5 tips to becoming a better business writer
No, we’re not all professional writers; we aren’t all going to write the Great American Novel, but every one of us is a writer – whether we like it or not. Yes, you write every day, and I contend that makes you a business writer. I learned a lot about writing from two people, my stepson and Ann Handley.
We’ll start with the kiddo. When my stepson was about 10, he hated writing. He reminded my wife and I of it ALL THE TIME. And when I say hate, I mean he hated writing more than taking out the trash, cleaning up after the dogs, cleaning his room and eating the worst vegetables. He would turn every writing assignment, no matter how small (seriously, like a sentence) into an ordeal. He would procrastinate, say “I don’t know how” over and over and take the whole family down with him as we fought to help him meet deadlines. Good, good memories.
During that time, he would say two things that made me sad:
- I’m not a good writer.
- I’m not going to be a writer, so what does it matter?
At the time, I had little ammunition to answer to those declarations.
“You’re right, you may not become a writer, and writing well takes practice,” I’d say.
That didn’t help, at all.
He was right, and he was using the same excuse I used for math when I was his age. I’d ball up my fists in a fit of rage and frustration and exclaim, “I hate math, I’m not going to be a mathematician, so what’s the point?”
My teachers and parents said I’d use math no matter what I do for a living. And, they are right.
Well, sort of. I have never needed to solve for sin, cosine or tangent as a marketer.
But I do use math, and often. And that’s more to the point: maybe I didn’t need the advanced stuff, but I needed to be proficient beyond the basics.
The same is true for writing. Maybe he won’t write the Great American Novel, but I know he will write in his job – it’s inevitable.
I wish that I had known Ann Handley at the time. Or that she had published her Everybody Writes book earlier. I had to wait until 2014 to hear the words I needed on the subject of writing. I was in Cleveland Ohio for Content Marketing World and was excited to see Ann speak. I knew her from MarketingProfs but had no idea she was about to publish a new book.
In her presentation, she introduced the premise her book covers in full detail – we are all writers. To her point, “If you have a website, you are a publisher. If you write on social media, you are in marketing. And that means we are all writers.”
Think about it, how many emails did you send today? That was all writing, and I’m sure you’d agree that the words you chose were important. They not only conveyed a business message, but they also helped the receiver know a little more about you, your personality, and so much more. What (and how) you write tells people a lot about who you are.
That’s the ammunition I needed with my son.
But is it true?
Yes, and I was reminded of it a few days ago as I leafed through the Sunday edition of the New York Times. In the business section’s Corner Office feature, Basecamp CEO, Jason Fried re-confirmed everything I believe about the importance of writing.
When asked, “How do you hire?” he responds, “Our top hiring criteria — in addition to having the skills to do the job — is, are you a great writer? You have to be a great writer to work here, in every single position, because the majority of our communication is written, primarily because a lot of us work remotely but also because writing is quieter. And we like long-form writing where people really think through an idea and present it.”
There you have it- more proof, no matter what you do, that writing is important to your job.
But what do you do if you don’t like writing? Aren’t good at it? I’d recommend five things.
5 Tips to becoming a stronger business writer
- Grammarly: It’s fantastic online tool with a free version that attaches as a plugin to your browser and can even be added as a widget to Gmail and MS Outlook (PC version only). It catches your spelling and grammar errors in real time and suggests changes. It’s so much better than standard spell check.
- Read Everybody Writes: Again, it’s a great book, but more than that, it offers useful advice on how to become a better writer.
- Spell check often: run spell check and then run it again. It’s really that simple.
- Re-read everything before you share it or send it: Proofreading your own work is hard, but it’s important. I recommend writing something, even an email, stepping away for a few minutes, and then coming back and reading it with fresh eyes – very slowly. Read every word.
- Find a proofreader you trust: For bigger projects, find a friend or co-worker that can look over what you’ve written. A fresh set of eyes always helps!
Incidentally, my step-son has become a great writer. I am confident I had nothing to do with it – I believe it was a few stellar teachers and time that made the difference. He still doesn’t really like it, but that’s a completely different story.