Business Writing: What Works, What Won't

Business Writing: What Works, What Won't

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250075499
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 12/08/2015
Edition description: Third Edition, Revised
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 466,944
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Wilma Davidson, Ed. D. is a writing and presentation-skills coach. Her clients include corporations throughout the Fortune 500. She is the author of Most Likely to Succeed at Work: How to Get Ahead at Work Using Everything You Learned in High School, Writing a Winning College Application Essay and Business Writing: What Works, What Won't. She lives in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, and Longboat Key, Florida.

Read an Excerpt

Business Writing: What Works, What Won't

By Wilma Davidson

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 Wilma Davidson, Ed.D.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8698-8


From Procrastination to Power: Writing Painlessly and Well

Good writing is good business. Bad writing isn't. To be successful in sales, marketing, finance, engineering, law, personnel, and in virtually every field, you need to write well. In fact, your business writing can serve as persuasive evidence of your competence, your personality, your management style. It's as plain and simple — and frightening — as that.

And, undoubtedly, that fright (those panicky waves in your brain that light out in all directions each time you have to write) has put this newly updated edition in your hands. I wrote it as I did the earlier editions, to do away with your discomfort, to demystify writing and editing, to help you write easily and well. While I can't promise that you'll finish the book loving to write, I do promise that you'll hate writing less — and distribute a better memo, letter, or report as a result of using this practical guide. Whether you are writing an email to a coworker or a proposal to an international client, this book will help.

It offers up-to-date examples and answers, and because it's arranged in units, you can pick it up, do a little work, put it down, and return to it later without having to start over. It doesn't treat improving your written work as if it were a moral issue (although it could be); nor does it assume that the fate of the world hinges upon your perfect prose (although it might). But, with wit and wisdom, it does encourage you and show you how to write better. It will sustain you from your first to your final draft.

For more than thirty years, in one-on-one consultations, in seminars and talks, and in published articles, I've worked to help clients be competent in and feel confident about their writing. Clients who admit their negative attitude about the task. Clients who get stuck at the sight of a blank page or screen. Clients who are disorganized and fuzzy about what to write and what tone to take. Clients who are wordy because they don't know how not to be. Clients who retreat behind a desk in embarrassment — and anger — after their manager has red-penned their grammatical and mechanical errors and, possibly, their career.

If these clients and their writing sound familiar, you've found the book you need. Its advice, anecdotes, and exercises have proven successful in corporate and academic classrooms across the globe and have improved the business writing of countless clients and college students aspiring to be successful communicators. And those results have encouraged me to encourage you in this newly updated third edition.


Where to Begin to Improve How can you begin to improve your writing?

1. Accept that you have to write, for visibility, credibility, promotion. In fact, business people spend 30–40 percent of their work time writing.

2. Dispel these myths:

* Having more words is better. Consider your office desk and computer. Are your IN boxes and OUT boxes stacked with documents that attempt to sound impressive and important but are filled with dead words and redundant expressions? It's easy to find pages of long-windedness and disorganization — remnants, perhaps, from misguided teaching that emphasized big words and lengthy phrases. People worry that if something is simply stated it can't be intelligent. So they write "pursuant to our agreement" instead of "as we agreed" and "in the normal course of our procedure" rather than "normally."

But having more words is not better. Quantity does not equal quality. In fact, it usually achieves the reverse. Verbiage is inherently inefficient. And the resulting lack of clarity ends up costing companies much — in dollars, wasted hours, and frustration.

* Correct writing is good writing. Ask workers and managers if their reports are well written. Whether they say yes or no, they will likely base their opinion on grammatical considerations — subject-verb agreement, correct verb tenses, whether there are split infinitives and sentence fragments. Certainly usage and the accepted mechanics of written English are important. But just because something is written correctly doesn't mean it's written effectively. The next time you read a memo or report, ask yourself: Is it interesting, engaging, clever, concise, logical, easy to follow? Good writing is all of these — and more.

* Business writing is not creative writing. Some writing tasks are more routine than others, requiring, perhaps, less creativity. But other writing tasks — such as answering complaints and dealing appropriately with sticky, irksome, or negative situations — require your creative energies to get the results you want. Business writing at its best is a form of problem solving and calls for fresh thinking, imagination, and original, clear language.

3. Believe you can improve. Good writers are made, not born.

4. Practice, using some useful techniques.

5. Listen to good advice. Read on!


Qualities of Powerful Writing

Just what is good business writing? Exactly how do you spot it? What makes a memo memorable? Consider these qualities, which will assuredly keep your writing healthy.

* * *

Qualities of Powerful Writing

Sense of Audience Anticipates reader's needs

Right Tone Is eventempered, respectful

Informative Content Has substance — says something clearly

Movement Goes somewhere and has a sense of order

Helpful Format Looks good on the page, is easy to read, scan, and retrieve information from

Conciseness Uses concrete, selective, precise words; is brief but complete

Voice Sounds like one human being talking to another; has a strong, credible imprint of the writer; characterizes the writer; makes reader believe

Originality Says something new or something old in a new way

Rhythm Sounds effortless, natural

Good Mechanics Observes conventions of spelling, punctuation, and usage; uses enlightened control by knowingly and occasionally bending the rules to create a special effect.

* * *

Rank the following three samples according to the Qualities of Powerful Writing. Identifying the poor, the passing, the practically perfect — and what makes each so — should be easy.

Version #1

* * *

TO: All Employees Who Are Paid Monthly

FROM: The Payroll Department

RE: Your October Paychecks

Regretfully we are writing to advise each of you that have recently signed up for the direct deposit of your paychecks and those of you who have previously been having your pay directly deposited that the arrangement of which we wrote in our September memo is not yet in effect. (Copies of this memo are available upon written request, directed to this office.) What we expected to have happened by the close of the present month will not take place, due to unanticipated technicalities of both an electronic and bureaucratic nature. If you are enrolled already in the direct deposit program for your paycheck, please be advised that we will be unable to have your pay directly deposited to your bank or other type of financial institution according to the schedule we had announced in our earlier communication, mentioned above. If you have not yet enrolled in this program, but were planning to do so at your earliest convenience, be advised that you should do with your paycheck as you were previously accustomed to.

This decision was made to facilitate a problem-free transition from the former system in use to a new system, which promises to expedite the speed with which your monthly earnings become available for meeting your financial needs and requirements of whatever nature. We strongly felt the need to extend the trial prenotification period to a second month was essential as the potential existed that certain wire transfers would be processed unsuccessfully if we went "live" with our automatic deposit plan in a precipitous fashion. Rest assured, however, that each monthly paid employee will, by one channel or another, receive their expected compensation.

We deeply regret any inconvenience this may have caused you, however, we are confident that all the technicalities mentioned above will be laid to rest in a short time frame, and that those of you who are enrolled in the direct deposit program will have your checks directly deposited by the close of the month of November, at the worst, December.

Thank you for your patience as we implement this new and exciting program. If you disagree with our policy, or if you have any questions or comments, you should of course feel perfectly free to contact one of our trained payroll specialists at extension 5432. We will be happy to meet your needs in whatever ways we can do so.


[] Poor

[] Passing

[] Practically perfect

* * *

Version #2

* * *

TO: All Employees Who Are Paid Monthly

FROM: The Controller's Office

RE: Direct Deposit of Payroll

Regretfully I am writing to inform those of you who have recently signed up for direct deposit of payroll and for those employees who previously have been having their pay directly deposited that we will be unable to have your pay automatically deposited at your bank or financial institution for the October 25 payroll.

Each monthly paid employee will, however, receive a paycheck as was the case for September. This decision was made to ensure a smooth transition to this new system. I felt the need to extend the trial prenotification period to a second month was essential as the potential existed that certain wire transfers would be made inaccurately if we went "live" with the automatic deposit in October.

I apologize for the inconvenience this may cause you. However, we are confident that all of the kinks will be worked out in October and all automatic deposits of payroll will occur with the November 25 payroll.


[] Poor

[] Passing

[] Practically perfect

* * *

Version #3

* * *

TO: Employees Enrolled in the Direct Deposit Plan

FROM: The Payroll Department

RE: Direct Deposit Delayed Until November

We're sorry. In September we announced our plan to deposit your October paycheck directly in your bank. But we need to postpone this until November, to ensure that all the wire transfers can be performed swiftly and accurately.

So on October 25 our old procedure will still be in effect. You'll need to pick up your paycheck and deposit it yourself.

We regret the delay. Thanks for your patience!


[] Poor

[] Passing

[] Practically perfect

* * *

Compare your assessment of the previous samples to this one.

Even in a commonplace memo about direct deposit, it's not difficult to spot and differentiate bad writing from better. But recognizing what's inherent in powerful writing is one thing; achieving it, quite another. So let's continue our trek toward that goal.


Overcoming Page Fright

Scene 1: Your mouth gets dry. Your palms sweat. The muscles in your legs and neck begin to twitch. Your heart rate accelerates. You get up, pour yourself another cup of coffee, poke about your papers, and then begin to cross out, rip up, swear. Or, you stare at the empty screen defiantly facing you, type in a few words, delete them, press more keys, and start all over again.

Why? You have to write. Not necessarily something monumental like next year's market plan or your yearly performance review. A 150-word email, for many, is enough to instigate a full-fledged case of page fright.

Scene 2: "The purpose of this memo ..." (No, that's a lousy opening.)

"It has come to my attention that ..." (Yuk! That's even worse.)

"You must consider ..." (Good grief! Sounds as if I'm giving orders here. I'd better start again.)

"..." (I'm blank! I just can't get started!)

Do these scenes sound familiar? For many of you, these paralyzing moments repeat themselves each time you start to write, flashing a red light and blocking your ability to draft words productively and quickly.

Even if you readily acknowledge the need to write, actually generating your correspondence may not happen quite so easily. Understandably.

Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables, forced himself to write by disrobing and giving his clothing to his valet with strict instructions that it not be returned until he had written the allotted pages. Demosthenes took another tack: He shaved half his head, thus forcing himself to remain inside — to write — until he could reappear without shame in public. (Today he'd appear perfectly normal in public, head half shaven!) While your procrastination may not be so dramatic as either of theirs, it is nonetheless to be reckoned with. For writing is an amazingly complex act that requires several, often conflicting skills. To write well, then, it's helpful to understand these varying and sometimes opposing skills, and to recognize that there is more than one path to effective business writing.

Two skills most commonly in conflict are the natural ability to generate ideas and the natural tendency to edit those ideas the moment they appear on paper or screen (if not sooner!). These two skills often get in the way of each other — largely because the editor in your head is a ruthless tyrant, unsympathetic to your struggle, and because the natural writing process seems to involve your moving back and forth among the stages of composing: incubating ideas, then generating them, crossing out, stopping, planning, reviewing, moving forward, stopping, crossing out, reviewing, generating ...

To generate easily and quickly requires freedom. Freedom from the pressure of a critical editor who is all too ready (and able) to tell you to change your ideas or spell your words right. Freedom from worry over how you sound as you draft. Freedom from concern over the correctness of your punctuation in the early stages of your writing.

Yet to write concisely, clearly, and powerfully requires an objective, even relentless, editor who demands for you to not just get your ideas across but also to write them correctly. Even for the professional writer, that's a lot to ask.

How, then, in this conflicting process, can you accomplish good writing? Read on!


Getting Started: Strategies That Work When Writing for Yourself — or for Your Manager

If you struggle to get those first words down (because your critical editor won't let you generate before criticizing), the following advice may help.

* Assume a "can do" attitude. Don't wait for the muse. Stop being your own worst enemy. You can write.

* Give yourself permission to say it the wrong way before you say it the right way. The big problem people have when they sit down to write is wanting to express themselves perfectly the first time. While that does happen occasionally, the truth is that good writing is re writing. Focus your initial energy on capturing all the content and ideas you believe belong in your final draft. Be concerned with what you have to say, not how you're saying it. Remember, being too critical of yourself early in your writing can get you hung up. Trust the process. It doesn't have to start out right as long as it ends up that way.

* Give yourself a deadline — say ten or twenty minutes — for writing that first, fast, zero draft. Write nonstop, trying not to separate the writing from the thinking at this point. You will find that the act of moving your pencil or pen across the paper, or your fingers across the keyboard, will activate your thinking — much more so than staring out the window or up at the ceiling waiting for the right words to come. Moving words across a page or screen, even if they aren't the precise words you want, will help you arrive at the right ones. The hand, eye, and brain need practice working together. Don't put the total burden on your brain to think it out before it reaches the paper. In fact, the writing will help you clarify your ideas and help you discover new ones. As one famous writer put it, "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" Nonstop writing will help you overcome resistance to writing. Aim for quantity, not quality, at first. The value of stopwatch writing is in getting started easily, not in what you first produce.

Here are specific deadline-writing techniques for getting your first, fast, zero draft done — and for inviting fresh insights to enliven your workday writing, insights that often elude you when you use only an outline to get started. Even if your projects are purely quantitative, getting-started techniques will help breathe life into your writing — especially if you feel bored by and unconnected to your topic and/or burdened by having to document it.

1. Begin with a bogus first sentence. It doesn't matter if it's as trite as "Here's what I think ...," "I'm writing this to persuade you to ...," or "What I'm trying to say is ..." The value of the bogus sentence is that it gets you to the point(s) you need to make. Like training wheels on a bicycle, the bogus sentence starter can be removed later.


Excerpted from Business Writing: What Works, What Won't by Wilma Davidson. Copyright © 2015 Wilma Davidson, Ed.D.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



INTRODUCTION: Why I Wrote This Book

PART 1: What This Book Can Do for You

1. From Procrastination to Power: Writing Painlessly and Well
2. Where to Begin to Improve
3. Qualities of Powerful Writing

PART 2: Getting the Writing Going

4. Overcoming Page Fright
5. Getting Started: Strategies that Work

PART 3: Showcasing Your Ideas and Information Through Organization, Format, and Sentence Structure

6. Organizing Your Message
Get to the Bottom Line!
How to Tell a Bottom-Line Statement from a Purpose Statement
Bottom-Lining Exercises
When Not to Bottom-Line
Organizing the Rest of the Document
7. Formatting Ideas to Clarify Your Message
Write Headlines That Help
Use "Chunking" to Organize Your Thoughts
Chunking Exercises
Use Tables, Graphs, and Other Visuals to Give the Big Picture Fast
Use PowerPoint Slides to Aid Your Oral Presentations
Summary of Techniques That Showcase Your Ideas and Reveal Your Knack for Organizing
8. Structuring Your Sentences—to Clarify Your Intent and Add Style
Combine Sentences to Create Emphasis and Eliminate Wordiness
Combine Sentences to Present Ideas of Parallel Importance
Focus on Emphasis
Focus on Eliminating Wordiness
Vary Sentence Length to Create Rhythm
Eight Ways to Add Emphasis and Elegance to Sentences

PART 4: Choosing Your Words Wisely for Conciseness and Consideration

9. Getting Rid of Sentence Clutter
Cutting Out Ten Forms of Clutter
10. Tempering Your Tone
Considering Your Reader, Yourself, and Tone
Avoiding the Negative by Accentuating the Positive
Delivering Unpopular Messages
Using Humor
Banishing Bias

PART 5: Getting It Right: The Basics of Grammar and Spelling

11. Grappling with Grammar
The Seven Deadly Sins of Grammar
Bungle Rules
Frequently Asked Questions About Grammar . . . And Their Answers
Formal Grammar Rules You Can Bend
12. Spelling
What if You're a Lousy Speller?
Easily Misspelled Words
Forming Plurals from Our Strange Language

PART 6: Writing Quickly and Well

13. Deadline Writing: A Process for Getting It Started, Keeping It Going, Getting It Right
Phase One: Helter-Skelter Writing—the Zero draft
Phase Two: Hocus-Pocus Organizing
Phase Three: Ruthless Editing

PART 7: Talking to Other Writers—and to Your Micro Recorder

14. An E-mail Quick Guide
15. Collaborating
Giving Feedback to Others
A Word to the Wise Manager: How to Encourage Employees to be Responsible for Their Writing
16. Dictating
Can I Convince You to Try It?

pard A Process for Productive Dictating

APPENDIX: Guidelines and Model Letters
Customer Follow-up/Recap/Thank you
Confirming/Directive Memos
Encouraging the Team/Team Update
Meeting Minutes
Providing/Requesting Information


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Business Writing : What Works, What Won't 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
KlonnieMo More than 1 year ago
Was used for a college business class. It was very educational and non-threatening. Reading was easy and very full of information. Gave examples of what to do and what not to do. Gave good examples of what to say and how to say it. Gave examples of business letters and emails. Very good easy reading. Every student in the class gave this book good reviews. Each student spoke of the very funny quips that were in each chapter. Each chapter covered its topic very thoroughly and in depth. Gave examples of each teaching and was very informational. Very good book for all to read.