Reading Your Way to Better Writing


 

Writing matters.  More than ever.

Why?  Because writing has replaced talking.  Phone calls are rare (other than those ridiculous bi-coastal conference calls with too many people).  Email is how we communicate, especially in business.  When we aren’t emailing, we’re texting or tweeting or updating status.  We write all the time.

Heck, we even communicate through the “comments” section of Word documents.

Look at the explosion of online written communications in the last few years:

  • More than 294 billion emails were sent every day worldwide, according to Radicati Group in 2010.  That’s 2.8 million emails per second.
  • More than 1.5 trillion text messages were sent in 2009, according to DHText.com.
  • Text message users send an average of 42 messages per day, according to Pew Research.
  • 90% of Internet users send and receive email, according to the Pew Research.
  • 76% of people said they are using email more now than three years ago, according to the Direct Marketing Association.
  • People write 400 million tweets per day, according to Twitter.

Yet bad writing is epidemic.  As Inc. Magazine noted recently: “What’s bad, boring, and barely read all over? Business writing.”

The bad writing disease seems to be worse among younger professionals.  This from The Daily Telegraph:

“The lack of basic literacy skills among some younger employees and recent graduates has become such a problem for businesses that some are introducing language and grammar lessons.”

How can you become a better writer?  Here are three tips (and the books to help you get better):

1.) Learn Punctuation.

Punctuation matters.  More than you think.  Here is a sentence without punctuation: “A woman without her man is nothing”

Here is the same sentence punctuated in two different ways:

  • “A woman, without her man, is nothing.”
  • “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

The meaning of the sentence changes dramatically with different punctuation.  When you don’t use punctuation correctly you aren’t communicating effectively.

Read: Eats, Shots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation

2. Write with Creativity

Two ways to say it:

  • The problem with a lot of business prose is that it can be quite bland.
  • Business writing is as tasteless as a cardboard sandwich.

When you write dull – you get dull.  Creativity is the key.  Write like you mean it.  Write with metaphors, similes, and style.  Once upon a time journalism was adrift in the same tedious lifeboat.  Everyone wrote in the inverted pyramid style.  Just the facts.  But journalism rescued itself with a creative Renaissance by borrowing techniques from fiction.

Business writers can do the same.

Read: Writing Down the Bones, Bird by Bird

3. Edit your Prose

First drafts are terrible.  They generally feature a fat helping of misspellings, bad punctuation, and creaky grammar.  Not only that, but first drafts tend to be long.

Good editing fixes mistakes and sharpens the writing.  Editing your work should apply across platforms: from tweets and emails to reports and blog posts.  When you write fast and fire off without reviewing – you end up with sloppy work.  Or worse – writing that other people don’t understand.

Read: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, The Copyeditor’s Handbook

What about you?  Any tips you’d like to share on how to become a better writer?  What writing books would you recommend?

Links:

“Why Is Business Writing So Awful?” from Inc. Magazine

“Is Bad Grammar Affecting Your Career?” from the Daily Telegraph

Bad Blogging: A Guide

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