Business writing doesn’t exactly stir the soul, does it?
We bloggers love to wallow in poetry and fiction, but out there in real life, most writing is conducted in a cubicle. And grudgingly so. Lots of employees have to report on or otherwise document business activities or research findings, but few enjoy it.
I believe many people dread writing because they don’t know how to turn something dull and confusing into something readable. A single blog post can’t teach someone to write well but, if your pain at work is writing, the tips below can help.
Oh. If your other pain at work is your boss, let me know. I bust knee-caps for $50 and make people disappear for $200.
Legal disclaimer: The preceding two sentences are intended for comic relief. I would never make someone’s boss disappear for less than $500.
On to the business-writing shenanigans!
Here’s what you need to get started:
1. Fingers for typing (or a plastic bird-beak mask so you can peck the keys)
2. Something to say
3. Relevant data to fill up the body of the report, which no one is going to read.
I can’t help with the first thing, but, for real, don’t start writing until you know what you want to say.
Let’s pretend your company decided to try powering its truck fleet with dry macaroni noodles instead of gasoline and your boss asked you to submit a report on why this endeavor didn’t (or, you know, did) work. When scanning that request, you’ll note the word “why.”
That’s it! Your report will state why it was stupid to pour macaroni noodles into your trucks’ gas tanks. Sometimes “what” and “how” can be useful starting points as well, depending on the report. “When” is for losers.
Here’s what you do next:
1. Wish you had time to write an outline, which you don’t, because your boss only gave you eight minutes.
2. Organize your thoughts before you write, or you’ll write gibberish. Since you‘re making a point, you should state it right away. Don’t say all your trucks are blue in the opening line. Save that for the part you end up deleting because it doesn’t matter.
3. After you make your big statement, support it with data of descending importance, chronology, or whatever your template requires. If your company’s report structure hasn’t been formalized, just get the important information to the reader as soon as possible. For example, macaroni noodles clogging up the fuel injectors is more important than your drivers complaining about a shortage of macaroni-noodle refueling stations.
What belongs in a report (A.K.A. What makes the report good):
1. A logical sequence of statements that support the central point.
2. Tight, clean sentences with appropriate language for the reader. For example, if the report is intended for your CEO, who has never ever once lifted the hood of a car, don’t talk about torque, displacement, and bore stroke. However, if you are explaining to your technical crew why macaroni noodles are bad for truck engines, prepare to be laughed at.
3. Words that matter and nothing else. When trained, professional writers say, “Take out every word that does not add meaning,” they are talking about your report.
Notice how short that list is? Good writing is simple.
What does not go into a report (A.K.A. What makes the report bad):
1. Irrelevant information. Sometimes you go to the trouble to gather data, such as walking out to the back lot and noting that all your broken trucks are blue. It hurts to think you wasted your time, so you stick that in the report. My advice: Leave it out and just consider your newly acquired knowledge to be “personal growth.”
2. Inflated language. People are people, not “individuals.” Macaroni noodles are macaroni noodles, not “pasta-derived fuelstuff.” Inflated language does not make the writer sound smart. It makes the writer sound like she wants people to think she’s smart.
3. Flowery language. Business writing is about facts. Fact: “World-class Truck Operation and Navigation Specialists with a passion for only the highest quality freight-transportation experience” are also known as “truck drivers.”
4. Contractions. “Don’t” is ok in a blog post about business writing, but do not use it in a business report. Hehe. See what I just did?
5. This atrocity that makes me cringe. For God’s sake, please don’t say “In conclusion” or “In summation” at the beginning of a conclusion or summary. **Shudders**
6. Clichés. Self-starters with good oral and written communication skills don’t use clichés.
7. I could go on, but you have enough to think about.
Next time, I’ll do a bad versus good example.