Flabby prose. Flat, uninteresting sentences. Trite, cliché-ridden advertising and marketing copy. We’ve all seen it. Heck, maybe we’ve even written it. I’m here to help you turn that fat-ridden body of words into a lean, mean, athletic machine. I’m here to help you turn flabby, 90-pound weakling words into buff Charles Atlas-fit writing fit for kings. These 5 tips will help you write well whether you are writing for print or web, school or work, fiction or nonfiction, but they are aimed at people writing business documents.
Five Tips for Strong Writing
- Write from the verbs: Verbs provide action. The stronger the verb, the more interesting the writing. A strong action verb immediately sets your prose apart because 90% of people writing blog posts, web copy and marketing copy do not know this trick. The passive voice prevails among academic papers, technology companies, and websites where a ‘scholarly’ tone is desired. Yet you can write in an active voice even when creating serious, scholarly works.
- Use for strong verbs: A corollary to writing from active verbs dictates writing from strong verbs. Strong verbs describe, inspire, and connect readers to an immediate mental picture. If you use strong verbs, you are less likely to reach for adverbs or adjectives to enhance the reader’s mental picture because they already have a clear image in mind of what is happening.
- Shorten your sentences: I’m guilty of this, and it is something I have to work on, especially in my business writing. I love writing lengthy, complex sentences. Blame my earlier training in linguistics and literature, especially Victorian literature. I can string together independent and dependent clauses to rival the most purple-prose riddled Victorian text, but it’s ineffective in business writing. Shorten, tighten, and shorten again when writing business copy.
- Start with your conclusion: Business writing begins with the end in mind. State the conclusion first, then back into it with supporting details. In school, triangles were used to help us imagine the structure of a paragraph; an upside-down triangle adequately represents strong business writing. Lead with the conclusion or desired action, then add your strongest supporting details and so on.
- Incorporate a personal tone: Too many business documents sound impersonal and robotic because somewhere, someone learned that to be ‘personal’ in a business document smacks of ineptitude. Nothing could be further from the truth. A warm, professional and personal tone lends voice and credence to your documents. By personal, I don’t mean relating your weekend plans or your breakfast choices. I do mean using contractions, simple phrases, and personal touches to enliven your documents.
Lastly, here are a few rules of thumb for business writing:
- Spell check programs cannot catch everything. It offers suggestions, not hard and fast instructions, so proceed with caution.
- Search online for the correct spelling of proper nouns, especially newfangled brand names which love to mash together two words with random capitalization to make it jazzy.
- Avoid the Random Capitalization syndrome, or capitalizing words to make them appear important. It’s distracting and annoying.
- Use a consistent style for writing out numbers and dates. It often doesn’t matter which style you use, as long as you keep it consistent. I prefer to spell out numbers zero through nine, and then write numerals beyond 10, but that’s a personal preference. AP Style and Chicago Manual of Style are two commonly used style guides that can help you through the nitty-gritty of stylistic choices.
If you’d prefer to hire a professional writer, editor, and word wrangler, let’s talk. Until then, may these tips act like vitamins to boost your weak muscles into strong, bone-crunching prose.
(C) 2018 by Jeanne Grunert, The Marketing Writer | Seven Oaks Consulting. I offer writing, editing, and marketing consulting services.