Monday, February 22, 2016

Writing it Right

Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the ability to engage, to make one think, to give a glimpse into someone’s head.” – Malcolm Gladwell

Aptly said, good writing is one that has the power to engage its readers, and stir a response from them, thereby fulfilling its very purpose. One’s style of writing reflects their personality. Today in business, from lords of finance to programmers who dream in code, everyone needs to write intelligently. By using simple, clear, precise language, and following a few other basic writing rules, you can become a better communicator and improve the prospects for your career.

We probably write on the job all the time: proposals to clients, memos to senior executives, a constant flow of emails to clients and colleagues. Hence, writing as clear and effective as possible becomes all the more imperative. According to experts, overworked managers with little time might think that improving their writing is a tiresome or even frivolous exercise. But knowing how to fashion an interesting and intelligent sentence is essential to communicating effectively, winning business, and setting yourself apart. “As Marvin Swift memorably said, clear writing means clear thinking.” You may have all the great ideas in the world, unless you can communicate, nobody will hear them. Luckily, everyone has the capacity to improve, says Bryan Garner, author of The HBR Guide to Better Business Writing. Effective writing “is not a gift that you’re born with,” he says. “It’s a skill that you cultivate.” (Source -

Here’s how to write simply, clearly, and precisely.

• Keep it Short: Start by writing short, declarative sentences. Never use a long sentence with too many expressions, where a short one will do. Be ruthless about self-editing; if you don’t need a word, cut it. However, brevity should never compromise on quality and completeness; don’t miss out on significant details, compromising on the quality of the message.

• Avoid Jargons: Never use a foreign phrase, an industry specific or scientific word, or any kind of jargon if you can think of an English equivalent, especially when your writing is not directed to the people from the same sector or industry.

• Simplicity: When composing an e-mail, make your point and move on. Write one idea per paragraph. If your big idea isn’t in the first paragraph, put it there. Start by asking yourself what you want the reader to do as a result of this e-mail. This is how one can add purpose to the writing.

• Be direct: Use active voice instead of passive voice. Active verbs help to reinforce your text. Instead of writing “The meeting was led by Tom,” write: “Tom led the meeting.” Passive voice could be used, however, to convey negative information. It’s better to write, “The confusion was caused by the report,” than, “the report caused a confusion.” Use a straightforward sentence structure–subject, verb, object–that people can read and understand quickly.

• Grammar: Whenever possible, use active instead of passive verbs. Active verbs help to energize your prose. Instead of writing “The presentation will be completed by us,” write: “We will complete the presentation.” Use a direct sentence structure–subject, verb, object–that people can read quickly.

- Sumit Chakravarty (Faculty), INLEAD

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