Monday, June 1, 2015

Book Spotlight: "Business Writing Today: A Practical Guide"

This week, we caught up with author Natalie Canavor, whose new book, Business Writing Today: A Practical Guide, is out now.

Business Writing Today is a self-help book for people who want to write better at work. Canavor, who has written several books on this topic, is brimming with great ideas and strategies to improve your business communication. Check out her take on business writing in the digital era in our special Q&A.  

GG: What made you want to write this book, and who is the target audience?
NC: Research, and my own experience, tells me that most young people today write badly. Few are able to figure out what to say, and even fewer are able to say it well. This hurts them when they compete for career opportunities, and if they are hired, most don’t function as well as they could. But it isn’t just young people’s poor writing that produces a huge problem for today’s organizations; most business communication is awful. This results in very expensive mistakes, misunderstandings, and unnecessary conflicts.

Business Writing Today is a self-help book for people who want to improve their everyday writing—emails, resumes, elevator speeches, proposals, blogs, and so on—in order to get what they want.

Why do good writing skills matter in today’s digital marketplace?
In the digital world, so much depends on writing. You won’t get in many doors without a good elevator pitch, resume, proposal, sales letter, blog, and/or networking message. In a world where we meet less and talk less, we make decisions and judge others based on their writing.

And there are no captive audiences anymore. Surrounded by so much to read, so much media, we are all extremely selective. If we want to be read, the academic models most of us learned in school don’t work. Good business writing isn’t about strict correctness and impressive language. It’s about knowing how to attract and hold your audience. It’s about understanding other people’s viewpoints. It’s about building relationships.

Can you share a tip or two from your book?
Here are two of my favorites.

Before writing a message, visualize whom you’re writing to. Hold a mental conversation. If you’re asking for something—which, in a way, every message does—“hear” the other person’s reservations and think about how to answer them. Then when you write, you’ll almost automatically adopt the right tone, know the best content to use to make your case, and be able to frame your message to that individual. Always figure out why someone should give you what you want, from his or her perspective rather than your own, and then write from that understanding.

On a micro level: After you’ve drafted your message, look at each sentence (or say it aloud). When you find more than one “of,” “to,” “in,” “for,” or “that,” or more than a single word ending in -ing or -ed or -ious or -ly, rewrite the sentence so there is only one. (Or two, if you absolutely can’t help it.) This is a surefire way to edit yourself out of abstract, wordy, dishwater-dull writing. Simple words and present tense usually solve the problem. To avoid a choppy rhythm, alternate long and short sentences for a cadence that carries people along.

What are some additional resources for those who want to learn more about business writing?
Everyone should read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. He makes the best-ever case for clarity, conciseness, and simplicity in all writing. Of course, I’d like it if people checked out my other books as well! In addition to Business Writing Today (which is a second edition of Business Writing in the Digital Age), there’s Business Writing for Dummies and The Truth About the New Rules of Business Writing, which delivers the ideas in 52 bite-sized pieces.

Natalie Canavor is a business writer, journalist, and communications consultant. She gives workshops on practical writing and workplace communications. Natalie also teaches advanced writing seminars for grad students in PR/Corporate Communications and young professionals at NYU.

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