates us from other animals.) • • 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 • DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • 21 . Also – importantly – a story arranges these elements in time to control the effect on the reader. facts – all the material you have worked with on days one. A good story is: • real.” (Jeremy Clarkson is very good at analogies. Why should people read this today? What’s new? Why is it important? Readers don’t like reading old news – try reading a year-old newspaper to see what I mean.” Another is to capture a moment. Good analogies always help. “Company makes new computer” isn’t really that important. “Company makes smallest/ cheapest/fastest etc. Obviously ‘important’ doesn’t mean earth-shattering.BadLANGUAGE. Think about the discovery of penicillin or Edison’s light bulb. computers will be half the price they are now.

Shipping News is not my favourite film. as a newspaper article. Try doing the same thing on your company’s last press release or website home page. but there’s a nice bit in it where the hero has to learn to be a reporter and this is a good illustration of how a journalist identifies a story from a mass of raw data. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 22 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY .BadLANGUAGE. Don’t worry too much about the form or the language.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 4 DAY DAY Try reading a newspaper or magazine and seeing how its stories meet these criteria. You can do this as if it were a piece of short fiction. discovered and authenticated in the first three days of this process and turn it into a story. Your challenge is to bring life to your data and convey a sense of why it is interesting. or just a list of points in the order you want to make them. tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s exercise is to take what you observed.

NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 5 FIND THE ANGLE “a moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.BADLANGUAGE.” – OLIVER WEnDELL HOLMEs .

’ Donald Murray. but the exercise will help you explore all the dimensions of the story. says that you should write 50 different ledes and then pick the best one. a Pulitzer winner. but learning to write different ledes will help all your writing in future. The opening sentence is the reader’s invitation to the party. You have to get it right or else you’ll spend the evening staring at a big room eating hors d’oeuvres on your own.’ Or Seth Godin’s introduction to Small is the new big: “You’re smarter than your boss or your friends or your organization believes. you can take a story from a newspaper or a piece of news from your own company and write alternate ledes for that. beautiful sentences. It’ll be a challenge.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 5 DAY DAY FIND THE ANGLE key point: you can’t say everything at once – you need an angle The way you start a piece of writing sets the direction for the whole thing. if you prefer. Consider the first sentence in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: ‘The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.BadLANGUAGE. American journalists call them ‘ledes. tODAY’s EXERCIsE 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY Today’s exercise is to come up with 50 different ledes (or opening sentences) for the story you worked on yesterday. Or. You may not need to write 50 every time. bold.” Big. 24 .

and just as hard to sleep after.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 6 PICK THE RIGHT STRUCTURE “good communication is as stimulating as black coffee.” – AnnE MORROW LInDBERGH .BADLANGUAGE.

The old BBC idea of ‘say what you’re going to say. There are three basic structures for non-fiction and the choice depends on your objective. It is all about control of the argument. If the initial assertion or problem is complicated. familiar points to more abstract. This is another book that should be on every writer’s bookshelf. A lawyer needs to persuade a jury that that someone is guilty or innocent. When you write to inform the reader. but for informative writing you need plenty of scaffolding to help the reader find their way. check out Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: They Psychology of Persuasion. I highly recommend it. Donald Murray’s book. Since it is not possible to read an entire text in one instant. you focus on the control of information. 26 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY • 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . persuasive documents begin with a problem statement. Salespeople need to persuade customers to buy their wares. persuade. is the best introduction to this type of writing. Things like prosaic headlines rather than descriptive ones. You give the highest levels of detail first – when and where the fire happened – and then add layers of detail and information as the text continues.BadLANGUAGE. In many cases. short declarative sentences and careful explanation of new information help. they will be more receptive to your proposals and solutions. We read words one at a time. product specifications. • Inform.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 6 DAY DAY pICk THE rIGHT STrUCTUrE key point: match the structure to your objectives Prioritisation is the most important thing that a writer does. If they agree with that. This is a very brief introduction to the ideas in Barbara Minto’s The Pyramid Principle. website FAQs. you use an inverted pyramid structure for this kind of writing. Writing to Deadline. the writer must control the release of information. Examples of informative writing include news. manuals and (I hope) this book. With me so far? Getting the reader to agree with your premise – as I have tried to do in this paragraph – is the first step in persuasion. Consultants need to persuade their clients that their proposals are worth implementing. For more on the psychology of persuasion. You build from concrete. breaking it down into a hierarchical pyramid of sub-problems and sub-solutions means that you quickly develop a pyramidal structure. Typically. novel concepts. say it and then say what you have said’ is probably a bit too formulaic.

a pyramid structure and a piece of controlled suspense. More recently. try writing the story you developed over the last few days using each of the different structures. you may choose something other than a strictly linear or hierarchical style. Anyone who has given a speech or told a joke will be familiar with a narrative structure. Watch this space. In business writing. It’s not what you say but how and when you say it. tODAY’s EXERCIsE Your mission today is to find an example of an inverted pyramid (easy. this style will become more common. go and read a newspaper).NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 6 DAY DAY • Engage. DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 27 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . Alistair Cooke was the master of this conversational style in his Letters from America.BadLANGUAGE. you can open a white paper with a story about a customer or you can begin a presentation with a poignant joke. For extra credit. this discursive style is in vogue with presenters at the presentation-fest TED. For example. you can use this effect in conjunction with the other structures. As business communication becomes more personal and more human. If you want to capture a reader’s attention and engage or entertain them. The secret is the control of suspense.

it is the result of preparation. hard work and learning from failure.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 7 ANALYSE BAD WRITING “there are no secrets to success.” – COLIn pOWELL .BADLANGUAGE.

but then society makes a distinction between ‘writers’ and ‘the rest of us. 29 . So they use big words and long sentences. Private Eye runs a regular column lampooning the abuse of the word ‘solution.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 7 DAY DAY ANALYSE BAD wrITING Key point: the first step to good writing is to avoid bad writing Everyone can write. people are afraid to write how they speak. Thinks too much of itself. there are seven types of bad writing: 1.” It meant. I was presented with this beauty at a school board meeting once: “The Governing Body are agreeing this budget as the financial mechanism to support the education priorities of the school as identified in the School Development Plan and will adhere to the best value principles in spending its school funding allocation. What comes out of most companies is bad. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 3. It pays to learn from other people’s mistakes. Dow Corning’s “Innovative solutions for wound management.BadLANGUAGE. The latest thing is always ‘cutting-edge’. “We approve the budget. people underestimate the importance of writing and overestimate their own ability.’ The danger of hype is that readers over-discount it when they read it. 2. grown-up and clever. In my experience.” which means “bandages. See if they still listen to you afterwards. too many adjectives make sentences hard to read. For example: “Nortel has established a legacy in innovation and will continue to push the envelope…” Try saying that in a pub to your friends. ‘high-performance’ and ‘advanced. Or trust you.’ For example. But not everyone can write well. Is too clever by half. For example. These monsters are made-up quotations that bear no resemblance to normal speech. Because everyone can write. We all learn to write at school. Another manifestation of hype is the press release Frankenquote.’ A writer sits in a garret and writes the great American novel. The rest of us write memos. Also. For some reason. They want to sound big.” Gets hyped up.” This kind of word inflation devalues meaning and arouses the scepticism of readers. It’s a false division.

Has no direction. You can use copy you have written yourself. 5. journalists score low in public trust.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 7 DAY DAY 4. Good writing has a strong purpose. it’s not the usual yada.BadLANGUAGE. yes. DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 30 . It takes an imaginative leap. 6. accuracy. good reporting. Ignores the reader. 7. not what you need to say. Put your best argument but don’t pretend that there is no other point of view. As a writer. Level with your audience. This is especially true when writing for the web. details and. truth. when you need to cut the word count by about 50 percent. What works for newspaper stories also works for business communication. yada. good journalists are obsessive about research. Most writing can be improved by liposuction. Consider the Gettysburg Address – just 272 words. Bad writing has either no direction or has too many. My favourite tutor at Oxford told me that I had to take my essays and drive them like Ayrton Senna (a famous racing driver).” Which one is more likely to be read? Needs to go on a diet. However. In the UK. Somewhere near politicians and spin doctors. For example.” Microsoft says “This software is licensed under the agreement below. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s mission is to try to find an example of each type of bad writing. Tells lies. the greatest skill is to think about what the reader needs to hear. Google says “Please read this carefully. copy from your own business or from a magazine or newspaper.

” – COnFUCIUs .BADLANGUAGE. and the bad points of the other and correct them in mYself. i will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them. each of them will serve as mY teacher.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 8 ANALYSE GOOD WRITING “if i am walking with two other men.

showing people and places etc. It also reveals how professional writers solve their writing problems: telling a story. the writing in it is dizzyingly good. One time. Here are some recommendations – you won’t read a badly written. I got out of the lift on the New Yorker floor and did homage at the door. Take some writing that you admire and break it down and see what lessons you can learn for your own work. I used to take two or three articles from each issue and dissect them like a medical student.BadLANGUAGE. choosing quotes. It doesn’t have to cost anything – most magazines publish free articles online. when I visited him. how the piece was structured.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 8 DAY DAY ANALYSE GOOD wrITING One way to improve your business writing is to read good non-fiction prose. At its best. 32 . A friend of mine works at Vanity Fair. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY When I started contributing to Wired. what techniques didn’t etc. what techniques worked. It’s that good. a few floors above the New Yorker in their shared Times Square offices in New York. how the writer achieved his or her objectives. I’d like you to try the same thing yourself. badly edited article in any of them: • • • • The Atlantic The New Yorker The Economist Wired The New Yorker is my favourite. It is a pleasure in itself. I used to paste the text into Word and then take it apart and make notes on what I liked.

NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 9 WRITE LIKE A HUMAN BEING “the most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in. this is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.” – ERnEst HEMInGWAY . shock-proof shit detector.BADLANGUAGE.

direct and natural. where they work. Unnecessarily long words make you look dumb and most people don’t use them in conversation. . but when they start writing they turn into robots. I have already talked about the value of interviewing people. write conversationally. Well. However. such as ‘don’t. When they talk to me. Interview yourself. but when they write. But how about interviewing yourself? Try explaining what you are saying to someone else and write down what you say. dog my cats. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 3. 5.’ But that’s only a start. when it comes to writing. Here are some tips for writing something that reads like a human being wrote it: 1. So. ‘Being human is overrated. Short words. picture a human reader. when you are writing. being human is essential. relax and write like a human “Bill Gates once asked me. You don’t need to write up every ‘umm’ and ‘ah’ but it’s okay to throw in the odd ‘yes’.) Use ‘get’ instead of ‘acquire. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.’ ‘talk to’ in place of ‘engage’ etc. an examiner or a sceptical customer. picture a friendly reader and talk to them. 4. Use everyday abbreviations. 34 2. Avoid the passive. Good writing is relaxed. You can recreate a conversation in prose by changing the way you write. Some of my best lines come from interviewees. their hobbies etc. A lawyer. ‘Could you make me more human?’ I said. ‘but’ etc.’” This quotation is doubly priceless because it comes from Mark Penn. Use occasional colloquialisms. (Stephen Fry is a charming exception. ‘no’.BadLANGUAGE. Short and snappy. they picture a scary reader. Conversation is rarely made up of paragraphs. It’s more like a David Mamet dialogue. I have often interviewed people who can explain very complex ideas simply and directly. imagine what they do. You can even invent a persona for your reader.’ ‘choose’ rather than ‘select. Short sentences. they know they’re talking to a human.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 9 DAY DAY wrITE LIkE A HUMAN BEING key point: for maximum impact.

award-winning. 9. Yes. Break the rules. I just finished Gore Vidal’s autobiography.. I know the grammar Nazis will come and take away my keyboard.’ A sense of person. Why not? Don’t be afraid of humour. and it has a great gag in it. At a wedding. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s homework is 1) to find examples on the internet of companies that use the conversational style and to read through some copy and analyse how they achieve the effect. Include something biographical or descriptive that shows that the author is a real person.. place or time.. ‘I’m always a bridesmaid but never a bride.. Ground your writing in familiar things. If it makes the writing better. There are plenty of examples. you can start sentences with ‘but’. etc.” He replied. The conversational style works in business too. 8. but Virgin and Apple are two companies that do it particularly well. cutting-edge.’ or ‘as if.’ Finish sentences with a preposition and split infinitives. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY The master of this kind of writing was Alistair Cooke. Marketing speak. you could give it a try.BadLANGUAGE. Words you would not use with your family or friends have no place in peoplecentred writing. someone said to him. “I’m writing this at the kitchen table…” or “When I was at university…” 7. But if you want to sound like a real person. 35 . Go for it! Use everyday metaphors. ‘so’.” Humour and politics separate us from the animals. Lynn Truss be damned. optional etc. market-leading. ‘It’s like. and 2) to take something from your own company or your own writing and rewrite it so that it’s more conversational. Solution. Somehow he managed to make the serious sound informal. 10. Use it. Embrace the exclamation mark. ‘because’ and ‘and. Just be funny. Point to Point Navigation.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 9 DAY DAY 6. but never a god. 11. “Always a godfather. It’s worth looking at (and listening to) some of his Letters from America.

BADLANGUAGE. but not simpler.” – ALBERt EInstEIn .NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 10 WRITE FOR READABILITY “make everYthing as simple as possible.

and short paragraphs help people to understand what information belongs together. Unnecessary acronyms. The first is the ‘hygiene’ factors that make a piece of writing hard to read. Punctuation marks and other symbols are speed bumps for the eyes. unless they are very commonplace (for example. The passive voice. In my view. Avoid subordinate clauses. Examples include: • Speed bumps. Bullet lists. readability has two components. But even if you are writing technical articles for a PhD-level audience. 37 • DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 • DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • • • . like this one. on the other hand.’ Avoid unnecessary commas and other punctuation marks. make the reader work harder. If you do use acronyms. run-on sentences separated by colons or semi-colons. Capital letters. you will increase the credibility and retention of your material if you increase the readability of your text. And then move on.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 10 DAY DAY wrITE FOr rEADABILITY key point: increase readability to make text memorable and credible Readability measures how easy your text is to read. Not everyone reads at a university level. This is especially true if they are new terms. Long paragraphs. sub-sentences in brackets. if you want your copy to be read and understood by the ‘general public’ you need to write for a reading age of 12 or 13. Just say it. Long sentences. In fact. CD and PC). dense paragraphs. The brain has to work harder to process a passive sentence. I recommend using ‘and’ instead of ‘&’ and ‘percent’ instead of ‘%. Technology companies and lawyers are guilty of over-capitalising Important Nouns unnecessarily.BadLANGUAGE. It’s much better to use everyday language. Readers have to unpack abbreviations to understand a sentence. Long. make sure that you explain them early and often.

such as the Flesch Grade Level etc. titles and subheads Making the first and last sentence of each paragraph especially clear 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY The first step to changing something is to measure it. jargon. good analogies. It comprises the techniques used to make writing memorable. Short words are much better. Spelling and grammatical mistakes. They trip the reader up and force them to substitute the correct words. They teach whole courses on this at journalism school. but among the things that work in business writing are: • • • • • • • Avoiding anything that switches off readers: unsubstantiated claims. There is an online readability checker on my website. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 38 . These tools give you objective feedback on how readable your text is by measuring word length. They are a useful benchmark and give helpful feedback. number of syllables. hype Using strong verbs. pithy quotations Eliminating clichés and waffly throat-clearing Credible data from the real world Citing believable authorities Well-written introductions. By comparing these measures against tested reference material. just analyse it using a set of rules. they give you a reading age or score for your text. You can get a readability plug-in for WordPress (my blogging tool of choice). but don’t rely on them to the exclusion of good judgement. It checks web pages or pasted text. Readability statistics. They don’t ‘read’ the text. More memorable and easier to absorb. Microsoft Word has a tool that will give similar results. • The second component of readability is more positive. Typos. credible and compelling.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 10 DAY DAY • Long words. words per sentence and per paragraph. Mistakes.BadLANGUAGE. Long words make the reader think and potentially exclude readers with smaller vocabularies.

1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 39 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . and edit it to improve readability. perhaps from your current work or from a business website.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 10 DAY DAY tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s exercise is to take a piece of existing text.BadLANGUAGE. Use a readability checker on it before you start to get a baseline score and see if you can improve that score by a grade level.

well.” – IsAAC AsIMOV .NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 11 LEARN TO CONCENTRATE “nothing interferes with mY concentration. maYbe once. You could put on an orgY in mY office and i wouldn’t look up.BADLANGUAGE.

Little treats. distractions like blogging and hoovering become very compelling. Stop with the blog already. I bribe myself: ‘Matthew. I remind myself how much money I’m getting paid for a particular assignment and how ashamed I will be if I miss the deadline. 4. definitely have to get on with my work. DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 5. you can have a cup of tea and a biscuit. 30. I use Bose noise-cancelling headphones but don’t plug them into anything.BadLANGUAGE. I disable all the notifications that tell me I have new mail). if you write another 500 words. Switching Word into full screen mode (from the view menu) eliminates all distractions but the piece I’m working on. Greed and guilt. I have a free concentration and meditation timer on my website that will help you keep your focus on your work for a given period of time. I use a few tactics to force myself to concentrate: 1. It also feels more virtuous than staying up late with work. 8. 7. 50 minutes and doing nothing but writing until it goes off and then taking a break seems like a good way to make progress. The silence really is golden. I don’t start Outlook (or if I do. 3. You can also use a distraction-free editor to focus completely on 41 2. Get up early. No distractions. .’ Chunking. 6am is the most productive time of day for writing. 20.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 11 DAY DAY LEArN TO CONCENTrATE key point: you can’t write well if you are distracted When I am up against a deadline and I absolutely. Go full screen. DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 6. Isolate myself. When I’m pressed for time. Knowing this makes it easier to resist. Setting a timer or alarm clock for 15. Switch off email. This actually works sometimes.

There is a list of editors on my blog. Philip Glass. 42 . taking a laptop or my notebook to a cafe and scribbling out something there – a fresh new location – is a good way to jolt-start an assignment. Meditation can also help calm the mind and. Schedule time to write. A 15-20 minute power nap can leave you more focused and attentive. Meditate or take a nap. it can increase your powers of concentration. Shitty first draft. Switch off the phone and shut the door. Splitting the work into distinct writing and editing phases breaks the job down nicely and it takes off some of the pressure to ‘get it right first time. In fact. of six environmental factors that affected productivity. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 12. the composer. 10. take a walk and clear their mind that way. Sometimes. interruptions and unwanted phone calls were significantly more productive than people who couldn’t. Some writers.’ Change location. This is why concentration is so important and why interruptions are so deadly to productivity. wonderful book Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. This means that every interruption wastes at least 15 minutes. Psychologists talk about a ‘flow state’ where you commune with the work you are doing and sort of merge with it to the exclusion of the outside world. Churchill was a great advocate of midday naps.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 11 DAY DAY the words on your screen. Source: the wonderful. 13. Setting a regular time to write will help. five related to interruptions. if I’m really struggling to get started. People who were able to shut out noise. The book Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams describes experiments using programmers – another job that requires concentration – that test productivity. RULE OF tHUMB It takes about 15 minutes to really settle down and concentrate on my work. writes music at the same time every day and he says that this helps summon the muse. 11. over time. including Stephen King. 9.BadLANGUAGE.

tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s activity is simply to think about your working environment and the times when you are actually writing. etc. in an Atlantic article. Twitter.BadLANGUAGE. “At the most basic level. Avoid multitasking. confusion and fatigue. email. The Autumn of the Multitaskers. text messages etc. the mental balancing acts that it requires – the constant switching and pivoting – energises regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 43 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . Try these techniques and see which ones work for you. phones. the author argues multitasking messes with the brain. But. Technology has made us all task-switchers. Take the time to stand back from the hustle of your life and see if you can improve it a little. Learning to do one thing at a time will make us more productive.” It also increases stress.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 11 DAY DAY 14.

” – BECK .BADLANGUAGE.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 12 PLAY BUZZWORD BINGO “i think mY whole generation’s mission is to kill the cliché.

NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 12 DAY DAY pLAY BUzzwOrD BINGO key point: buzzwords and business clichés are the opposite of effective writing I heard a great joke the other day: “If you gave an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters. eventually one of them would write Hey Hey We’re the Monkees!” It came back to me this morning as I was thinking about buzzwords. I mean.BadLANGUAGE. how do people come up with the jargon that gets stuffed into business writing? Here is a list of some of the worst offenders (hat tip: BBC): • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Going forward Bandwidth Cascading Granularity Drill down Anything 2.0 Stakeholders 110% Touch base Offline Incentivise Pre-plan Action (as a verb) From the get go Visibility (on some issue) Deliverables Low-hanging fruit Holistic End-to-end In this space Bandwidth (as applied to anything outside telecoms or computers) Traction 45 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY .

Bullfighter is a free add-on for Microsoft Word that will scan your prose for clichés. There are also a couple of buzzword dictionaries. Email me with the best examples. You can nominate words you don’t like (today it’s “paradigm shift” and “blogosphere”) and people can vote for them. The first is BuzzWhack.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 12 DAY DAY • • • • Proactive Outreach Solutions Ecosystem (as applied to anything outside biology) I don’t know where it comes from but Buzzword Hell is good place to send it. tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s objective is to see if you can find any of these phrases in your writing. It’s the Room 101 for words you hate.BadLANGUAGE. Buzzword bingo is a favourite game and there’s even a website that generates new playing cards on a random basis. there is the fabulous and still-poignant The Devil’s Dictionary. There are some nice ones here. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 46 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . Finally. on your company’s website and/or in any of the emails you sent or received in the last week.

” – stRUnK & WHItE .NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 13 ELIMINATE THE PASSIVE “the active voice is usuallY more direct and vigorous than the passive.BADLANGUAGE.

it hides the subject altogether (‘the mat was sat on’) or it makes a sentence flabby (‘there was a cat on the mat’). tODAY’s EXERCIsEs I have two exercises today: 1) take a few hundred words from a newspaper article and rewrite it in the passive voice. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 48 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . You can check for the passive voice using the grammar checker in Microsoft Word. 2) take a typical piece of business prose.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 13 DAY DAY ELIMINATE THE pASSIvE key point: avoid the passive if possible The passive voice makes reading more difficult. In any case. Either it reverses the natural order of a sentence (‘the mat was sat on by the cat’). See if it reads any better.BadLANGUAGE. count the number of passive sentences and see if you can rewrite them in the active voice. it makes the reader’s job harder. ideally from your own company’s website or a press release from PR Newswire.

” – MARK tWAIn .NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 14 USE SHORTER WORDS “i never write metropolis for seven cents because i can get the same moneY for citY. i never write policeman. because i can get the same moneY for cop.BADLANGUAGE.

BadLANGUAGE. He says “One thing is certain. The title of the research illustrates the problem eloquently: ‘Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly. verb and adjective in it with the longest synonym.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 14 DAY DAY USE SHOrTEr wOrDS key point: short words are more effective than long ones Short words are best. Daniel Oppenheimer. I love it when scientists have a sense of humour.’ The author. better equivalents: • • • • • • • • • • Additional (extra) Advise (tell) Commence (start) Consequently (so) Forward (send) In accordance with (under. or because they think writing like they speak will make them sound lightweight. besides clouding the meaning. keeping to) In excess of (more than) In respect of (for) In the event of (if) Particulars (details) 50 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . Thanks to Oppenheimer. in fact. write as simply and plainly as possible and it’s more likely you’ll be thought of as intelligent. The March 2006 issue of The Atlantic Monthly cited a piece of research that shows that. the use of long words actually makes the reader think the author is stupid. This is the kind of writing by thesaurus that many business people and techies employ when they want to sound knowledgeable and important. He created a ‘highly complex’ version of each original text by replacing each noun.” 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 Here are some examples of common long words and shorter. got 71 Stanford undergraduates to evaluate different writing samples. we know that the opposite is. true. Now we have proof.

NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 14 DAY DAY • • • Purchase (buy) Regarding (about) Terminate (end) This list comes from the Plain English Campaign’s guide: How to write plain English. The exercise today involves finding a typical piece of writing from your business and replacing as many three- and four-syllables words as possible with shorter ones. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 51 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY .BadLANGUAGE. The objective is to train you to automatically substitute shorter words wherever possible.

but when there is nothing left to take awaY.BADLANGUAGE.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 15 USE FEWER WORDS “a designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add.” – AntOInE DE sAInt-EXUpERY .

Also. If you can get to the point and be brief about it. Two pages of A4 or a long online article will do. The end result still has to be readable and natural when you’ve finished it.BadLANGUAGE. Why is this? Partly. Just search for ‘summarise’ in Help.000 words. Most business writing has too many words. Was it Mark Twain who wrote: “I’m sorry to write you such a long letter. Clients often ask me to write 1000-word case studies when half that is more readable and more engaging. you’ll earn their thanks and their attention. it’s because people lack the will to do enough editing. 53 . Microsoft’s word count feature will help. See what is left of the story at each stage.”? Here’s a tip: it’s often easier to paraphrase or remove paragraphs or sentences than it is to try to achieve a big cut by snipping a word here or there. The purpose of this work is to practice editing for length and also to see how much of an article remains even after you cut the number of words dramatically. document templates and web designs force people to write more words to fill an arbitrary space created by a graphic designer. Press releases typically run to 500 words or more when 200-300 would do fine. then 25.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 15 DAY DAY USE FEwEr wOrDS key point: you don’t need as many words as you think Your readers spend more time reading other people’s work rather than yours. Then edit it in Word so that it is 500 words long. I didn’t have time to write a shorter one. Sometimes. if you can find it. it’s the way it’s always been done. Find a piece of writing that runs to about 1. Word has an autosummarise tool. More often. Then take that version and cut it down to 100 words. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s exercise is simple. then 50.

BADLANGUAGE.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 16 MANAGE YOUR WRITING “t’ain’t what You do (it’s the waY that You do it)” – MELVIn “sY” OLIVER AnD JAMEs “tRUMMY” YOUnG .

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key point: avoid the circumstances that turn good writing bad
So far, we have been looking at the mechanics of writing – where ideas come from and how to bring them to life on the page or screen. Now it’s time to stand back from the keyboard and spend some time thinking about the external factors that affect writing. Today, you need a framework that allows good writing to happen. In other words, it’s all about managing your writing. First, let’s look at some of the things that can contribute to bad writing in a company: 1. Dirty briefs. Luckily, I’ve only had a few pieces go off the rails. In each case, I can trace the problem back to an unclear, or non-existent, brief. Remedy: mutual understanding between client and writer is essential and a brief is how you get it. We’ll look at the art of writing a good brief in a few days. Another step that can reduce hostile feedback is the use of detailed outlines or skeletons. If you have to write a 2,000-word brochure, write a 200-word outline of the contents and get your colleagues to give feedback on that before you start on the main event. Group-think. Lawyers, academics and technology firms are notorious for writing things “because this is the way we’ve always done it.” Often my role in life is just to be the person who hasn’t been house-trained. Remedy: read and write outside your field or company. Challenge convention to ensure that it serves the needs of readers. Brand Nazis. Some people in big companies use brand bibles and conventions to turn good prose into ugly corporate speak; typically with too many capital letters (speed bumps for the eyes), impenetrable product names and trademark symbols everywhere. Remedy: learn the rules and find out what you can get away with. Use before and after examples to show why you recommend a different approach. Like health and safety regulations, brand guidelines are often used as an excuse for stupid decisions and conventionality. It’s less risky to write like a corporate robot but it is also less effective. If you know the guidelines better than everyone else, you will know when people are using them for cover. Even better, try writing your own (if you don’t have any) or contributing to 55

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rewriting your existing guidelines (if you do). 4. Editing by committee. This is best illustrated by a video nasty: If Microsoft designed the iPod packaging. I try to get my clients to nominate one person to act as an editor and be the focal point for all internal feedback so that I get a single set of comments. Working within an organisation, it’s important to agree who gets to sign off the document and who gets to give feedback. Agree an editorial structure with your colleagues. The people with sign-off have a power of veto and you want to keep that number to a minimum. You also need to make sure that you are clear with everyone that you want feedback not rewrites. Get them to tell you what they want to change and why but not how they would rewrite it. Like broth, too many cooks can spoil a document. Death by redlining. I love getting feedback face to face or on the phone. I hate redlined documents. It’s like a theatre director giving line readings to an actor rather than helping them explore the character and give a stronger performance. (Line readings = “when you say this line, raise your right eyebrow.” Yuck!) Remedy: try to get feedback in person or ask them to give feedback by email or in comments rather than change the text itself. I sometimes send people documents in PDF format so that they can’t edit the actual text. Bad environment. Writers, like programmers, need a good working environment that is free from distractions and designed for the purpose. I recommend Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. Even though it is about software development, almost everything in it applies equally to writers. Death march to publication. It’s easy to let standards slip and lose concentration when you’re faced with a tight deadline and lots of interruptions. Try to agree sensible deadlines and manage your workload. When I was at university, I always seemed to write my essays the night before they were due. Now I earn a living as a writer, I tend to get things done a few days early. This is a good habit to get into. No process. When I’m working on a case study or a press release, I like to agree a workflow with my clients before I start. I recommend you do the same, either as part of the briefing process or as part of your planning. 56

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tODAY’s EXERCIsEs
Today’s homework is to review the writing you do regularly and see if these (or any other) management problems occur. See if any of the proposed remedies, such as agreeing an editorial structure or workflow, might work. Instigate one change today and the rest to your to do list.

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and work with whatever tools You maY have at Your command. the time will never be ‘just right. and better tools will be found as You go along.’ start where You stand.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 17 GET THE RIGHT TOOLS “do not wait.” – GEORGE HERBERt .BADLANGUAGE.

Making a whole pot and then pouring it through a strainer is just too much business for one cup of tea. stimulant and a reward. • Inspiration. For employees. Try the Oblique Marketing Strategies that I wrote to help me brainstorm marketing problems. leaving you free to concentrate on the words. Samuel Johnson. Here are some that have helped me. Silence.BadLANGUAGE. 59 • • 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 • DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • . I’ve seen his teapot in my old college in Oxford – it’s huge! Johnson once said ‘no man but a blockhead writes. Windows users try Q10. look them up and see what might work for you. Distraction-free word processors. I use disposable Teeli filter bags to make single cups of tea with real tea leaves. SlimTimer or just an Excel spreadsheet to track how you spend your time. but other people prefer earplugs.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 17 DAY DAY GET THE rIGHT TOOLS key point: good tools will help you write better A good workman needs good tools. These are simple editors that cut out all the distractions on your computer screen. In fact he wrote an article about brewing and pouring the perfect cup. although some of his findings are still passionately disputed. See Amit Agarwal’s tips. the ‘harmless drudge’ who produced the first English dictionary. it can give you feedback on your productivity and also justify how much time you spend writing to your bosses and colleagues. This is useful for me as a way of costing my work. Mac users: try WriteRoom. I use them on planes and I prefer the smooth ones to the foam type. Try Harvest. George Orwell drank a lot of tea too. There are more options and reviews on my blog.’ My hero. Your homework today is fun and easy: just try them out. You can also tweak Word to make it a bit less distracting. I often use Bose noise-cancelling headphones when I’m writing to shut out extraneous noise. Time-tracking software. Caffeine can serve as a thoughtful break. A nice cup of tea. except for money. drank a lot of tea.

Notebook. There is a completely free alternative called Visuwords. is not an act. “We are what we repeatedly do. a free website that helps your encourage good habits. This is a great way of getting your thoughts from your brain to the page. I scribble away and then I can shuffle the pages.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 17 DAY DAY • Mindmapping. This is useful to check if a word means what you think it means. throw away the rubbish and file the notes once the story is completed. a blank sheet of paper and a pen will do fine but I sometimes prefer using software such as ConceptDraw Mindmap or MindJet MindManager. I like Visual Thesaurus. As Aristotle said. Excellence. therefore. Many people love Moleskine notebooks. • • • • • DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • 60 . If you type ‘define:lugubrious’ (or whatever word you want) into Google. but a habit. My wife uses a foolscap one for her ‘morning pages’ (after Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way).BadLANGUAGE. Get a style guide. you’ll get a selection of definitions. Forming habits. website mockup tools. but writing is important too. The Plain English Campaign’s guide: How to write in plain English is shorter and it could be a useful starting point for an in-house or personal style guide. Definitions on Google. It’s especially helpful when hunting for a good product name.” I like Joe’s Goals. visual thesaurus. I use a Filofax slimline organiser. Web designers seem to have a monopoly on the look and feel of websites. Rapid prototyping tools such as Balsamiq Mockups can help you see how text looks on a web page without spending a small fortune on graphic design first. Partly because of their retro bohemian credibility and partly because they are well made of good materials and paper and feel satisfying to use. not to manage my diary. but as a simple reporter’s notebook. Of course. I use one as a journal to scribble my thoughts in every day. You can check Economist Style Guide online but it’s better to buy a paper copy for your reference shelf.

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Writer’s reference sites. There are many, many useful reference sites. Here are a few: • • • • • • • • • • • The Taxonomy of Logical Fallacies A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices Data Visualization: Modern Approaches MBA in a Page (hat tip to Guy Kawasaki) Top 1,000 Web 2.0 sites (probably most useful for geeks like me) Refdesk.com Purdue’s Online Writing Lab – grammar and writing guidelines Economist Style Guide online Wikipedia. A good starting place for research but not a primary source for journalism Online Etymology Dictionary offers a brief history of words Plain English Campaign’s A to Z of Alternative Words

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WRITE A PROPER BRIEF

“almost all qualitY improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing... laYout, processes, and procedures.”
– tOM pEtERs

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key point: good writing starts with a good brief
Great buildings start with an architect’s drawings. Even Ikea shelves come with assembly instructions. To write well, you need a clear brief. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate formal document. It doesn’t have to be a document at all if you can answer all the basic questions in your head or by reference to something you have done before. But you do need it. Here is the outline of the briefing document I use with my clients. • • Title. The name of the piece or project. Client. The contact details of the individual who commissioned the piece and (if different) my day-to-day contact and the person who will sign it off as complete. Objectives. What does the client want to happen because this piece has been written? (Are these goals self-consistent and realistic?) Length. How many words? (Or page-equivalents?) It’s astonishing how many clients don’t even consider this, but for a writer it’s fundamentally important. Words are our trade and word count is how we measure it. Target audience. Who is the project aimed at? The more detail I have about this, the better job I can do. Ideally, aim for thumbnail sketches of typical readers. What else do they read? What are the concerns and priorities? Controlled vocabulary. Are there words or phrases that we can assume the audience knows? For example, writing for an audience of programmers requires a different vocabulary than writing for doctors. Are there words we absolutely have to use AND explain? A particular concern here is words and phrases that mean a lot to the client and nothing to a reader.

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NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 18 DAY DAY • Style. samples. especially. schedule. A paragraph long or bulleted summary of the piece setting out the main points and the running order. this can include PR or marcomms agencies. rights. For example: ‘This piece should read like an article in the Economist or FT. Third parties. access to spokespeople. trademark or style guides? If so. press releases and. for example the right to use the piece for my marketing? • • • • DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY • 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY tODAY’s EXERCIsE Your project today is to create a brief for some writing that you have planned. so this distinction is especially important to get clear. Fees. Are there any other parties who need to be involved. Delivery format.’ Are there any special client requirements such as tone of voice. have they been provided and is there a contact to review and assist with getting them right? Synopsis. English or American English? Case studies. Reference other media where appropriate. reports. white papers all have different meanings to different people so spell out EXACTLY what is required. etc? Ideally. What will the client provide to make the piece happen: interview contracts. What media and territories are involved? Whose name will be on the piece? Is copyright assigned or licensed? What about moral rights? What is the schedule and final deadline? What is the fee and when is it due? What is the approval process? What rights are reserved. data etc. Client resources. Microsoft Word? HTML? Are pictures required? Footnotes and sourcing? Documents intended for use online must be written differently from print documents. this lists everything so that the client has a clear understanding of what their tasks are.BadLANGUAGE. 64 . either by providing content or approval? Typically.

NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 19 GIVE GOOD FEEDBACK “feedback is the breakfast of champions.BADLANGUAGE.” – KEn BLAnCHARD .

with a bit more work. give them the sources so that they can find out the right answers themselves. Often people give me feedback and there are many comments on page one. If something doesn’t work for you. in fact. use a spelling and grammar checker. your checks will ensure that they do in future. First from start to finish for sense. grammar and passive-elimination. If there are factual errors.BadLANGUAGE.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 19 DAY DAY GIvE GOOD FEEDBACk key point: good feedback is the way to get better writing from other people If you want to get good writing out of other people – colleagues. If you can’t say anything constructively negative. Be specific. Also. Why? Because most of the comments are about things they felt were missing but which were. to tidy up. Use comments in Word rather than making changes to the text. proofread (at least) three times. so that you explain your thinking. My grandmother said: ‘If you can’t say anything nice. agencies – then you need to master the art of feedback. If the writer isn’t in the habit of noting down sources. Then word by word. a few on page two and none on page three. Editing is a conversation not a dictatorship.’ It’s not quite the same with feedback. If something is missing. very slowly and read out loud. You can give feedback on a specific piece of writing or. tell the author. I usually put sources in footnotes as a reminder. Then from back to front for typos. always query the source. A good writer should have a list of sources for their work. dealt with later in the article. not the dog. Here are some tips: • read it all before commenting once. If there are facts and figures. explain why. positive feedback helps. Give feedback on the whole text with a special focus on the first paragraph and the last one. don’t say anything at all. you can give feedback that helps the writer do a better job in future. It’s the old Barbara Woodhouse method: train the owner. say 66 • DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY • 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • • . Check sources. employees.

Why? Checking your own work is very difficult – you get word-blind. proofreading.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 19 DAY DAY something positive. grammar and so on. This is not about editing for style. Especially when it is done by redlining in Word. spelling. You can use a professional proofreader or you can find a detail-obsessed colleague to do it. It’s punctuation. resist committee writing. Editing introduces errors. you can give me feedback on this book. If you can’t find anything from your own business. Everyone can write but not everyone is a writer. writers will do more of it in future. Assess your own writing skills and those of your team and allocate jobs and roles accordingly. Use a proofreader. Every magazine and newspaper has desks full of subeditors and fact checkers. Check the final draft. Check the final draft to make sure you haven’t added any errors during the review process. (There is a readability calculator on my company website. (Be gentle!) 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 67 . • • • 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY tODAY’s EXERCIsE Your task today is to take a piece of writing and give feedback on it. • readability stats. they’ll give you a yardstick to measure the difficulty.) Don’t rely on them exclusively but. Separate the roles of editing. if a piece of writing seems very hard to read. subediting and writing. I am a professional writer and I use a proofreader for my client work.BadLANGUAGE. If you say what works and what you like. You can use readability stats to give some objective feedback.

BADLANGUAGE.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 20 WRITE A GREAT CASE STUDY “the onlY source of knowledge is experience.” – ALBERt EInstEIn .

representing the company. I prefer to make first contact with this person. Sometimes. the most successful case studies I’ve written have been about unknown. 69 . 1. Find a champion and build rapport. The foundation of a good case study is a good interview. they have the authority to approve it too. interview them. By showing how real customers used your product or service. Arrange case studies on your website by benefit or topic rather than company name so that sales people can find the right story when they need it. Better to find the willing customer with a good story. Use case studies to support sales. We’re in a demand-generation. niche companies with a great spokesperson and a neat angle. The reality is that these guys rarely want to give case studies and. I need a techie interview as well to get the facts right. Go for the story. and them. 2. you can convince other people to buy it. one-to-one relationship between me. If a case study has a good story – “our client cut costs by 25%” – use it to show potential customers how they can do the same. Ideally. Here are ten tips that will help you write and use great case studies. because I work in tech. real interviews with real people. they rewrite everything and take a long time to approve it.BadLANGUAGE. not the name. You need to find a champion for your case study inside the target company. get their feedback and their sign-off so that every contact builds a friendly. Most marketing people lust after the hero case study with big brand recognition. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 4. if they do.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 20 DAY DAY wrITE A GrEAT CASE STUDY key point: good writing makes case studies much more effective Case studies help companies win business. Case studies can’t be written by committee. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 3. Too many cooks etc. the writer. When it comes to PR. I like to interview my client’s account manager and the most senior guy at the target company who is willing to become a case study champion. deal-closing economy and good customer evidence is the laser-guided bomb of marketing.

Apply your experience from the first few days of this course. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 9.BadLANGUAGE. Companies change. Details matter. a good case study should take a week from first contact to approval. 1. but it often seems that these controls limit the impact and spread of case studies. clichés. One or two pages at most and they should include a clear mechanism that allows the target company to stop being a case study on request (they never do) and to reassure them that they will get to approve the case study text before it is used. Be specific. It should be a crescendo not an endless low humming. 8. Write good headlines and strong ledes. jargon and corporate bullshit. 6. ideally. 70 . A PowerPoint ‘wincard’ version is also helpful for sales. It has to earn the reader’s interest and attention. Use short legal agreements. Use the conventions of a newspaper article. they answer the reader’s questions. Make them interesting. Nobody has time to read a four-page.000 word case study. Avoid hype. it increases the risk that the case study champion will lose interest. A case study is an article. keep them short. Speed is everything. Think very hard about what a potential customer wants to know about a case study.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 20 DAY DAY 5. Set them free. social networking. you want a 50-100 microcontent version to go on the website and to use as a verbal summary in a sales pitch. I recommend 500 word case studies and. Each version needs to be written for its medium – web copy is not the same as printed copy or PowerPoint text. Most of my big clients have central case study databases. not a corporate press release. Not only do they make the case study more credible. Case studies have a short half-life. A case study release should reassure a candidate. If it takes longer. Good case studies should ripple quickly through company websites. not frighten them off. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 10. Use good. This is fine and I can work with it. They have strict formats and guidelines for case studies and big agencies to enforce them. If no knows about the case study or it tries to be all things to all people. Technology moves on. 7. powerful quotations (not frankenquotes). intranets and into the hands of sales peoples and customers by as many routes as possible. Ideally. it will likely fail.

1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 71 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY .NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 20 DAY DAY tODAY’s EXERCIsEs Today’s exercise is to write (or rewrite) a case study for a product or service from your company using what you have learned so far.BadLANGUAGE.

” – FEDERICO FELLInI .NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 21 WRITE A GREAT PRESS RELEASE “hYpe is the awkward and desperate attempt to convince journalists that what You’ve made is worth the miserY of having to review it.BADLANGUAGE.

In my former life as full-time journalist.BadLANGUAGE.’ Here’s an example: “Nortel has established a legacy in innovation and will continue to push the envelope in delivering faster and more efficient wireless capabilities with industry leaders like QUALCOMM. jargon and self-important throat clearing. Nobody talks to their friends like this but PR people think that they can excuse purple prose by pretending that someone with a big title said it. Nortel. I’d like to think that any company that adopts this approach will stand out from the pack so much that they will be overwhelmed with gratitude and coverage. much better. Before that.” said Jean-Luc Jezouin. vice-president. I received (and ignored) thousands of press releases. Not only that. GSM/UMTS product line management. I’ve seen editors scan through a hundred email press releases in five minutes and delete the lot. I paid tens of thousands of pounds for shiny press releases that got us no coverage whatsoever. as a CEO. DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY How to make them better? Here’s my recipe for better press releases. They could be much. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 The worst sin is ‘Frankenquoting. 73 . but marketing people compensate for lack of bite by adding hype words. Why are they so dreadful? Press releases suffer from committee writing that turns steak into baby food.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 21 DAY DAY wrITE A GrEAT prESS rELEASE key point: well-written press releases are more likely to get you favourable coverage in the media Forgive me if I go on at some length about this but I have strong feelings about press releases.

it will force you to abandon the tired old press release template. 3. If you can’t. There’s usually a better story for journalists in the stuff you removed at the last minute than in what you actually wrote. where. Make sure you redact any version control history from Word documents. 6. Here are my tips and suggestions for doing it: 74 . 9. So don’t put out a press release. who. keep them short and factual. Try writing a letter to your grandmother explaining why the news in the press release is important. Make the first sentence and the first paragraph work for their living. 250 words should be the upper limit. What’s the point of that? If you quote anyone.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 21 DAY DAY 1. 5. By all means link to a website that contains more detailed information. Customers and independent experts are more interesting that company notables. 7. when. one lawyer. do a real interview and pick a good quote. it isn’t. There are many voices calling for the death of the press release. write descriptive headlines that explain why the story is interesting. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 8. Everyone else has an opinion but not a veto. there’s your opening paragraph. Alternatively try telling a story. Bingo. 2. Many don’t. What. Always include contact details. 4. What is needed is not execution but reform. Try a new medium such as podcasts or blogs. DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 10.BadLANGUAGE. one proofreader. one subeditor. If nothing else. One writer. how and why.

(See The top ten lies of PR companies. Yes. read the blogs and magazines of the people you are trying to reach. 5. journalists are cynical and lazy. A press release that isn’t is another form of spam. A press release that your client loves is not as useful as a press release a journalist (and her editor) loves. . Studying bad pitches is a great way to learn about what mistakes to avoid. Get to the point. Deal with it. Don’t assume an adversarial position. remember your audience. DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY write it well We have covered many of these lessons earlier in this course: 1. Work harder. See my blog post: Surveys: uses and abuses for writers and PRs. A press release implies something newsworthy. forget your client.) Trust me. This is the best way to understand what they are looking for in a story. Sign up for some press release services such as PR Newswire. 3. Use surveys sparingly. Don’t stoop to their level. but I think the public and journalists are getting increasingly sceptical. Look at bad pitches. more credible and more memorable if they were about 25-30 percent shorter.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 21 DAY DAY preparation 1. you’ll get back what you put in. Also check out the Bad Pitch Blog. Most press releases would be more readable. They can be effective. Have something interesting to say. 2. Be brief. DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 6. Surveys are the traditional standby for a PR company in want of news. 4. Be uncynical. Make sure your press release will help sell the story and get you coverage. Don’t cry wolf when there isn’t one.BadLANGUAGE. Most press releases start with a paragraph of pious throat-clearing about how 75 2.

Readers don’t give them a lot of time because they are not. Construct an argument. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 8. You should aim to put as much work into the first sentence as into the whole of the rest of the press release. the first sentence is the most important. They don’t go to the coffee house and share press releases or soundbites. Tell a story. it will enhance your credibility and make the press release more authentic if you can capture a sense of real people. As an alternative to the story-telling approach. It will ground it and add credibility because most press releases seem to take place in the corporate ether. You can cut out about a third of the copy in a typical press release and it will read better and more convincingly. As with any article. 6.BadLANGUAGE. cynical journalist to read on. pull quotes. construct a compelling argument using The Pyramid Principle: state a problem then explain how your product or service solves it.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 21 DAY DAY great the company is. that relate to the subject of the press release? Details matter. interests etc. usually. somehow. What are they like? How do they talk? Do they have any experience. It needs to convince a busy. underlining. You need to open strong and get straight to the point. Was the product invented somewhere? Did you make an important announcement in an interesting building? Try. reveal personality. 76 . lines and other page structures to make it easy to scan the page rather than read it from start to finish. Eliminate words. bold. to anchor the press release in a real place. Create a sense of place. 5. hobbies. a high priority. sidebars. 4. That means using bullet points. Press releases are very temporary documents. This is a lot like websites and one of the key lessons of writing for the web is to be scannable. killer lede. Again. Three or four words that give life to a name will animate a whole press release. 3. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 9. Be scannable. Human beings tell stories. 7.

had to change Froogle to Products because people didn’t understand what it did. comparison. If it doesn’t have one. leading) don’t work. don’t use a quote. wordy. Echo your company’s tone of voice. individuality. Understate rather than hype. you had better explain what this means in English and why it matters. maximise.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 21 DAY DAY 10. prestigious. If you. build rather than develop. If your gadget can do 48 circumfludels a second. obtain. including journalists. 77 12. Use the language of everyday speech. they assume the opposite of what you said. 11. For an example of how hype words (e. with its massive brand awareness. Use everyday words and phrases. I loved that Virgin ad that said. Look for quotes that include metaphors. do. Even Google. Hype words are road blocks on the journey to credibility. can say something better than the quote you are using. as a writer. Readers don’t just discount hype words when they read them. It is often meaningless to outsiders. Somehow. The tendency in press releases is to quote whole paragraphs (usually made up) from VPs. construct. read the worst press release ever. “British Airways don’t give a shiatsu. Don’t assume anything about what the reader understands. Jargon is a vocabulary used within a specific company or industry. the varnish company that advertises its products by saying. Why? Their employees don’t. 14. get.BadLANGUAGE. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 15. Eliminate jargon.g. make. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 16. formal voice. So. apposite quotes. relax. The same applies to little-known product names.” As well as being a cheeky attack on a rival. I think to quote three or four words but pick really good ones. Another good example is Ronseal. it was a cunning way to mention the free massages in Upper Class without actually mentioning them. help it find one. . Eliminate hype. people think that corporations have a dull. Imagine explaining the subject to an intelligent friend. “It does exactly what it says on the tin. character and which get to the heart of the matter. This is important. This needs a touch of humour and good writing but it can be very effective. Much better. 13.” pick short. relax! For heaven’s sake won’t you people RELAX! Press releases don’t have to sound like a lawyer’s letter or the small print of an insurance contract.

Be human. A killer quote.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 21 DAY DAY 17. Write a headline that summarises the story (not what the PR wants you to think about it). They assume that the reader knows something. Include contact details. A typical magazine way to end a piece is with a memorable quote from an objective source. Always try to add a little fizz and ginger to everything you write. Used sparingly and in the right context. 19. write a factual. Close with a kicker. Go out with a bang. This will help with search engine optimisation. you’d like people to read the whole case study. 78 . People often use jargon and acronyms to sound big and clever. 25. Have a sidebar titled ‘If you read nothing else. 22. write a Google-friendly headline. Don’t leave this information out. It needs about half the work of the opening sentence. Eliminate acronyms. A short. pithy summary of the whole thing would do as well. 20. the pronoun ‘we’ can be very powerful and authentic. Throw in the occasional firework. A powerful statistic. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 23. An appropriate use of an everyday expression. A one-paragraph email 18. Avoid buzzwords. read this’ and summarise the story in three very short bullet points. one-paragraph summary for email. Most press releases go out by email as Word or PDF documents. Box out the key points. It’s astonishing how many press releases stored on company websites have no contact details at all. as well as helping you avoid the passive. Most journalists delete them without reading them. without realising that it actually has the opposite effect on most readers. Wouldn’t be great if another 30 percent at least knew something about the contents. 24. 21. A spectacular analogy. Acronyms and abbreviations are another kind of jargon. A one-sentence paragraph. The last sentence needs to be thought-provoking and memorable. These are phrases that mean more to you than they do to the reader. but only 10 percent will do that. Yes. some kind of paradox or a tiny detail that illuminates the whole story.BadLANGUAGE.

BadLANGUAGE. Don’t hedge your bets by overqualifying sentences (e. under 8 for the grade level and no passive sentences. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s homework? Guess what: it’s to write a 250-500 word press release that will grab an editor by the greasy lapels of his worn-out jacket and get him to pay attention to your company.” Use a spell checker. Unintended press release disclosures. You can eliminate it easily by following this advice from the US National Security Agency (PDF). Check then double-check 1. redact hidden content. Journalists in a hurry have a reading age of a 12-year-old. 4. I sometimes see final draft press releases for my clients that have two or three typos. Don’t beat about the bush. 3. Check facts. ‘Many companies find they have different kinds of problems with certain email viruses”). Aim to score under 50 in the Flesch Reading Ease. Word hides a lot of version control changes. Read my blog post. for an example of what happens when you don’t.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 21 DAY DAY summary (like this one) means you have more chance of converting recipients into readers. Especially names and titles. Be more assertive: “Email viruses hit companies hard. 2. Use readability stats. including copy you would prefer journalists not to see. D’oh! But it happens. 5. 79 .g. Most magazines are obsessive about this and you should do the same for a press release. It’s worth keeping a separate document tracking all the sources for the different information in the copy so that you can go back and check who said what.

i’m an old-fashioned girl. i prefer calling and hanging up.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 22 WRITE BETTER EMAIL “i don’t believe in email.” – sARAH JEssICA pARKER .BADLANGUAGE.

select a new subject line but put the old one in brackets after the new subject for continuity. strong subject line helps people prioritise their inboxes. Content is disorganised. use fewer words. avoid jargon and abbreviations. So here are my recommendations for writing better email: • • DAY DAY DAY DAY A clear. history. Imagine you are paying by the word. If the subject of an email dialogue has changed. Content is too long. Don’t give the background.BadLANGUAGE. Typical failings included: • • • • Recipient is not clear as to what should be done or how to act on the information. bad spelling and inappropriate capitalisation slow down people’s brains when they read. Critical information is missing or hard to find. Emails are more like telexes than letters. write well: strong. your life story. Don’t automatically use the important flag. active verbs. She obviously hasn’t read the story of the boy who cried wolf. punctuation exists to make it easier for people to make sense of what they’re reading.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 22 DAY DAY wrITE A BETTEr EMAIL Key point: email is the most common form of business writing and the one in most need of improvement A survey by Information Mapping Inc. Emails that look like an EE Cummings poem with no punctuation. 81 1 2 3 4 5 • DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • • • . found that 34 percent of respondents wasted between 30 and 60 minutes a day reading badly written emails. I have one client who flags all her messages as important. and make it harder for them to understand what you are saying. wordy and difficult to read. Stick to relevant facts and requests.

create a new rule. Be succinct. You can also switch off automatic email transmission in Outlook so that it only sends mail when you actively tell it to. Deal with separate subjects in separate emails. Out loud. This technique also allows people with iPhones and Blackberries to read your emails more easily. People can deal with some of them immediately and you don’t have to wait until they have an answer for everything before they reply. start with a blank rule. Check recipient names. This will stop you accidentally sending the email to the wrong person. You can even highlight action items with colour or with capitalisation. Alternatively. use subtitles to break the email into sections like a magazine article. I generally don’t write the names of the recipients until I’ve finished the email to stop myself accidentally sending it.’ The messages stick in your outbox for a few minutes so you can cool down and think twice. Go to Rules and Alerts. This isn’t a college essay. wait a minute. People will skip the middle of a long paragraph. Avoid email regret by setting a rule in Outlook to delay outgoing mail by ten minutes. Therefore it is better to send several short emails.BadLANGUAGE. 82 • • • • • 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY • 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • . re-read it. People have bad email reading habits so a long email with ten things in it will get the same amount of attention as a short one with one topic. For long emails. Think about whether you can express any point more clearly and succinctly. One or two sentences per paragraph. Using bullets to separate out lists is also helpful. if you have two very similar names. Don’t send an email off the moment you’ve finished writing it. Use people’s surnames or full names for addresses. Edit. Check in with yourself to make sure you’re not going to piss anyone off by sending the email (it’s easy to write something snide in haste and regret it later). End strongly. Delete any unnecessary words. check messages after sending. In fact. Tell people exactly what you expect them to do as a result of the email. You may know lots of Steves but they probably have different surnames. press next and select ‘defer delivery by a number of minutes. alter the contact data to avoid sending an email to the wrong person.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 22 DAY DAY • Short paragraphs.

the authors come out in favour of exclamation points (‘Thanks!!!!’ is way friendlier than ‘Thanks’). really inherently more opaque than FYI?’). the Elements of E-Style. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 83 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . . Email is an impersonal medium. abbreviations (‘Is LOL . Based on research into the way people read emails. . Expressing your state of mind can help people understand your words. Send me an email to let me know how you got on. supports this view.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 22 DAY DAY • Don’t be afraid of punctuation and emoticons. tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s exercise is to take an email you wrote last month (look in your sent mail folder) and improve it.BadLANGUAGE. A New Yorker article. and emoticons (those smiley faces and the like may ‘bug many people but they make us smile’).

BADLANGUAGE. incessant barking.” – DOGs tALKInG In A nEW YORKER CARtOOn .NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 23 WRITE A BLOG POST “i used to have a blog but i went back to pointless.

BadLANGUAGE. I know other people who write after work or in their lunch break. it is a playground for me. With nearly 60 million blogs in existence. Here are some tips to help you become a better blogger: • Get started. write often. It’s easy to set up a blog using WordPress. because it is personal. usually around 6am. Traffic seems to drop off dramatically at weekends so I don’t post then. It’s public writing but. Have a time to write. It’s free. I use the notes field in an Outlook task item for each of the blogs I write to capture links. more formal articles and interviews as well as more personal observations. you can write without restrictions. keep a scratchpad. The great thing about a blog is that you can use it to explore different writing styles and techniques. I tend to blog first thing in the morning. The ‘how to’ list is popular but I like to run longer. It’s useful to have a few stub posts ready to expand or edit in case you don’t have time to write a long piece. I try to write every week day. to do items and so on. To this extent. Contribute to the conversation. One of the pleasures of the blog is that I don’t have an editor who tells me what to write or how to write it.com.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 23 DAY DAY wrITE A BLOG pOST key point: writing a blog is a good way to develop your writing skills. When I actually sit down to write. In my 85 • • 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY • 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • • . ideas. you really want to try to be a sheepdog rather than a sheep. I prefer to do posts of different lengths and styles. variety is the spice of life. although I sometimes run a ‘links list’ style post on Saturdays – mainly things I’ve collected during the week. It doesn’t always happen because of work pressure but it is easier to maintain the discipline if it is regular. That’s just me. The important thing is to work to a regular schedule. There are an awful lot of sheep on the internet. I’ve usually got two or three ideas to hand and a bunch of links to explore.

’ They write about the same stuff I write about. my ‘competitors. but turn your blogging alter ego into a ‘real’ person too.BadLANGUAGE.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 23 DAY DAY opinion. Linking and loving. If you’re serious about blogging. I’ve always been impressed by people who email me nicely when I comment on their blogs. I wish I could find the time to do it – I try. the blogs that I am ‘closest’ to in terms of mutual sympathy and mutual linking are also the ones who are. I think it’s good to put a picture of yourself. you need things like spam filtering (I have had 15. The easiest way to build traffic is to comment appropriately on other people’s sites. A good site design will help but there are lots of open source designs to get you started. Sometimes a nom de plume is necessary. I recommend using dedicated software to write posts rather than the blogging software’s built-in editor. I use Microsoft Live Writer. In my case. Link their blogs and they might read and link to yours. there is an audience for it. on the face of it. idiosyncratic. Ideally. I use NewsGator because I can access my feed list on any web browser. plug into the blogosphere. Show your face. it’s important to say something new and something interesting to contribute to the conversation. Actually though. • Be yourself. Get the technology right.000 comment spams since starting this site) and other add-ons. The extraordinary thing about the blogosphere is that whatever you write about. • • 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 • DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • 86 . and highly personal. The blogosphere is a reciprocal sort of place. Finally. Some of the best blogs are the ones that are unique. Surprisingly. Critical to all this is a good newsreader and a good selection of sites. Make sure your site is registered with Technorati. you need to have a proper website address and not one from a free blogging company. Just be yourself. there’s no real competition and finding your online community is a good way to start building a reader base. Once you get your site set up. I use WordPress software. and a little bit of autobiographical information on your blog. your email address. A Google search will list all kinds of companies that specialise in blog hosting. on my PDA and on my main work computer and they are always synchronised. you want to say something interesting.

BadLANGUAGE. I like iStockphoto which is a cheap source of good quality images. implementing new features and other engineering stuff. Make the online visit easy to read – don’t go for crazy colours or unreadable fonts. the more elusive they become. Maintaining a blog is not just about writing content. The harder I try to get a traffic monster. Schedule blog upgrade days. Pictures. People read blogs on computer screens not on paper. It’s very exciting when it happens but what matters is the number of people who keep coming back. Make sure you have a visible. Only a fraction of those people stay and subscribe. Occasionally. I’ve had 20. then write for them. Remember to register your site with all the usual search engines. easy to spot RSS subscription button. Don’t forget search. StumbleUpon. Write for yourself first. However. Many bloggers overlook email but FeedBlitz and Google FeedBurner make it easy for non-RSS subscribers to get Bad Language in their inbox. Del. Give people different ways to read. you’ll produce a post that goes ballistic. but they can be a bit corporate. So you need to write for the medium. Advice on interviews is very popular. I try to dedicate a day every two to three months to upgrading the site itself. Reddit.us and all the others pick it up and you’re away. We’ll cover this in the next chapter. who link to your site and who enjoy what you write. write for the screen.000 visitors a day on occasion. I use Google Analytics and Google Sitemaps to monitor what visitors search for. cartoons and illustrations are essential. Digg. Google is my number one source of incoming visitors. It’s best to concentrate on writing regularly and well and let your readers decide what’s worth recommending. Yuck! A good picture illustrates the point you are making and draws in readers. It’s your site. This means recategorising posts. checking for broken links. not a billboard for other people’s. and tweak headlines and content a little to make sure I’m delivering content that searchers want. Just imagine reading your favourite magazine if there were no pictures.icio.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 23 DAY DAY • Traffic is important but regular readers rule. who comment. Use pictures. Slashdot. 87 • • • 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY • 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • . I would avoid the icon clutter that some blogs display when they try to accommodate every single blog reader and every single news aggregator. I know just about enough HTML and coding to tinker with a site’s template but not enough to build a new template.

Then there is the old fashioned kind of marketing. Even when people have heard about the concept of blogging. This brings in a nice stream of new visitors who are interested in writing. I help a number of organisations with corporate blogs and I have run several seminars and workshops for marketing and PR folk about blogging. I link to my blog from my personal site. from presentation decks. Initially. Occasionally people ask me to contribute to their sites.BadLANGUAGE. I still get new visitors from comments I wrote six months ago. However. in fact I mention it pretty much any time I can. Another is that it will involve unbridled reader criticism in comments. things get a bit more complicated.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 23 DAY DAY However. whether they revisit and how often. what posts they liked. there are plenty of people who can help with this stuff. But what is interesting is how I have changed the way I use them over time. While these are still important. from my email sig. It takes time. but it pays long-term dividends. • Monitor your stats. what they search for and so on. People in big companies 88 • . This is probably the main form of blog marketing. I write a regular column on Visual Thesaurus. • It’s an education sale. the comments have to be appropriate. Anyone who is a true blogger will be addicted to their stats. For example. • 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY If you want to blog for your company. You have to allay their fears before you can appeal to their ambition. I also make an effort to comment on sites and posts that are relevant to my readers and my areas of interest. not to gratify my own ego (well. what works and what doesn’t. and one way to stand out from the crowd is to have a unique site design as well as unique content. I am much more interested now in what brings people to the site. There are some good examples of corporate team blogs and corporate marketing sites that work well: Southwest Airlines and the Boeing marketing blog. I’m trying to use the stats to help me build a better site for my readers. a little bit of that too!) Market your blog. useful and link to a relevant page on my site. they are often unclear about what it actually involves. I was obsessed by the raw visitor numbers. The most common misconception is that only one person can write a blog. perhaps with bylined articles or interviews. This experience has made me realise that blogging is high on their agenda but often misunderstood. Comment spamming is naughty.

More people are involved. Running the blog like a magazine with contributions and interviews. (Who does?) Also.BadLANGUAGE. • Marketing matters. yes. With my own blog. Big company IT departments are often. as an entrepreneur and also as a blogger. Getting things done is a meeting-heavy and consensus-driven process that. I find alien. WordPress. Oh no! It’s the IT department. Writing makes them nervous. say. It takes longer. reluctant to let you deviate from company standards. Sometimes you have to use a blogging platform that is safe but not as feature-rich as. • • • 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY tODAY’s EXERCIsE Your mission for today is to set up a blog and create your first blog post.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 23 DAY DAY rely on agencies like PR and marcomms agencies (and. I decided to do it on a Monday and I had built it by the Wednesday. However. Similarly. All the corporate blogs I have been involved with took months to get started. copywriters like me). it’s how big companies work. Addressing these concerns is critical. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 89 . they don’t have much free time. helps because it is familiar territory to most marketing departments. In big companies. understandably. they are very nervous about going public with something new that might get them fired. and proper editing with tone of voice guidelines. Prototypes are helpful in addressing their concerns. marketing departments care a lot about whether the blog will conform to company design and style guides.

NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 24 WRITE READABLE WEB COPY “users will read about 20% of the text on the average [web] page.BADLANGUAGE.” – JAKOB nIELsEn .

Consider using an appropriate image to anchor the text and draw the reader’s eye. Compared to printed text. People are busy and they don’t always have time to read your site. users read at most 28 percent of the words. Websites are optional. They scan for what’s important to them. starting with the conclusion. DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 How to write for online reading Be clear. Use a journalist’s inverted pyramid structure. DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY Be concise. Respect the reader’s time. Get to the point and stay there. halving the word count makes online copy 58 percent more usable (in terms of reading time.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 24 DAY DAY wrITE rEADABLE wEB COpY key point: writing for the internet is not the same as writing for the printed page How people read online People don’t read web pages in the same way as they read printed material.BadLANGUAGE. They underpin all the recommendations. reader recall and subjective satisfaction). To do this: • • • • Write descriptive headlines that explain what the item is about. Give the reader a clue. Only 16 percent of readers actually read pages word by word. There are several ways to make your writing more concise: 91 . Start with a brief summary at the top of the page. Research by Jakob Nielsen shows that: • • • People don’t read everything they see. Give them a clear picture of what your page is about so that they can make a quick decision about whether it is useful or interesting. On an average web page. Eyetracking research shows that the majority hunt and scan around the page. Remember these differences when reading the guidance in this section.

They are landmarks for the reader. • • • • Try to anticipate what the reader wants to know. posts or entries. You can evaluate web pages using my readability analysis tool. Online communications are uniquely interactive. The aim is to recreate the kind of professional. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY Create a conversation with the reader. This will ensure that readers who don’t read word by word will still get the gist of what you say. Stick to one idea per paragraph with a clear introductory sentence. Use bulleted lists. Use their language. People use the search engine to find things. Think about the kinds of words they will search for and include them in what you write. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (even if rhetorical). conversation you might have with a colleague.’ 92 .” Instead. Be scannable. Wait an hour then re-read and edit what you’ve written. Short sentences are good too. It’s okay to say ‘I’ or ‘we. Be consistent. use the title of the page or a description as the hyperlink. DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 • • • DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY Don’t say “click here. Use website conventions to help readers navigate and understand your text. Split long content into separate pages. Your writing style should reflect this. Here’s how: Highlight key words in bold or by using links to other pages. not yours. Replace long words where possible.BadLANGUAGE. Aim for a Flesch Reading Ease score over 60. Link to existing content rather than duplicating it. A layout that makes it easy to scan text increases usability by 47 percent. Short words are best. but human.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 24 DAY DAY • • • • • • Eliminate unnecessary words. • • • Use meaningful sub-headings to break up the text.

NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 24 DAY DAY • • • Be relaxed but think carefully about humour. Read what you have written aloud. especially if there is a risk that it might be misinterpreted. Observe the standards of conduct and decency when referring to other people. fine. Show respect.BadLANGUAGE. Is that how you might speak to a colleague or your boss? If so. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 93 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s exercise is to take some copy from your website or another business website and edit it to make easier to read online.

” – pROVERBs 22:1 .BADLANGUAGE.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 25 INVENT GREAT NAMES “a good name is more desirable than great riches.

3.” It’s the same with product. There is a positive and negative aspect to this. Once you have identified the brand promise of your product or service. What is unique. service and company names. 95 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 2. taking an extra few hours or days to pick a good name up front seems like a good investment. memorable. This is the fun bit and also the most work. obscure or difficult to spell (“Qinetiq” anyone?). desirable or special about it? Spend time really understanding this – writing lots of notes as you go – and the rest of the naming process will be much easier. The result is names that are prosaic. matching domain name. the availability of internet domain names is another constraint on the choice of names. Too often people pick the first name that has an available. It can also be helpful to look at the language competitors use to describe themselves because that partly describes the linguistic landscape you compete in. The starting point of a good name is the product or service itself. Compared with the tidal wave of copy that appears after you choose a name.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 25 DAY DAY INvENT GrEAT NAMES key point: good names are the result of hard work Richard Branson said that a “good name alone can practically guarantee hit records. There are plenty of bad ones and it’s easy to pick a bad name without putting in enough work to find a better one.BadLANGUAGE. That is what this chapter is about. Understand your competition. . It doesn’t have to be like this. Today. It can also be very helpful when coming up with a tagline or subtitle for your name. you can begin to differentiate it from its competitors. You need to come up with hundreds of words that could be potential names or which are the stems or themes for potential names. Identify your strengths. 1. important. exciting. You should look for names that differentiate you from your competitors and at the same time avoid names that sound similar. Brainstorm.

pick the best stems and ideas and start a new set of ideas. religion (Zen Habits) the media (WordPress) etc. Lovely words. Try Wordie. Reverse dictionary. colours (Matt Black).NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 25 4. well. Getty Vocabularies. Interactive thesauruses. Save criticism and analysis for later. But try to encourage constructive. alliteration (Pepe Le Pew). Engage with other people to get their input. a business that creates websites for actors. Give yourself time to do this properly – not only time to concentrate on the work but also calendar time so that you have several days to let naming ideas percolate in your mind. Periodically. substitution (uSwitch). places (Westwood). The Name Inspector has an excellent list of name types. . Enter the concept and get the word using OneLook. weather (MetalStorm). More brainstorming.” says The Name Inspector. b. This is one of several sheets of names I worked through to come up with Upstage. 96 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 5. They include: a. Rap Dictionary. Word Spy. foreign words and translation (Wagamama) and numbers (37signals). Between these two brainstorming stages you should try to come up with 200-500 name ideas. you only know what you know. I tend to use sheets of A4 paper but you can also use mindmapping software or a word processor. incremental brainstorming.BadLANGUAGE. Yet more brainstorming. d. There are some excellent websites that can help you expand and develop your ideas. It’s too easy to miss rich seams of name ideas because. the better chance you’ll have of finding a good name. journeys (BaseCamp). It’s hard graft but one main difference between an amateur photographer and a professional is that a professional simply takes more pictures. DAY DAY The more ideas you come up with. You can work with repetition (BoingBoing). c. “A good metaphor for the naming process is evolution through variation and natural selection. Smashing Magazine also has some helpful guidance. inversion (Xobni). visual dictionary. etc. Urban Dictionary. Visual Thesaurus and Visuwords. Merriam-Webster Visual Dictionary.

For example: -ly.BadLANGUAGE. my-. “Hello. the. i-. -start. I recommend using it. it’s a question of seeing whether you can register them as domain names or as trademarks (if required). Domize is a very efficient way to check several domain names at the same time. f. Syllables count but there are some excellent. Nonsense Names here.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 25 DAY DAY d Six degrees of separation.com. Make a short list.nr and Bust A Name. 97 . People should be able to spell a name when they hear it. There is no magic formula that says: “this name is best. names that trigger some kind of emotion are more memorable and human than functional. Once you have your short list and preferences. synonyms and things like that. There are some useful online tools that will help you find a domain name even if your first choice isn’t available. descriptive or technical names. etc. Imagine using the name to answer the phone. they are for the guidance of the wise but the devotion of fools): a. our-. There are plenty of prefixes and suffixes that can transform an already-registered name into an available name. Short rather than long. -now. In most cases. It also has a chart that evaluates names on eight dimensions. invented. -base. e.etc. experiential and evocative. Easy to say. Also. DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 8. -HQ. -live. such as appearance. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 7. Domai. -well. Check domain names and/or trademarks.” There are some guidelines (but like all such recommendations. energy and sound. Meaningful. do-. Neologisms and made-up words have less impact and require more marketing to inflate than words that are familiar and pregnant with meaning. -it. your-. be-. get-. Try MakeWords. c. These are useful labels for sorting your names. San Francisco naming company Igor has a free guide to naming. It classifies names into functional/descriptive. memorable long names too. Easy to spell. Names that have emotional resonance. 6. such as blogrolls and telephone directories (but who uses them any more?).” This is a good practical test of the mouth sound of a name. b. This can be helpful in alphabetical listings. Analyse the names. Names near the start of the alphabet. d. -factory. Lexical Freenet is useful for finding links between words.

11. averaging and risky shift. Or a better name for an existing one.” 10. try and try again. The wider the circle and the longer the discussion. response research. Microsoft. When it comes to names. British Airways etc.) Also. Come up with a really good name for a new product or service. As the naming gurus at Igor point out: Virgin implies inexperience yet we happily fly Virgin Atlantic and caterpillars are feeble. try. Virgin vs.BadLANGUAGE. W. Then give up. Don’t worry too much. tODAY’s EXERCIsE 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY Your homework for today? Simple. the greater is the risk of compromise. Why? Because people find it very easy to give negative feedback and latch onto negative meanings. I suggest that you avoid asking lots of people to comment on names until you have your short list. it is important to spend time picking a good name. but there is a danger of spending too much time.C. slow insects but Caterpillar make big earth moving equipment. Sometimes perfect is the enemy of good enough. the poetic usually beats the prosaic (Apple vs. Repeat 3-8 until you have your final name. “If at first you don’t succeed.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 25 DAY DAY 9. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 98 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . There’s no use being a damn fool about it. Good names often have negative connotations. Fields put it very well when he said.

BADLANGUAGE.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 26 WRITE A GREAT PRESENTATION “mastering presentation skills is a life’s work – with a stupendous paYoff.” – tOM pEtERs .

not the audience’s reaction Too little preparation Inappropriate content and images Jargon and clichés 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 In fact. Use it to support. Kawasaki’s advice isn’t right for every circumstance but it’s definitely in the right direction. So many of the lessons in this book will work for presentations too. illustrate and underline what you are saying but don’t read out the words on the slides. You don’t work for the presentation. People came to hear you speak. presentations share many of the problems with other corporate communication. last no more than 20 minutes and contain no font smaller than 30 points. The problem is that most presentations are stressful for the speaker and tedious for the audience.” says Edward Tufte in his Wired article. PowerPoint is evil. each full of text and diagrams. didn’t they? The 10-20-30 rule. Typical problems include: • • • • • • • • • Too formal Too long Talking but not listening Humourless Overly corporate and robotic Focused on the script.BADLANGUAGE. I have seen corporate presentations with more than 170 slides. 100 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • . In addition. there are some specific changes that can improve a PowerPoint presentation: • The presentation works for you.NET 10 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 26 DAY DAY wrITE A GrEAT prESENTATION key point: fewer words = more impact “Respect your audience. Guy Kawasaki’s advice is that a presentation should have ten slides. I agree.

More images. Use it in place of your normal presentation and see whether people pay more attention. • • • tODAY’s EXERCIsE Create a presentation that follows the 10-20-30 rule and which uses strong images on every page. iStockphoto. The fewer the words.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 26 DAY DAY • Fewer words. A well-chosen image with a few words can have more impact than a page full of bullet points. quotations. are all good sources of pictures for presentations. watch other presentations. You can learn a lot from watching great presentations by other people. Shutterstock. Open Stock Photography. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 101 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . Slideshare.net and TED both have great examples. Garr Reynolds has published a lost of online sources for quotations. Treating a slide like a Word document is the most common mistake in presentation design. A good quotation can be as powerful as a good picture. the greater the impact. Cartoonbank.BadLANGUAGE.

if he will set himself doggedlY to it.BADLANGUAGE.” – sAMUEL JOHnsOn .NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 27 FIND TIME FOR WRITING “a man maY write at anY time.

for heaven’s sake! But recently. I’m a writer. So I decided to make a habit of getting up earlier. It helps to write something every day. so that I could do a couple of hours. Decided what time I wanted to get up. That extra hour or two a day was enough for me to write 500+ articles on my blog and this book. I believe that if you can find the time – every day – to focus on writing. 6am. But you’ll still need to take the time to do your research properly and to edit and rewrite your copy. when I’ve had a lot of work stacking up and I’ve added a blog into my daily routine. it felt as if there simply weren’t enough hours in the day. I wrote this book and the blog that preceded it by getting up earlier. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 2. With practice.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 27 DAY DAY FIND TIME FOr wrITING key point: better writing takes time If you want to improve your writing. I read somewhere that if you can make a new routine stick for a month. Think of it as going to the gym for your writing muscles.BadLANGUAGE. By separating writing tasks from other work-a-day activities. It proved true in this case. you’ll need to find time to do it. it becomes a self-sustaining habit. your productivity will increase without affecting quality. Set myself a goal. 103 . Zen Habits has many useful tips for increasing your productivity in general and here are my top tips for getting up earlier: 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY I am not what you would call a morning person. I aimed to get up early every weekday for a month. Initially. you will improve your concentration and productivity. The point is to set a time and stick to it. In my case. you will quickly become a better and more productive writer. This is how I did it: 1. A regular schedule or habit helps. write my blog and catch up my email before everyone else started work (and started sending me emails and phoning me).

I set my bedside alarm for 0600 – and this is the clever psychology – I also set my telephone to ring at 0605 but I put the phone on the other side of the room so that I have to get out of bed to stop it ringing.”) Stephen King writes 2. I reckon on producing an average of 1. we’re strongly programmed to answer the phone. habitual things using recurring tasks in Outlook but it was a bit fiddly and. The more I use this website.BadLANGUAGE. addicted as I am. Because writing is a subjective. 4. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 104 . I didn’t have Outlook open all the time. Second. I used to track these kinds of routine. Factoring in time for research. Tracked my progress using Joe’s Goals. 6.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 27 DAY DAY 3.000 words a day. In the UK. promised myself a reward.000 publishable words per working day – although the work is usually done in stages over a longer calendar period. convict-style. computer and breakfast ready the night before. Don’t want to trip over everything trying to do basic tasks when I’m half asleep. (There’s a story about James Joyce who had written seven words in one day – a highly productive day for him – “but I don’t know what order they go in. What happens is this: either I wake up and cancel the alarm or I get up and answer the call to stop it ringing. the more I like it.000+ words a day. I always wanted to learn clay pigeon shooting so I promised myself I would book a day’s shooting if I got up early for a month. but measuring productivity is vital if you write for a living. 5. Alarms. writing and editing. you dial *55*0605# to do this. First. I’m very strongly programmed not to wake my wife up! A ringing phone will do this so I have powerful motivators at work: guilt and fear. Get clothes. I also used a little Post-it note on my monitor and ticked off the days. RULE OF tHUMB 1. This technique works every time but I had previously reserved it for early morning trips to the airport and things like that. intimate business it is hard to treat it like a company might treat a factory.

Boast widely about your new early-birdiness.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 27 DAY DAY 7. I suspect that over time the body adjusts to less sleep – most army people get by on less sleep than the rest of us. Earlier nights. the adjustment is a little painful but it only took a week or two to get used to the new routine. If I describe myself as a punctual. Initially. early-rising. ‘We are the stories we tell about ourselves’. It makes me feel good to tell people ‘Oh. Naps. enterpreneurial writer genius). going to bed an hour or so earlier and having lie-ins on weekends meant that I was getting the right amount of sleep. I get up at 6am’. If you overdraw by getting up early. Also. 9. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 105 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . my friend Stuart says. In the long run. you have to pay in some other time. I did this by having short naps after lunch. Like jet lag. efficiency robot then maybe that’s what I’ll become (when I’m not a bohemain.BadLANGUAGE. 8. for example – but this seems to happen over a longer period than a month. Sleep is like money in the bank. tODAY’s EXERCIsE Your job for today is to figure out when you can carve 30-60 minutes out of your schedule every day so that you can focus on writing.

NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 28 BREAK WRITER’S BLOCK “when in doubt. have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” – RAYMOnD CHAnDLER .BADLANGUAGE.

8. Ask why. Lists provoke thoughts. at least. Pick a topic and speculate on why it happens. You can see them on my Articulate Marketing website. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 4. 7. I’d add the following: 1.com that lists 49 jump starts if you’re staring at a blank screen trying to think of a blog post. I created a list of Oblique Marketing Strategies which I find helpful when I’m stuck.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 28 DAY DAY BrEAk wrITEr’S BLOCk key point: if you can’t write. Ditto but how! Interview someone. 107 . Find something objectionable (in my case. for example. Seek inspiration. lazy writing) and keep citing examples of it until change occurs. Find something that you do every day that may not be obvious to other people and write about that. the empty email. For me. 3. Some of his suggestions have worked for me: reviewing a book. 6. 2. There’s a nice post on MakeYouGoHmm. the blank form – and despaired. See Day 1: Be a reporter for more tips. Start a campaign. taking a topic and then writing a list seems to generate new ideas that hadn’t occurred to me before.BadLANGUAGE. Your obvious is your talent. DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 5. do something else until you can We have all stared at a blank screen – the unwritten report. Ask how. report it out.

Sometimes browsing through the image search on Google or photo libraries like iStockPhoto can bring inspiration. Anything that makes your point without words. Who writes well? Who do you admire? Praise them. so write a positive one. Build on a phrase. Sketches. 10. Find a role model. diagrams. Sometimes a small phrase pops into my head and it inspires a whole article.BadLANGUAGE. Listen to your inner voice. Expand on someone else’s idea. 11. The blogosphere is a conversation. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 108 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . Like this article. 12. The media is full of negative stories but it’s your blog. Take something (with attribution) and add your own original thoughts.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 28 DAY DAY 9. Cartoons.

NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 29 WORKING WITH PROFESSIONAL WRITERS “do not be bullied out of Your common sense bY the specialist. he is a pedant.BADLANGUAGE.” – OLIVER WEnDELL HOLMEs . two to one.

Many of these scribblers are hidden inside design.BadLANGUAGE. what style guidelines and language will be used (for instance. Meet the writer (not just the account manager) and make sure there’s a good ‘chemistry. The advice below is based on my own experience. Check that your writer has professional indemnity insurance. A good writer should be able to follow a corporate style guide and adapt their work to the audience and client. but don’t get hung up if they haven’t done exactly the same thing elsewhere. what its objectives are (why is it being written). Ask for references. • DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY • 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • • Briefing • A briefing document should explain who the work is for (the target audience).’ Do they talk your language? Understand your requirements? Give constructive input about ways they might carry out your brief? Look for a chameleon-like ability to write in different styles. marketing or PR agencies. Selection • Look for writers with a track record of work in a similar format or subject.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 29 DAY DAY wOrkING wITH prOFESSIONAL wrITErS key point: effective management is the way to get good work from professional writers All my clients use at least one professional writer – me – and most call on dozens at a time. 110 . A good writer should be able to research new topics effectively.

Similarly. meet the brief. writing and editing. • • DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY • 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY Editing and rewriting • You may find writers reluctant to release work until it has reached a final draft form. Writers tend to think in terms of deadlines. It should. what the deadline is. even draft a briefing document for you based on your instructions. Management • • Like most people. 111 • . Last minute requests and short deadlines are okay (sometimes) but you are more likely to get a good job if you allow a reasonable deadline. • You can reasonably expect a good writer to help with this process. writers like to get positive feedback.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 29 DAY DAY American English or British English). If they’ve done a good job. you should expect a writer to keep meticulous notes and voice recordings of any interviews they carry out. tell them. a high-level outline of the contents and any supplementary contact information or additional resources the writer may need. drafts and word counts and chunk up their time in units of interviews. When it comes to fact-checking. the length in words. naturally.BadLANGUAGE. You should expect to receive work that is spelled correctly. At Articulate. research. writers will try to schedule their work. work goes through a fact-checking and proofreading stage before being released to clients. Understanding a little about how they work will help you understand what progress they are making. Like anyone in business. is grammatical and that makes sense. they should be able to provide independent sources for any facts and statistics that they use in their work.

clichés and making the same mistake twice. unpardonable sins include: missing a deadline. especially when you start working with a new writer. brief and manage them and see if there are any ways you can do it better. Minor tweaks like this are fine. • • • • 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 112 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . explain why not and request changes. the more likely you are to get a satisfactory result.BadLANGUAGE. If you work with agencies. most major rework arises from a faulty brief or one that changes during the assignment. review the way you select. In my experience. contractors or directly with writers.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 29 DAY DAY • It’s normal for the client to review the work from their company’s perspective to check. starting work without an agreed brief. If the work doesn’t do what you expected. for example. In my view. you shouldn’t have to deal with a writer’s ego. that trademarks are properly written out or that job titles are correct. That said. The more specific you are.

NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 30 FINAL EXERCISE “ever tried. no matter.” – sAMUEL BECKEtt . ever failed. fail again.BADLANGUAGE. trY again. fail better.

Write one awesome thing today. Just three challenges: tODAY’s EXERCIsEs 1.BADLANGUAGE. 3. what you didn’t. Make a writing plan for the next 31 days. Send me an email to tell me how you got on.NET 10 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 30 DAY DAY FINAL ExErCISE No advice today. what you liked. 2. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 114 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY .

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