If You’ve Ever Said “I Wasn’t Good at English in School” Read This!
My mom used to say (and maybe yours did, too!) “If I had a nickel for every time I…”
So now I’ll say it: If you and I had a nickel for everyone who has said to us, “I wasn’t good at English in school…” or “I used to hate English class…” or “I’m not a good writer…” or even “I just can’t write…” we could retire rich!
Let’s talk about this. What many of us were taught in school to think of as “writing” was actually formal writing – writing to be used in the academic environment – scholars writing to other scholars. And we used this writing style for assignments like term papers. Later, perhaps, for theses and dissertations.
Each of us owes a huge debt of gratitude to our long-suffering, dedicated teachers who built the incredibly important writing framework that has allowed us to have the job we have; to have accomplished what we have accomplished so far.
Correct grammar, spelling, and usage are critical for any type of writing. Yet the writing produced to work in the business environment can be very different from the writing produced to work in the academic environment.
Business writing is a tool – a way to get the job done.
Academic writing vs. business writing. Here are two very different types of writing to two very different types of readers for two very different purposes.
Let me give you the five things you must be very clear about before you begin to write if you want to write effectively in the business environment:
- Identify the piece you are going to write. A one-screen email? A 57-page attached report? A four-page proposal?
- Who are you writing to? What do you know about the reader? You probably know more than you think!
- Why are you writing? Are you writing to provide information only, and do not care what the reader does with it? Or are you writing to persuade the reader to take an action? To change how he or she is already doing something? To think a certain way? Specifically, what is it you want the reader to do?
- What is the relationship you want to reinforce, or to establish with this reader? What sorts of words or phrases fit this relationship? Tone is the relationship you, as the writer, set up with your reader.
- What are the points you want your reader to remember? Make a list. Organize your list into a logical sequence, e.g., time, procedural, importance.
Once you are clear on those five steps, just start writing.Give yourself a draft, something to work with. It may not be perfect at this point, and it doesn’t have to be. “Touch-ups” are so much easier, and so much faster than creating the perfect piece the first time.
Write a strong first paragraph that makes your point. Tell your reader who did/will do/should do what, when, where, why, and how.
Tighten up that first paragraph without losing any of these six elements. Eliminate unnecessary words, information, or phrases. You should have no more than five lines in that first paragraph. Probably one or two sentences will be about right, but not more than five lines.
Not more than five lines will work for at least 50% – probably more – of your emails if you follow these guidelines, significantly improving readership and comprehension.
Follow your organizational structure to complete a longer piece. Check grammar, spelling, and usage, making necessary changes.
To end this piece, you could summarize; tell the reader what to do; use an ending that reinforces the relationship you have set up with the reader; or – and sometimes the best option of all – just quit.
When you have the first five steps clearly in mind, your draft will go quickly. Make appropriate touch-ups – grammatical and content – and you should be good to go.