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

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

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

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

BadLANGUAGE. Think of readability as the ‘clickthrough’ rate for writing. 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. (A good shit detector. 5 . imagine you had a tool that could tell you how successful a piece of writing was at meeting these requirements.

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

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

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

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

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

This is just as true for business writing as it is in journalism. (If you work in a technology firm. They are the best way of understanding a complicated situation and seeing it from someone else’s perspective. find the story behind the story. write up your observations and use it in something you write. I quite like the journalistic connotation which is why I use the word. professional conversation. You go for a job interview or you face a press interview with equal anxiety. take notes. An expert inside your company who has something to contribute to something you are writing. think of it as a chat. a meeting or a conference call.BadLANGUAGE. Go to the shop floor. do it. 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. Interviews are the foundation of good reporting. But it is nothing more than a focused. 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 . when was the last time you actually talked to a programmer or engineer?) Avoid spokesrobots. 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. but if it makes you feel more comfortable. even if we choose not to believe it)? Interviews matter.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 2 DAY DAY INTErvIEw SOMEONE key point: understand the other person’s point of view The easiest and best way to become a better writer is to learn to see the world from your reader’s viewpoint. Plan it. Here are some examples of people you could interview: • • • Someone in another department who will read a report you are writing. The word ‘interview’ has negative connotations in business. book it. What I want you to do today is go and interview someone. A potential customer who might buy a product you want to sell.

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

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

I tend to say. 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. I like to introduce myself at the start of every interview. Do this genuinely if you can. 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. 6. How to record interviews.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. 1.200-1. subjective and personal. Be enthusiastic. Introduce yourself. 2. I think it is a courtesy to say so. It’s a courtesy. I tell people who I am. 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. I don’t record all my interviews. This means I have to come to the party dressed as myself. Transcribe interviews. Be yourself. A headset is a must and I use a Plantronics USB CS60 handsfree headset for Skype calls. 14 3.BadLANGUAGE. as it is charmingly known. Observe the legalities. My interview style is discursive. you have to tell people you’re recording a conversation because of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. This leaves both hands free for typing notes. I call it the government health warning. or RIPA. People like people who like them. They are also conditioned to think of an ‘interview’ as a potentially hostile situation and be on their guard. you should be upbeat and positive. I transcribe all my interviews so that I have a Word document on file for future reference. . stimulating conversation. if you can. my relationship to the publication I’m writing for and what the piece is about. ‘I’m keeping a record of this conversation to make sure I don’t forget anything. I like to do interviews on Skype and use HotRecorder to record them to MP3.500 words when transcribed. Consequently. Otherwise. but it’s also a kind of protection. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 4.’ Even if it weren’t a legal obligation. Doing it consistently means that any interviewee knows exactly where they stand. My favourite interviews are the ones where I find common ground with the person I’m talking to and we have a fun. In the UK. RULE OF tHUMB A 30-minute interview equates to roughly 1.

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

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

their names are what and whY and when and how and where and who. – 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.

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

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

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

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

You can do this as if it were a piece of short fiction. Don’t worry too much about the form or the language. 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 . as a newspaper article. 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. Try doing the same thing on your company’s last press release or website home page.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 4 DAY DAY Try reading a newspaper or magazine and seeing how its stories meet these criteria. or just a list of points in the order you want to make them. tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s exercise is to take what you observed.BadLANGUAGE. 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.

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 .BADLANGUAGE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 10 DAY DAY tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s exercise is to take a piece of existing text. 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.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 39 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY . and edit it to improve readability. perhaps from your current work or from a business website.

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

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

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

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

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.” – BECK .

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 . 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.BadLANGUAGE. how do people come up with the jargon that gets stuffed into business writing? Here is a list of some of the worst offenders (hat tip: BBC): • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Going forward Bandwidth Cascading Granularity Drill down Anything 2. I mean.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.

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

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

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

i never write policeman.” – 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.BADLANGUAGE.

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

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

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

Word has an autosummarise tool. Then edit it in Word so that it is 500 words long. it’s the way it’s always been done. then 50.000 words. Microsoft’s word count feature will help. document templates and web designs force people to write more words to fill an arbitrary space created by a graphic designer. you’ll earn their thanks and their attention. if you can find it. Also.”? 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. See what is left of the story at each stage.BadLANGUAGE. Press releases typically run to 500 words or more when 200-300 would do fine. Clients often ask me to write 1000-word case studies when half that is more readable and more engaging. Just search for ‘summarise’ in Help. Was it Mark Twain who wrote: “I’m sorry to write you such a long letter. Most business writing has too many words. Find a piece of writing that runs to about 1. More often. 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. Sometimes. it’s because people lack the will to do enough editing.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 15 DAY DAY USE FEwEr wOrDS key point: you don’t need as many words as you think Your readers spend more time reading other people’s work rather than yours. then 25. If you can get to the point and be brief about it. I didn’t have time to write a shorter one. Why is this? Partly. Two pages of A4 or a long online article will do. 53 . The end result still has to be readable and natural when you’ve finished it. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY tODAY’s EXERCIsE Today’s exercise is simple. Then take that version and cut it down to 100 words.

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 .BADLANGUAGE.

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

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

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

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

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

If you type ‘define:lugubrious’ (or whatever word you want) into Google.BadLANGUAGE. Notebook. Many people love Moleskine notebooks. • • • • • DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY • 60 . is not an act.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 17 DAY DAY • Mindmapping. I use one as a journal to scribble my thoughts in every day. you’ll get a selection of definitions. 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. but a habit. visual thesaurus.” I like Joe’s Goals. As Aristotle said. 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. a blank sheet of paper and a pen will do fine but I sometimes prefer using software such as ConceptDraw Mindmap or MindJet MindManager. Definitions on Google. Web designers seem to have a monopoly on the look and feel of websites. I scribble away and then I can shuffle the pages. This is a great way of getting your thoughts from your brain to the page. “We are what we repeatedly do. Forming habits. You can check Economist Style Guide online but it’s better to buy a paper copy for your reference shelf. not to manage my diary. Get a style guide. throw away the rubbish and file the notes once the story is completed. but as a simple reporter’s notebook. 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. therefore. I use a Filofax slimline organiser. I like Visual Thesaurus. This is useful to check if a word means what you think it means. It’s especially helpful when hunting for a good product name. but writing is important too. a free website that helps your encourage good habits. Of course. website mockup tools. There is a completely free alternative called Visuwords. Excellence.

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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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For example: ‘This piece should read like an article in the Economist or FT. white papers all have different meanings to different people so spell out EXACTLY what is required. either by providing content or approval? Typically. rights.’ Are there any special client requirements such as tone of voice. this lists everything so that the client has a clear understanding of what their tasks are. access to spokespeople. reports. Delivery format. Fees. data etc. trademark or style guides? If so. samples. have they been provided and is there a contact to review and assist with getting them right? Synopsis. What will the client provide to make the piece happen: interview contracts. press releases and. Are there any other parties who need to be involved. English or American English? Case studies. etc? Ideally. this can include PR or marcomms agencies. especially. 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. schedule. Client resources. 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. Microsoft Word? HTML? Are pictures required? Footnotes and sourcing? Documents intended for use online must be written differently from print documents. Third parties.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 18 DAY DAY • Style. Reference other media where appropriate. A paragraph long or bulleted summary of the piece setting out the main points and the running order. 64 . so this distinction is especially important to get clear.BadLANGUAGE.

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

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

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

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

if they do. Case studies can’t be written by committee. 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. not the name. Use case studies to support sales. 2. Go for the story. 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. they have the authority to approve it too. You need to find a champion for your case study inside the target company. 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. deal-closing economy and good customer evidence is the laser-guided bomb of marketing. they rewrite everything and take a long time to approve it. The reality is that these guys rarely want to give case studies and. Here are ten tips that will help you write and use great case studies. Better to find the willing customer with a good story. because I work in tech. 1. you can convince other people to buy it. Find a champion and build rapport. and them.BadLANGUAGE. Most marketing people lust after the hero case study with big brand recognition. Ideally. When it comes to PR. niche companies with a great spokesperson and a neat angle. The foundation of a good case study is a good interview. one-to-one relationship between me. real interviews with real people. I prefer to make first contact with this person. 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. the writer. I need a techie interview as well to get the facts right. By showing how real customers used your product or service.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. get their feedback and their sign-off so that every contact builds a friendly. 69 . Sometimes. representing the company. interview them. the most successful case studies I’ve written have been about unknown. We’re in a demand-generation. Too many cooks etc. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 3.

If it takes longer.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 20 DAY DAY 5.000 word case study. Apply your experience from the first few days of this course. Speed is everything. Companies change. Technology moves on. they answer the reader’s questions. it will likely fail. They have strict formats and guidelines for case studies and big agencies to enforce them. but it often seems that these controls limit the impact and spread of case studies. 1. 6. Good case studies should ripple quickly through company websites. If no knows about the case study or it tries to be all things to all people. A case study is an article. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY 10. Use the conventions of a newspaper article. Case studies have a short half-life. 1 DAY 2 DAY 3 DAY 4 DAY 5 DAY 6 DAY 7 DAY 8 DAY 9 10 DAY DAY DAY 9. This is fine and I can work with it. keep them short. powerful quotations (not frankenquotes). Think very hard about what a potential customer wants to know about a case study. It has to earn the reader’s interest and attention. Use good. ideally. Nobody has time to read a four-page. Each version needs to be written for its medium – web copy is not the same as printed copy or PowerPoint text. Avoid hype. Most of my big clients have central case study databases. Make them interesting. A PowerPoint ‘wincard’ version is also helpful for sales.BadLANGUAGE. 8. social networking. Use short legal agreements. It should be a crescendo not an endless low humming. not frighten them off. not a corporate press release. Ideally. Be specific. Write good headlines and strong ledes. Not only do they make the case study more credible. you want a 50-100 microcontent version to go on the website and to use as a verbal summary in a sales pitch. it increases the risk that the case study champion will lose interest. clichés. 70 . A case study release should reassure a candidate. Set them free. a good case study should take a week from first contact to approval. Details matter. jargon and corporate bullshit. I recommend 500 word case studies and. 7. 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. intranets and into the hands of sales peoples and customers by as many routes as 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 71 DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY DAY .NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 20 DAY DAY tODAY’s EXERCIsEs Today’s exercise is to write (or rewrite) a case study for a product or service from your company using what you have learned so far.BadLANGUAGE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BADLANGUAGE.” – JAKOB nIELsEn .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.

reader recall and subjective satisfaction). Respect the reader’s time. Remember these differences when reading the guidance in this section.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. Research by Jakob Nielsen shows that: • • • People don’t read everything they see. starting with the conclusion. People are busy and they don’t always have time to read your site. Eyetracking research shows that the majority hunt and scan around the page. 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. Start with a brief summary at the top of the page. Only 16 percent of readers actually read pages word by word. Give the reader a clue. Get to the point and stay there. Consider using an appropriate image to anchor the text and draw the reader’s eye. Websites are optional. There are several ways to make your writing more concise: 91 . They scan for what’s important to them. They underpin all the recommendations. DAY DAY DAY DAY 1 2 3 4 5 How to write for online reading Be clear. Use a journalist’s inverted pyramid structure. To do this: • • • • Write descriptive headlines that explain what the item is about. users read at most 28 percent of the words. halving the word count makes online copy 58 percent more usable (in terms of reading time. On an average web page. 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.BadLANGUAGE. Compared to printed text.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have seen corporate presentations with more than 170 slides. last no more than 20 minutes and contain no font smaller than 30 points. presentations share many of the problems with other corporate communication.BADLANGUAGE.” says Edward Tufte in his Wired article. 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. 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. didn’t they? The 10-20-30 rule. each full of text and diagrams. In addition.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. You don’t work for the presentation. there are some specific changes that can improve a PowerPoint presentation: • The presentation works for you. People came to hear you speak. illustrate and underline what you are saying but don’t read out the words on the slides. PowerPoint is evil. 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 • . I agree. The problem is that most presentations are stressful for the speaker and tedious for the audience. Guy Kawasaki’s advice is that a presentation should have ten slides. Typical problems include: • • • • • • • • • Too formal Too long Talking but not listening Humourless Overly corporate and robotic Focused on the script.

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

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

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

addicted as I am. 6. In the UK. Don’t want to trip over everything trying to do basic tasks when I’m half asleep. I used to track these kinds of routine. we’re strongly programmed to answer the phone. Tracked my progress using Joe’s Goals. This technique works every time but I had previously reserved it for early morning trips to the airport and things like that. The more I use this website. I didn’t have Outlook open all the time. 5.000+ words a day. 4.NET 30 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 27 DAY DAY 3. 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. 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.000 words a day. RULE OF tHUMB 1. First. I reckon on producing an average of 1.”) Stephen King writes 2. Alarms. but measuring productivity is vital if you write for a living. Second. computer and breakfast ready the night before. I also used a little Post-it note on my monitor and ticked off the days. What happens is this: either I wake up and cancel the alarm or I get up and answer the call to stop it ringing. Factoring in time for research. promised myself a reward. (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.BadLANGUAGE. convict-style. the more I like it. you dial *55*0605# to do this. intimate business it is hard to treat it like a company might treat a factory. 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. 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. Get clothes. writing and editing. Because writing is a subjective.000 publishable words per working day – although the work is usually done in stages over a longer calendar period.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just three challenges: tODAY’s EXERCIsEs 1.NET 10 DAYS TO BETTER BUSINESS WRITING 30 DAY DAY FINAL ExErCISE No advice today. 3. Send me an email to tell me how you got on. Make a writing plan for the next 31 days. what you liked. what you didn’t. 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 .BADLANGUAGE. 2.

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