To triumph in the remote work age, you need to learn business writing

How a blog post transformed my writing

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Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

A blog post fundamentally changed the way that I think about writing.

I came across Scott Adams’ blog post adapted from his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

I had read the book before, but the post caused me to re-evaluate my approach towards writing.

Why? Because it asked a simple question: How did you learn to write for work?

Unless you’ve done an MBA, you’ve probably never learned how to do business writing.

If you’ve ever taken a writing course, they tend to focus on creative writing.

Those that didn’t, such as your high school English classes, may have taught you grammar or how to write an academic paper.

But business writing is different.

“As it turns out, business writing is all about getting to the point and leaving out all of the noise. You think you already do that in your writing, but you probably don’t.” -Scott Adams

What’s the difference? Time and scope.

Academic writing will give you 3 paragraphs to talk about an idea, with an introduction, argument, and conclusion.

Business writing, on the other hand, might give you 30 seconds to best communicate your idea.

That doesn’t come naturally for most people, just as writing academic papers didn’t either. It took you many years of schooling to understand how to do that.

As a result, you may be wasting a lot of the productive power of your words.

One of your main objections to this might be that you’re not in a position to need business writing.

After all, you’re not the CEO or the people that do external/internal press releases.

While there are articles that talk about how their words can destroy company productivity, your words can have equal impact, especially if you’ve experienced remote work.

Why? Because business writing is about clarity and persuasion. And in the age of remote work, that’s needed now more than ever.

If giving presentations, conducting meeting agendas, or even writing e-mails remotely has seemed unproductive, then this might be the cause.

The simple fact of the matter is, good writers are credible and influential.

If you use too many or the wrong words, it may not just result in an unproductive meeting: it may result in a heated and nearly hostile meeting.

So, how do you implement business writing?

Scott Adam’s sums up his business writing tips like these:

  • Simple writing is persuasive
  • Get rid of extra words by imagining they cost you $100
  • Your first sentence needs to grab the reader’s curiosity
  • Write to evoke a feeling.
  • Use short sentences
  • Avoid putting multiple thoughts in sentences.
  • Use 6th-grade vocabulary
  • Be like your reader in important ways by speaking like they do and using their thinking.
  • Learn how brains organize ideas: it’s easier to imagine a boy (object) hitting a ball (action/subject) than a ball hit by a boy.

But just giving a list of tips isn’t that helpful for implementing it: one of Scott Adam’s fundamental principles is that “Goals are for losers: create systems instead.”

So rather than trying to make it your goal to incorporate these tips into your writing process, what systems can we develop to help us adopt these tips?

The “elevator pitch”:

To practice brevity with words, practice the elevator pitch.

Honestly, I prefer two other methods: The Big Idea and The 3-minute speech. But they have the same core principle: condense whatever you’re working on into a much shorter version.

Either way, there are a couple of ways to develop this in the workplace. In larger companies, there is probably a Toastmasters club that adopts these formats for presentation purposes. But if you don’t have that?

Imagine you’re doing orientation for a new colleague. You only have a short amount of time (let’s say 5 minutes) to talk about what your project is, what it’s for, and so forth. What would you say?

This practice not only helps you condense, but you can turn it into orientation materials later on down the line if you like.

Visualize tone and imagery:

I recommend a certain tool, Grammarly, overall as it helps you with typos and the like. But Grammarly has a special functionality (in beta) that I find incredibly useful: the Tone detector.

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Grammarly tone detector

Does my writing sound Happy? Formal? Depressing? Those are questions that up until now were harder to quantify without a lot of writing experience. While it’s not perfect, Grammarly can help you tell overall if you need to change the tone or wording of your writing.

But if you do need to change your words, which ones do you change? It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s usually the ones that evoke the strongest imagery.

Scott Adams hates the word “moist” because it evokes such ugly visual imagery.

The Harvard Business Review thinks saying “incredible” too much seems like cheerleading and misdirection.

You’re going to have to play around with which words invoke which type of visual imagery, but just being aware of it is a big help.

Readability:

Lastly, you should make it a habit to always check in on your readability level before publishing this.

This is usually the largest and hardest thing to learn, as while there are apps that will analyze your readability quickly, trying to fix this is a long and slow process.

However, just be aware that tools exist that can help you refine your complicated language into something that even a 6th grader can read.

Business writing is not something that you learn overnight: it’s something that many people learn over their career.

But in this day and age, it’s something that allows you to stand out from the crowd. Brevity and clarity are often strong tools that allow you to persuade your readers and get them to trust you.

So why not start on the path of clearer, more persuasive writing?

I write about UX, Healthcare, and Productivity regularly. If you would like to learn more about UX, I’ve created courses about Design Communication and UX Research on a budget.

Written by

Healthcare-focused UX designer and researcher. Creator of two online courses on design communication and UX research planning: https://tinyurl.com/y5m2j42v

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