Lecture 8: What Good Business Writing Requires

We have discussed what is not good business writing. But what is good business writing? Any attempt to define competent writing or pinpoint its characteristics is inevitably subjective. However, for our purposes, a good definition is: writing that is clear, concise, convincing, and engaging.

Good writing must be clear, not only to the writer, but also to the reader. This means using vocabulary readers understand in sentences and paragraphs grammatically and syntactically constructed for ease of comprehension. Jargon, buzzwords, specialist terminology, and highfalutin expressions are not the means to win over readers. The key is plain language. Clarity also requires a logical structure so that readers can follow without having to stop and puzzle over the text.

Conciseness means making every word count. If you can cut out words without sacrificing meaning, nuance, or tone, do so. If we are not concise, our audience may stop reading because they have limited time and far too much to do. However, conciseness does not mean trying to cut corners by using catchphrases, generalisations, buzzwords, or jargon. Being concise means using as many words as necessary to express ideas in terms readers understand. Plain-language explanations may require more words than jargon or generalisations. But they are more effective in convincing and engaging.

To be convincing, we must have a process that starts with understanding our audience and their needs. We must outline, research, and organise our thoughts to support our premise or proposition. Relying on inspiration or “going with the flow” of research and writing is a recipe for wasting time. Full-time writers rely on processes to work efficiently and come up with evidence supporting their premise or tale.

To engage readers, it helps if we are excellent storytellers. But even if we are not, we can grab and hold readers’ attention by having something to say of interest to our audience and saying it concisely in words they understand.

Clear, concise, convincing, and engaging writing tends to look simple. But to communicate complicated ideas in a simple manner takes much thought, effort, and skill. “The easiest reading,” wrote poet, author, and humourist Thomas Hood, a contemporary of Charles Dickens, “is damned hard writing.”

While the following sections are not an exhaustive survey of writing principles and techniques, they do cover the essential ingredients of competent business writing.