30

DAYS
to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One-third is spent proofreading and editing. feel. The big difference between copy and code is that paragraphs don’t crash. . Once you have done this a few times as an exercise. touch. 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. 3. 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. one-sixth’.BadLANGUAGE. observations and not just my own opinion and fancy words. For example. So the first exercise in this book is about finding information and grounding your writing in the real world. data. 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. In other words. smell. There are no right or wrong answers – it’s more a question of paying attention. tasty but insubstantial.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. This is the rule of ‘one-half. Sweet. one-third. Half my time is spent researching and interviewing. she wanted me to write with information. 4. taste and see? Write down the words that come to mind. This is a guideline that I used when I wrote computer games (where the tasks were designing. The result will be stronger writing. The reason that so much of it sounds bogus is because it’s like spun sugar. Only a sixth is spent actually writing. it’ll become more and more automatic. my editor used to say. Apply your senses to the topic. a problem you are trying to solve or a product you are trying to sell. When I wrote for Wired. ‘report it out’ and what she meant was to go and talk to people and find things out. testing and coding) but it works for writing too. facts. What can you hear. 1. What I’m trying to do is to get you to step back from your writing for a moment.

I like to use mind mapping techniques. 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. 7. At this early stage. The important thing is not to lose the information that you gather. though. You. can you find any data that applies to the topic? Are there dimensions such as size.BadLANGUAGE. I have a Word document open and I just type things into it as they occur to me. I use a more structured outline. Mostly. such as the outline mode in Microsoft Word. either on paper or using software. We’ll come on to the feelings and opinions of others tomorrow when we cover interviews. 6.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. 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. yourself. 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 . Sometimes.

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

a meeting or a conference call. But it is nothing more than a focused. think of it as a chat. professional conversation. This is just as true for business writing as it is in journalism. You go for a job interview or you face a press interview with equal anxiety. They are the best way of understanding a complicated situation and seeing it from someone else’s perspective. book it.BadLANGUAGE. but if it makes you feel more comfortable. do it. Here are some examples of people you could interview: • • • Someone in another department who will read a report you are writing. Go to the shop floor. write up your observations and use it in something you write. What I want you to do today is go and interview someone. 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. Plan it. A potential customer who might buy a product you want to sell. Interviews are the foundation of good reporting. (If you work in a technology firm. 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 . I quite like the journalistic connotation which is why I use the word. 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.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. The word ‘interview’ has negative connotations in business. even if we choose not to believe it)? Interviews matter. take notes. when was the last time you actually talked to a programmer or engineer?) Avoid spokesrobots. An expert inside your company who has something to contribute to something you are writing. find the story behind the story.

Sometimes a face-to-face interview is good. Have a backup. Mind you. a phone interview works best. Here’s how: 1.” This doesn’t work so well for interviews. I prefer to use two recorders or one recorder and hand-written notes. 6.) Approach them nicely. It can be helpful to say that the interview will be anonymous or that you will let them approve any quotations you write afterwards. a phone interview cuts out travel time and waiting around for people to turn up. 4. I ended up spending 15 minutes of an interview with Google’s Sergey Brin talking about digital Dictaphones instead of Google’s future. 7. For face-to-face interviews. Long before I got married I asked my friend. what the secret of a happy marriage was. Have enough time. 3. ‘Find a nice girl and pray she says yes. There’s something confessional about them and it’s easy to strike up a rapport with someone. 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. 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. It’s easier to schedule. .’ It’s the same with interviewees. Avoid email interviews. Find the right interviewee. who later became my best man. I’ve done two or three email interviews in my time and they’ve all been unsatisfactory. He said. less intrusive and more focused on speaking rather than appearances and body language. I was promised an hour-long interview with an airline executive for a profile I 12 2. for me. (Alistair Cooke had a different recipe for marriage: “Frequent separation and increasing deafness.BadLANGUAGE. Choose the right format. The results have been stilted and unnatural. 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. Nothing could be worse than getting back from an interview and finding that you didn’t have any record.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 2 DAY DAY preparing for an interview is critical. I love phone interviews. Also. More often. And. 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. phone interviews.

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

It’s a courtesy. I don’t record all my interviews. 6. 1. you have to tell people you’re recording a conversation because of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. How to record interviews. My favourite interviews are the ones where I find common ground with the person I’m talking to and we have a fun. Observe the legalities. Doing it consistently means that any interviewee knows exactly where they stand. Be yourself. you should be upbeat and positive. Consequently. if you can. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 4. I like to do interviews on Skype and use HotRecorder to record them to MP3. A headset is a must and I use a Plantronics USB CS60 handsfree headset for Skype calls. . I call it the government health warning.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. ‘I’m keeping a record of this conversation to make sure I don’t forget anything. I tell people who I am. as it is charmingly known. but it’s also a kind of protection. I tend to say. RULE OF tHUMB A 30-minute interview equates to roughly 1. stimulating conversation. 2.500 words when transcribed. subjective and personal. 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. Transcribe interviews. Introduce yourself. This leaves both hands free for typing notes. Do this genuinely if you can. Otherwise. 14 3.’ Even if it weren’t a legal obligation.BadLANGUAGE. They are also conditioned to think of an ‘interview’ as a potentially hostile situation and be on their guard. I think it is a courtesy to say so. Be enthusiastic.200-1. 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. engage your sincerity simulator. my relationship to the publication I’m writing for and what the piece is about. 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. In the UK. I like to introduce myself at the start of every interview. I transcribe all my interviews so that I have a Word document on file for future reference. This means I have to come to the party dressed as myself. or RIPA. People like people who like them. My interview style is discursive.

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

They might have a colleague or know an independent expert in their field who could give you additional information or a contrary opinion. 15. It’s always worth asking if your interviewee has any written material that could add more colour.BadLANGUAGE.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 2 DAY DAY Sometimes you need a specific quote or a good story. 16. 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 . Ask if there’s anyone else you should talk to. a blog or other material and they are usually happy to share it with me. Ask for collateral. Often this is as useful as the interview because it is the considered articulation of their ideas. I find that many of my corporate interviewees – usually experts in their fields – have PowerPoint presentations. If you can provide a copy of the final article. Be courteous. do so. Say thank you. 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. A timely intervention is sometimes required to redirect the interview. One introduction beats a hundred cold calls. depth or detail. 14.

– RUDYARD KIpLInG .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).BADLANGUAGE. their names are what and whY and when and how and where and who.

Take an existing piece of writing and circle the answers to these questions in the text. entertain or inform them. Take something from your own recent experience and write a paragraph or two describing what happened. 2. Understanding your reader’s ‘why?’ is the main way of finding what will persuade. Answering the question ‘why?’ is the main way you add value to plain facts. Answering this question with clarity will help you write headlines and opening sentences. 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. why. Something short like a press release or a newspaper article will work very well. For a newspaper article.BadLANGUAGE. where and who. PR Newswire is a perennial source of fresh press releases. as you move from the whole article to paragraphs and then individual sentences. Pay special attention to gaps. Not just of the people in your story or your copy. just try Google News. when. There are two parts to this exercise: 1. why? This question forces you to examine motives. DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 As you complete these tasks. Make sure that you answer each question in what you write. how. If you start with what.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. 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. but also the intentions of your readers and – just as important – your own. Sometimes. See how many you can find. Understanding your own ‘why?’ will help you focus what you are writing so that it achieves the goal. you may spot gaps and non-answers.

‘It was agreed. “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows. my view is that including the dates helps readers understand the relevance of the case study.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 3 DAY DAY • when? It’s astonishing how many stories ignore this question. even if technology has changed.’ is a classic evasion of the basic question ‘who did it?’ Answering this question will make your writing more forceful and easier to read. with telling details. How did the project slip? How does the product save you money? How can we solve this problem? where? In novels and plays.. For example. Without a date. • • • 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 . However. just to give two examples.BadLANGUAGE. companies deliberately omit it from a press release or a case study in case it makes them look out of date. I don’t see why business writing couldn’t be more specific about where things happen and. Often. a reader may be tempted to dismiss an old story out of hand.” from Homer. Equally. the service or lessons learned may still be valid.. 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.” from Shakespeare or the “the wine dark seas. what good is a task allocation email without a deadline? How? This is where a writer can often supply the most useful insights. writers work hard to convey a sense of place. allow the reader to be there too.

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

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

Your challenge is to bring life to your data and convey a sense of why it is interesting. Shipping News is not my favourite film. tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s exercise is to take what you observed. Don’t worry too much about the form or the language.BadLANGUAGE. as a newspaper article. discovered and authenticated in the first three days of this process and turn it into a story. 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 . Try doing the same thing on your company’s last press release or website home page. or just a list of points in the order you want to make them. You can do this as if it were a piece of short fiction.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 4 DAY DAY Try reading a newspaper or magazine and seeing how its stories meet these criteria. 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.

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

Or.’ Or Seth Godin’s introduction to Small is the new big: “You’re smarter than your boss or your friends or your organization believes. but learning to write different ledes will help all your writing in future.BadLANGUAGE. if you prefer. 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. It’ll be a challenge. 24 . a Pulitzer winner. The opening sentence is the reader’s invitation to the party. but the exercise will help you explore all the dimensions of the story.” Big.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. 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. says that you should write 50 different ledes and then pick the best one. bold. American journalists call them ‘ledes.’ Donald Murray. beautiful sentences. You may not need to write 50 every time. you can take a story from a newspaper or a piece of news from your own company and write alternate ledes for that. Consider the first sentence in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: ‘The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.

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

Typically.BadLANGUAGE. Consultants need to persuade their clients that their proposals are worth implementing. There are three basic structures for non-fiction and the choice depends on your objective. you focus on the control of information. you use an inverted pyramid structure for this kind of writing. familiar points to more abstract. When you write to inform the reader. Donald Murray’s book. breaking it down into a hierarchical pyramid of sub-problems and sub-solutions means that you quickly develop a pyramidal structure. 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. short declarative sentences and careful explanation of new information help. they will be more receptive to your proposals and solutions. If the initial assertion or problem is complicated. The old BBC idea of ‘say what you’re going to say. In many cases.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. This is another book that should be on every writer’s bookshelf. product specifications. You build from concrete. Salespeople need to persuade customers to buy their wares. For more on the psychology of persuasion. Examples of informative writing include news. A lawyer needs to persuade a jury that that someone is guilty or innocent. Things like prosaic headlines rather than descriptive ones. Writing to Deadline. the writer must control the release of information. is the best introduction to this type of writing. This is a very brief introduction to the ideas in Barbara Minto’s The Pyramid Principle. Since it is not possible to read an entire text in one instant. persuasive documents begin with a problem statement. say it and then say what you have said’ is probably a bit too formulaic. but for informative writing you need plenty of scaffolding to help the reader find their way. It is all about control of the argument. I highly recommend it. manuals and (I hope) this book. If they agree with that. 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 . check out Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: They Psychology of Persuasion. 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. We read words one at a time. persuade. • Inform. novel concepts. website FAQs.

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

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

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.” Gets hyped up. Or trust you.” It meant. Another manifestation of hype is the press release Frankenquote. See if they still listen to you afterwards. But not everyone can write well. The rest of us write memos.” This kind of word inflation devalues meaning and arouses the scepticism of readers.’ A writer sits in a garret and writes the great American novel. The latest thing is always ‘cutting-edge’. Thinks too much of itself.’ The danger of hype is that readers over-discount it when they read it. people are afraid to write how they speak. Private Eye runs a regular column lampooning the abuse of the word ‘solution. “We approve the budget. It’s a false division. What comes out of most companies is bad. 2. So they use big words and long sentences.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. They want to sound big. there are seven types of bad writing: 1. 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. ‘high-performance’ and ‘advanced. For example. 29 . Because everyone can write.BadLANGUAGE. It pays to learn from other people’s mistakes. people underestimate the importance of writing and overestimate their own ability. 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.” which means “bandages. We all learn to write at school. grown-up and clever. These monsters are made-up quotations that bear no resemblance to normal speech.’ For example. Is too clever by half. For some reason. Also. In my experience. but then society makes a distinction between ‘writers’ and ‘the rest of us. Dow Corning’s “Innovative solutions for wound management. too many adjectives make sentences hard to read.

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

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

I used to take two or three articles from each issue and dissect them like a medical student.BadLANGUAGE. 32 . It doesn’t have to cost anything – most magazines publish free articles online. choosing quotes. when I visited him. A friend of mine works at Vanity Fair. I got out of the lift on the New Yorker floor and did homage at the door. Here are some recommendations – you won’t read a badly written. badly edited article in any of them: • • • • The Atlantic The New Yorker The Economist Wired The New Yorker is my favourite. how the piece was structured. how the writer achieved his or her objectives. It’s that good. what techniques worked. what techniques didn’t etc. It also reveals how professional writers solve their writing problems: telling a story. 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. I’d like you to try the same thing yourself. I used to paste the text into Word and then take it apart and make notes on what I liked. At its best. the writing in it is dizzyingly good. showing people and places etc. Take some writing that you admire and break it down and see what lessons you can learn for your own work. a few floors above the New Yorker in their shared Times Square offices in New York.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. One time. It is a pleasure in itself.

shock-proof shit detector. this is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.BADLANGUAGE.” – ERnEst HEMInGWAY .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.

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

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

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

readability has two components. Not everyone reads at a university level. The brain has to work harder to process a passive sentence. Avoid subordinate clauses. And then move on. make sure that you explain them early and often. Readers have to unpack abbreviations to understand a sentence. In fact. But even if you are writing technical articles for a PhD-level audience. Examples include: • Speed bumps. Long sentences. Technology companies and lawyers are guilty of over-capitalising Important Nouns unnecessarily. on the other hand.BadLANGUAGE. This is especially true if they are new terms. 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. Bullet lists. Long paragraphs. you will increase the credibility and retention of your material if you increase the readability of your text. and short paragraphs help people to understand what information belongs together. The first is the ‘hygiene’ factors that make a piece of writing hard to read. like this one. sub-sentences in brackets. Capital letters. Long. The passive voice.’ Avoid unnecessary commas and other punctuation marks. dense paragraphs. CD and PC). run-on sentences separated by colons or semi-colons. make the reader work harder. unless they are very commonplace (for example. Punctuation marks and other symbols are speed bumps for the eyes. I recommend using ‘and’ instead of ‘&’ and ‘percent’ instead of ‘%. It’s much better to use everyday language.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. If you do use acronyms. Unnecessary acronyms. 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 • • • . In my view. Just say it.

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

BadLANGUAGE. and edit it to improve readability.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 10 DAY DAY tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s exercise is to take a piece of existing text. perhaps from your current work or from a business website. 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 . 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.

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

’ Chunking. 3. Greed and guilt. This actually works sometimes. Switching Word into full screen mode (from the view menu) eliminates all distractions but the piece I’m working on. It also feels more virtuous than staying up late with work. . Go full screen. Little treats. distractions like blogging and hoovering become very compelling. When I’m pressed for time. Isolate myself. No distractions. Setting a timer or alarm clock for 15. 20. I don’t start Outlook (or if I do. you can have a cup of tea and a biscuit. 30. 8. Get up early. Stop with the blog already. I bribe myself: ‘Matthew. 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. Knowing this makes it easier to resist. I use a few tactics to force myself to concentrate: 1. 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.BadLANGUAGE. The silence really is golden. 7. I use Bose noise-cancelling headphones but don’t plug them into anything. 4. definitely have to get on with my work. DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 5. 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. if you write another 500 words. You can also use a distraction-free editor to focus completely on 41 2. Switch off email. 50 minutes and doing nothing but writing until it goes off and then taking a break seems like a good way to make progress. I disable all the notifications that tell me I have new mail). 6am is the most productive time of day for writing.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.

Meditation can also help calm the mind and. 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. People who were able to shut out noise. wonderful book Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. Philip Glass. Switch off the phone and shut the door. 10.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 11 DAY DAY the words on your screen.BadLANGUAGE. the composer. it can increase your powers of concentration. Some writers. interruptions and unwanted phone calls were significantly more productive than people who couldn’t. 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. take a walk and clear their mind that way. Sometimes. A 15-20 minute power nap can leave you more focused and attentive. 11. writes music at the same time every day and he says that this helps summon the muse. 42 .’ Change location. Churchill was a great advocate of midday naps. RULE OF tHUMB It takes about 15 minutes to really settle down and concentrate on my work. over time. of six environmental factors that affected productivity. 13. Shitty first draft. including Stephen King. Meditate or take a nap. 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. This means that every interruption wastes at least 15 minutes. if I’m really struggling to get started. There is a list of editors on my blog. 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. This is why concentration is so important and why interruptions are so deadly to productivity. Schedule time to write. five related to interruptions. 9. Setting a regular time to write will help. Source: the wonderful. In fact. The book Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams describes experiments using programmers – another job that requires concentration – that test productivity.

confusion and fatigue. email.” It also increases stress. phones.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 11 DAY DAY 14. Try these techniques and see which ones work for you. Avoid multitasking. the author argues multitasking messes with the brain. 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. text messages etc. etc. 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 .BadLANGUAGE. Take the time to stand back from the hustle of your life and see if you can improve it a little. in an Atlantic article. But. Technology has made us all task-switchers. The Autumn of the Multitaskers. Twitter. “At the most basic level. Learning to do one thing at a time will make us more productive. tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s activity is simply to think about your working environment and the times when you are actually writing.

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

BadLANGUAGE. 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.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 .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. I mean. 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.

Buzzword bingo is a favourite game and there’s even a website that generates new playing cards on a random basis. There are also a couple of buzzword dictionaries.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. Bullfighter is a free add-on for Microsoft Word that will scan your prose for clichés. there is the fabulous and still-poignant The Devil’s Dictionary. tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s objective is to see if you can find any of these phrases in your writing. There are some nice ones here. You can nominate words you don’t like (today it’s “paradigm shift” and “blogosphere”) and people can vote for them. on your company’s website and/or in any of the emails you sent or received in the last week.BadLANGUAGE. It’s the Room 101 for words you hate. Finally. Email me with the best examples. The first is BuzzWhack. 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 .

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

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. You can check for the passive voice using the grammar checker in Microsoft Word. See if it reads any better.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. ideally from your own company’s website or a press release from PR Newswire.BadLANGUAGE. Either it reverses the natural order of a sentence (‘the mat was sat on by the cat’). count the number of passive sentences and see if you can rewrite them in the active 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 . it makes the reader’s job harder. 2) take a typical piece of business prose. In any case. it hides the subject altogether (‘the mat was sat on’) or it makes a sentence flabby (‘there was a cat on the mat’).

i never write policeman.BADLANGUAGE.” – 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. because i can get the same moneY for cop.

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. He says “One thing is certain. in fact.BadLANGUAGE. verb and adjective in it with the longest synonym. we know that the opposite is. Thanks to Oppenheimer. 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 . I love it when scientists have a sense of humour. besides clouding the meaning. Daniel Oppenheimer. The title of the research illustrates the problem eloquently: ‘Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly. the use of long words actually makes the reader think the author is stupid. The March 2006 issue of The Atlantic Monthly cited a piece of research that shows that. Now we have proof. true. 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.” 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 Here are some examples of common long words and shorter. write as simply and plainly as possible and it’s more likely you’ll be thought of as intelligent. got 71 Stanford undergraduates to evaluate different writing samples.’ The author. He created a ‘highly complex’ version of each original text by replacing each noun. This is the kind of writing by thesaurus that many business people and techies employ when they want to sound knowledgeable and important.

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.BadLANGUAGE. The objective is to train you to automatically substitute shorter words wherever possible. 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 .

” – AntOInE DE sAInt-EXUpERY .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. but when there is nothing left to take awaY.

The end result still has to be readable and natural when you’ve finished it. Then take that version and cut it down to 100 words. Microsoft’s word count feature will help. I didn’t have time to write a shorter one. 53 . Also. it’s the way it’s always been done. 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. See what is left of the story at each stage. then 50. then 25. Then edit it in Word so that it is 500 words long. 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. Was it Mark Twain who wrote: “I’m sorry to write you such a long letter. document templates and web designs force people to write more words to fill an arbitrary space created by a graphic designer. More often.”? 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. Most business writing has too many words. Word has an autosummarise tool. Find a piece of writing that runs to about 1. Just search for ‘summarise’ in Help. Clients often ask me to write 1000-word case studies when half that is more readable and more engaging. Two pages of A4 or a long online article will do. Sometimes.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.000 words. you’ll earn their thanks and their attention. Press releases typically run to 500 words or more when 200-300 would do fine. If you can get to the point and be brief about it. Why is this? Partly. it’s because people lack the will to do enough editing. if you can find it.BadLANGUAGE.

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 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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’ 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.BADLANGUAGE. the time will never be ‘just right.” – GEORGE HERBERt .NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING DAY 17 GET THE RIGHT TOOLS “do not wait.

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

It’s especially helpful when hunting for a good product name. As Aristotle said. a free website that helps your encourage good habits.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. If you type ‘define:lugubrious’ (or whatever word you want) into Google. visual thesaurus. therefore. I scribble away and then I can shuffle the pages. Excellence.BadLANGUAGE. not to manage my diary. I like Visual Thesaurus. I use a Filofax slimline organiser. but a habit. you’ll get a selection of definitions. Forming habits. a blank sheet of paper and a pen will do fine but I sometimes prefer using software such as ConceptDraw Mindmap or MindJet MindManager. but writing is important too. There is a completely free alternative called Visuwords. Of course. Web designers seem to have a monopoly on the look and feel of websites.” I like Joe’s Goals. throw away the rubbish and file the notes once the story is completed. 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. Notebook. website mockup tools. My wife uses a foolscap one for her ‘morning pages’ (after Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). Partly because of their retro bohemian credibility and partly because they are well made of good materials and paper and feel satisfying to use. • • • • • 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 . “We are what we repeatedly do. Get a style guide. I use one as a journal to scribble my thoughts in every day. is not an act. This is a great way of getting your thoughts from your brain to the page. Definitions on Google. 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. Many people love Moleskine notebooks. but as a simple reporter’s notebook. 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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Are there any other parties who need to be involved. have they been provided and is there a contact to review and assist with getting them right? Synopsis. 64 . Reference other media where appropriate. especially. reports.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 18 DAY DAY • Style. Client resources. Microsoft Word? HTML? Are pictures required? Footnotes and sourcing? Documents intended for use online must be written differently from print documents. English or American English? Case studies. schedule. this lists everything so that the client has a clear understanding of what their tasks are. Third parties. white papers all have different meanings to different people so spell out EXACTLY what is required.BadLANGUAGE. this can include PR or marcomms agencies. rights. samples. either by providing content or approval? Typically. 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. Fees. trademark or style guides? If so. 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. For example: ‘This piece should read like an article in the Economist or FT. What will the client provide to make the piece happen: interview contracts. access to spokespeople. A paragraph long or bulleted summary of the piece setting out the main points and the running order. so this distinction is especially important to get clear. Delivery format. data etc.’ Are there any special client requirements such as tone of voice. etc? Ideally. press releases and.

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

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

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

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

the most successful case studies I’ve written have been about unknown. one-to-one relationship between me. the writer. 69 . 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. 2.BadLANGUAGE. you can convince other people to buy it. not the name. 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. because I work in tech. 1. When it comes to PR.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. You need to find a champion for your case study inside the target company. Better to find the willing customer with a good story. 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. Most marketing people lust after the hero case study with big brand recognition. By showing how real customers used your product or service. Find a champion and build rapport. I prefer to make first contact with this person. interview them. Use case studies to support sales. Ideally. they have the authority to approve it too. deal-closing economy and good customer evidence is the laser-guided bomb of marketing. niche companies with a great spokesperson and a neat angle. real interviews with real people. Sometimes. Too many cooks etc. I need a techie interview as well to get the facts right. 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. if they do. The reality is that these guys rarely want to give case studies and. get their feedback and their sign-off so that every contact builds a friendly. We’re in a demand-generation. Go for the story. they rewrite everything and take a long time to approve it. 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. The foundation of a good case study is a good interview. representing the company. and them. Here are ten tips that will help you write and use great case studies.

A case study release should reassure a candidate. A PowerPoint ‘wincard’ version is also helpful for sales. Case studies have a short half-life. social networking. Details matter. not frighten them off. not a corporate press release. Set them free. 7. 70 . 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 9. 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. ideally. This is fine and I can work with it. Nobody has time to read a four-page. Be specific. I recommend 500 word case studies and. It should be a crescendo not an endless low humming. Most of my big clients have central case study databases. Apply your experience from the first few days of this course. a good case study should take a week from first contact to approval. Companies change. but it often seems that these controls limit the impact and spread of case studies.BadLANGUAGE. Not only do they make the case study more credible. 1. Think very hard about what a potential customer wants to know about a case study. Speed is everything. intranets and into the hands of sales peoples and customers by as many routes as possible. Avoid hype.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 20 DAY DAY 5. Technology moves on. they answer the reader’s questions. Each version needs to be written for its medium – web copy is not the same as printed copy or PowerPoint text. you want a 50-100 microcontent version to go on the website and to use as a verbal summary in a sales pitch. Good case studies should ripple quickly through company websites. Use the conventions of a newspaper article. clichés. 8. A case study is an article. Ideally. 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. If it takes longer. keep them short. 6. They have strict formats and guidelines for case studies and big agencies to enforce them. it increases the risk that the case study champion will lose interest. Write good headlines and strong ledes. Use good.000 word case study. If no knows about the case study or it tries to be all things to all people. jargon and corporate bullshit. powerful quotations (not frankenquotes). It has to earn the reader’s interest and attention. Make them interesting. it will likely fail. Use short legal agreements.

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 .BadLANGUAGE.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.

” – FEDERICO FELLInI .BADLANGUAGE.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.

Not only that. much better. 73 . Nortel. jargon and self-important throat clearing.’ 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. 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.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. vice-president.BadLANGUAGE. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 The worst sin is ‘Frankenquoting. They could be much.” said Jean-Luc Jezouin. GSM/UMTS product line management. I’ve seen editors scan through a hundred email press releases in five minutes and delete the lot. Why are they so dreadful? Press releases suffer from committee writing that turns steak into baby food. I paid tens of thousands of pounds for shiny press releases that got us no coverage whatsoever. In my former life as full-time journalist. 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. Before that. 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. but marketing people compensate for lack of bite by adding hype words. I received (and ignored) thousands of press releases. as a CEO.

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

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

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

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

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

I sometimes see final draft press releases for my clients that have two or three typos. Use readability stats.BadLANGUAGE. Journalists in a hurry have a reading age of a 12-year-old. 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. Unintended press release disclosures. Check then double-check 1. Don’t hedge your bets by overqualifying sentences (e. Most magazines are obsessive about this and you should do the same for a press release. 5. Word hides a lot of version control changes. Don’t beat about the bush. Check facts. Especially names and titles.” Use a spell checker. including copy you would prefer journalists not to see. under 8 for the grade level and no passive sentences.g. Read my blog post. 3. 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. Be more assertive: “Email viruses hit companies hard. for an example of what happens when you don’t. 2.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 21 DAY DAY summary (like this one) means you have more chance of converting recipients into readers. 4. redact hidden content. Aim to score under 50 in the Flesch Reading Ease. D’oh! But it happens. ‘Many companies find they have different kinds of problems with certain email viruses”). 79 . You can eliminate it easily by following this advice from the US National Security Agency (PDF).

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

She obviously hasn’t read the story of the boy who cried wolf.BadLANGUAGE. wordy and difficult to read. strong subject line helps people prioritise their inboxes. Emails are more like telexes than letters.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. your life story. found that 34 percent of respondents wasted between 30 and 60 minutes a day reading badly written emails. 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 • • • . Critical information is missing or hard to find. active verbs. Emails that look like an EE Cummings poem with no punctuation. punctuation exists to make it easier for people to make sense of what they’re reading. So here are my recommendations for writing better email: • • DAY DAY DAY DAY A clear. Content is disorganised. Imagine you are paying by the word. and make it harder for them to understand what you are saying. history. If the subject of an email dialogue has changed. Content is too long. I have one client who flags all her messages as important. bad spelling and inappropriate capitalisation slow down people’s brains when they read. write well: strong. avoid jargon and abbreviations. Don’t automatically use the important flag. Stick to relevant facts and requests. Typical failings included: • • • • Recipient is not clear as to what should be done or how to act on the information. Don’t give the background. select a new subject line but put the old one in brackets after the new subject for continuity. use fewer words.

BadLANGUAGE. press next and select ‘defer delivery by a number of minutes. Check recipient names. This will stop you accidentally sending the email to the wrong person. For long emails. check messages after sending. Using bullets to separate out lists is also helpful. This technique also allows people with iPhones and Blackberries to read your emails more easily. Out loud.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 22 DAY DAY • Short paragraphs. Delete any unnecessary words. Think about whether you can express any point more clearly and succinctly. alter the contact data to avoid sending an email to the wrong person. Deal with separate subjects in separate emails. Avoid email regret by setting a rule in Outlook to delay outgoing mail by ten minutes. Edit. Be succinct. I generally don’t write the names of the recipients until I’ve finished the email to stop myself accidentally sending it. You may know lots of Steves but they probably have different surnames. Tell people exactly what you expect them to do as a result of the email. People will skip the middle of a long paragraph. Don’t send an email off the moment you’ve finished writing it. re-read it. if you have two very similar names. You can also switch off automatic email transmission in Outlook so that it only sends mail when you actively tell it to. 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. 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). This isn’t a college essay. use subtitles to break the email into sections like a magazine article. 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 • . One or two sentences per paragraph. Therefore it is better to send several short emails. wait a minute. start with a blank rule. Use people’s surnames or full names for addresses. You can even highlight action items with colour or with capitalisation. 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.’ The messages stick in your outbox for a few minutes so you can cool down and think twice. Go to Rules and Alerts. End strongly. create a new rule. In fact. Alternatively.

supports this view. abbreviations (‘Is LOL . Expressing your state of mind can help people understand your words. the Elements of E-Style. really inherently more opaque than FYI?’). 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 . A New Yorker article. and emoticons (those smiley faces and the like may ‘bug many people but they make us smile’). the authors come out in favour of exclamation points (‘Thanks!!!!’ is way friendlier than ‘Thanks’). . Email is an impersonal medium. tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s exercise is to take an email you wrote last month (look in your sent mail folder) and improve it. . Send me an email to let me know how you got on. Based on research into the way people read emails.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 22 DAY DAY • Don’t be afraid of punctuation and emoticons.BadLANGUAGE.

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. incessant barking.” – DOGs tALKInG In A nEW YORKER CARtOOn .BADLANGUAGE.

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. It’s easy to set up a blog using WordPress.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. It’s public writing but. variety is the spice of life.com. I’ve usually got two or three ideas to hand and a bunch of links to explore. The important thing is to work to a regular schedule. more formal articles and interviews as well as more personal observations. usually around 6am. you really want to try to be a sheepdog rather than a sheep. 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. it is a playground for me. It’s free. I use the notes field in an Outlook task item for each of the blogs I write to capture links. keep a scratchpad. Contribute to the conversation. because it is personal.BadLANGUAGE. Here are some tips to help you become a better blogger: • Get started. write often. I tend to blog first thing in the morning. to do items and so on. I know other people who write after work or in their lunch break. I prefer to do posts of different lengths and styles. Have a time to write. ideas. With nearly 60 million blogs in existence. There are an awful lot of sheep on the internet. The great thing about a blog is that you can use it to explore different writing styles and techniques. Traffic seems to drop off dramatically at weekends so I don’t post then. When I actually sit down to write. although I sometimes run a ‘links list’ style post on Saturdays – mainly things I’ve collected during the week. To this extent. It doesn’t always happen because of work pressure but it is easier to maintain the discipline if it is regular. I try to write every week day. The ‘how to’ list is popular but I like to run longer. you can write without restrictions. That’s just me. 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 • • .

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

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

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

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

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 .

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. There are several ways to make your writing more concise: 91 . Eyetracking research shows that the majority hunt and scan around the page. They scan for what’s important to them. 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. halving the word count makes online copy 58 percent more usable (in terms of reading time.BadLANGUAGE. 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. Websites are optional. Start with a brief summary at the top of the page. DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 How to write for online reading Be clear. They underpin all the recommendations. starting with the conclusion. Remember these differences when reading the guidance in this section. Use a journalist’s inverted pyramid structure. On an average web page. Respect the reader’s time. users read at most 28 percent of the words. Compared to printed text. Research by Jakob Nielsen shows that: • • • People don’t read everything they see. Consider using an appropriate image to anchor the text and draw the reader’s eye. reader recall and subjective satisfaction).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. People are busy and they don’t always have time to read your site. Get to the point and stay there.

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

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 . Show respect. especially if there is a risk that it might be misinterpreted. 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.BadLANGUAGE. Observe the standards of conduct and decency when referring to other people. Read what you have written aloud. fine. Is that how you might speak to a colleague or your boss? If so.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 24 DAY DAY • • • Be relaxed but think carefully about humour.

” – 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.

taking an extra few hours or days to pick a good name up front seems like a good investment. There is a positive and negative aspect to this.” It’s the same with product. the availability of internet domain names is another constraint on the choice of names. memorable. What is unique. 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. Brainstorm. 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. Understand your competition. That is what this chapter is about. important. Identify your strengths. Compared with the tidal wave of copy that appears after you choose a name. you can begin to differentiate it from its competitors. You should look for names that differentiate you from your competitors and at the same time avoid names that sound similar. Today.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. You need to come up with hundreds of words that could be potential names or which are the stems or themes for potential names. 1.BadLANGUAGE. obscure or difficult to spell (“Qinetiq” anyone?). 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. The starting point of a good name is the product or service itself. . This is the fun bit and also the most work. It can also be very helpful when coming up with a tagline or subtitle for your name. Once you have identified the brand promise of your product or service. 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. It doesn’t have to be like this. exciting. service and company names. 3. Too often people pick the first name that has an available. matching domain name.

Lovely words. Save criticism and analysis for later. 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. DAY DAY The more ideas you come up with. It’s hard graft but one main difference between an amateur photographer and a professional is that a professional simply takes more pictures. Getty Vocabularies. It’s too easy to miss rich seams of name ideas because. Enter the concept and get the word using OneLook.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 25 4. Periodically.” says The Name Inspector. etc. Smashing Magazine also has some helpful guidance. Reverse dictionary. Engage with other people to get their input. pick the best stems and ideas and start a new set of ideas. They include: a. Yet more brainstorming. Rap Dictionary. c. you only know what you know. the better chance you’ll have of finding a good name. religion (Zen Habits) the media (WordPress) etc. . Visual Thesaurus and Visuwords. foreign words and translation (Wagamama) and numbers (37signals). “A good metaphor for the naming process is evolution through variation and natural selection. But try to encourage constructive. alliteration (Pepe Le Pew). b. Interactive thesauruses. The Name Inspector has an excellent list of name types. colours (Matt Black). Urban Dictionary. substitution (uSwitch). Word Spy. 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. I tend to use sheets of A4 paper but you can also use mindmapping software or a word processor. weather (MetalStorm). well. Between these two brainstorming stages you should try to come up with 200-500 name ideas. More brainstorming. Try Wordie.BadLANGUAGE. This is one of several sheets of names I worked through to come up with Upstage. You can work with repetition (BoingBoing). inversion (Xobni). a business that creates websites for actors. incremental brainstorming. journeys (BaseCamp). places (Westwood). There are some excellent websites that can help you expand and develop your ideas. d. visual dictionary. Merriam-Webster Visual Dictionary.

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

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

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.BADLANGUAGE.” – tOM pEtERs .

didn’t they? The 10-20-30 rule. each full of text and diagrams. 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. Typical problems include: • • • • • • • • • Too formal Too long Talking but not listening Humourless Overly corporate and robotic Focused on the script. PowerPoint is evil. last no more than 20 minutes and contain no font smaller than 30 points. You don’t work for the presentation. I have seen corporate presentations with more than 170 slides. In addition. Guy Kawasaki’s advice is that a presentation should have ten slides. I agree. 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.NET 10 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 26 DAY DAY wrITE A GrEAT prESENTATION key point: fewer words = more impact “Respect your audience. Use it to support.BADLANGUAGE. 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 • . presentations share many of the problems with other corporate communication. The problem is that most presentations are stressful for the speaker and tedious for the audience. People came to hear you speak. there are some specific changes that can improve a PowerPoint presentation: • The presentation works for you.” says Edward Tufte in his Wired article.

iStockphoto. Slideshare.BadLANGUAGE. Treating a slide like a Word document is the most common mistake in presentation design. A well-chosen image with a few words can have more impact than a page full of bullet points. quotations. Shutterstock. A good quotation can be as powerful as a good picture. 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 . the greater the impact. Use it in place of your normal presentation and see whether people pay more attention. are all good sources of pictures for presentations.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 26 DAY DAY • Fewer words. Cartoonbank. • • • tODAY’s EXERCIsE Create a presentation that follows the 10-20-30 rule and which uses strong images on every page.net and TED both have great examples. More images. The fewer the words. Garr Reynolds has published a lost of online sources for quotations. You can learn a lot from watching great presentations by other people. watch other presentations.

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

it felt as if there simply weren’t enough hours in the day. Think of it as going to the gym for your writing muscles. 6am. it becomes a self-sustaining habit. This is how I did it: 1. But you’ll still need to take the time to do your research properly and to edit and rewrite your copy. your productivity will increase without affecting quality. for heaven’s sake! But recently. The point is to set a time and stick to it. I’m a writer. so that I could do a couple of hours. write my blog and catch up my email before everyone else started work (and started sending me emails and phoning me).BadLANGUAGE. 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. Initially. I aimed to get up early every weekday for a month. By separating writing tasks from other work-a-day activities. It helps to write something every day. A regular schedule or habit helps. Set myself a goal. you will improve your concentration and productivity. So I decided to make a habit of getting up earlier. It proved true in this case. In my case. I read somewhere that if you can make a new routine stick for a month. 103 . you will quickly become a better and more productive writer. you’ll need to find time to do it. That extra hour or two a day was enough for me to write 500+ articles on my blog and this book. when I’ve had a lot of work stacking up and I’ve added a blog into my daily routine. With practice. I wrote this book and the blog that preceded it by getting up earlier.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 believe that if you can find the time – every day – to focus on writing. 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. Decided what time I wanted to get up.

Tracked my progress using Joe’s Goals. 5. addicted as I am.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 27 DAY DAY 3.BadLANGUAGE.000+ words a day. writing and editing. What happens is this: either I wake up and cancel the alarm or I get up and answer the call to stop it ringing. Second. Don’t want to trip over everything trying to do basic tasks when I’m half asleep. First.”) Stephen King writes 2. computer and breakfast ready the night before. 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. 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. (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. intimate business it is hard to treat it like a company might treat a factory. In the UK. RULE OF tHUMB 1.000 words a day. we’re strongly programmed to answer the phone. Factoring in time for research. I also used a little Post-it note on my monitor and ticked off the days. you dial *55*0605# to do this. Alarms. the more I like it. convict-style. The more I use this website. 6.000 publishable words per working day – although the work is usually done in stages over a longer calendar period. I reckon on producing an average of 1. but measuring productivity is vital if you write for a living. I didn’t have Outlook open all the time. Get clothes. I used to track these kinds of routine. 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. 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 . habitual things using recurring tasks in Outlook but it was a bit fiddly and. 4. promised myself a reward. Because writing is a subjective. This technique works every time but I had previously reserved it for early morning trips to the airport and things like that.

9. If I describe myself as a punctual. I get up at 6am’. Naps. early-rising. If you overdraw by getting up early. Sleep is like money in the bank. Boast widely about your new early-birdiness. you have to pay in some other time. I suspect that over time the body adjusts to less sleep – most army people get by on less sleep than the rest of us. 8. It makes me feel good to tell people ‘Oh.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 27 DAY DAY 7. ‘We are the stories we tell about ourselves’. 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 did this by having short naps after lunch. In the long run. 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 . Also. Like jet lag. 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. enterpreneurial writer genius).BadLANGUAGE. for example – but this seems to happen over a longer period than a month. Initially. efficiency robot then maybe that’s what I’ll become (when I’m not a bohemain. the adjustment is a little painful but it only took a week or two to get used to the new routine. Earlier nights. my friend Stuart says.

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

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

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

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.” – OLIVER WEnDELL HOLMEs . he is a pedant.BADLANGUAGE. two to one.

110 .BadLANGUAGE. A good writer should be able to follow a corporate style guide and adapt their work to the audience and client.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. but don’t get hung up if they haven’t done exactly the same thing elsewhere. The advice below is based on my own experience. what its objectives are (why is it being written). what style guidelines and language will be used (for instance. • 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). Ask for references. Check that your writer has professional indemnity insurance. A good writer should be able to research new topics effectively.’ 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. Meet the writer (not just the account manager) and make sure there’s a good ‘chemistry. Selection • Look for writers with a track record of work in a similar format or subject. marketing or PR agencies. Many of these scribblers are hidden inside design.

• You can reasonably expect a good writer to help with this process. they should be able to provide independent sources for any facts and statistics that they use in their work. • • 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. tell them.BadLANGUAGE. 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. research. It should. Like anyone in business. writers like to get positive feedback. is grammatical and that makes sense. When it comes to fact-checking. a high-level outline of the contents and any supplementary contact information or additional resources the writer may need. what the deadline is. even draft a briefing document for you based on your instructions. writing and editing. Management • • Like most people. Understanding a little about how they work will help you understand what progress they are making. 111 • . You should expect to receive work that is spelled correctly. Writers tend to think in terms of deadlines. work goes through a fact-checking and proofreading stage before being released to clients. writers will try to schedule their work. naturally. If they’ve done a good job. At Articulate. you should expect a writer to keep meticulous notes and voice recordings of any interviews they carry out. the length in words.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 29 DAY DAY American English or British English). drafts and word counts and chunk up their time in units of interviews. Similarly. meet the brief.

that trademarks are properly written out or that job titles are correct. clichés and making the same mistake twice. most major rework arises from a faulty brief or one that changes during the assignment. review the way you select. starting work without an agreed brief. especially when you start working with a new writer. you shouldn’t have to deal with a writer’s ego. the more likely you are to get a satisfactory result. unpardonable sins include: missing a deadline. In my experience. That said. for example. The more specific you are. brief and manage them and see if there are any ways you can do it better. If you work with agencies.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. contractors or directly with writers. If the work doesn’t do what you expected. Minor tweaks like this are fine. explain why not and request changes. In my view.BadLANGUAGE. • • • • 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 .

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

what you liked. Write one awesome thing today. 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 . Just three challenges: tODAY’s EXERCIsEs 1. Make a writing plan for the next 31 days.BADLANGUAGE. 3. 2. 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 didn’t.

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