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30 Days to Better Business Writing

30 Days to Better Business Writing

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Published by Nnamdi Nwoye

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Published by: Nnamdi Nwoye on May 16, 2011
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05/07/2012

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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:

Dirty briefs.

1.

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.

2.

Lawyers, academics and technology frms 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 feld or company. Challenge convention to

ensure that it serves the needs of readers.

Brand Nazis.

3.

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 fnd

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

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rewriting your existing guidelines (if you do).

Editing by committee.

4.

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.

5.

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.

6.

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.

7.

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.

8.

When I’m working on a case study or a press release, I like to agree a workfow with

my clients before I start. I recommend you do the same, either as part of the briefng process or as

part of your planning.

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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 workfow, might work.

Instigate one change today and the rest to your to do list.

BADLANGUAGE.NET

30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING

“do not wait; the time will never be ‘just

right.’ start where You stand, and work

with whatever tools You maY have at Your

command, and better tools will be found as

You go along.”

– GEORGE HERBERt

GET THE RIGHT
TOOLS

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