Writing is rewriting, and that means writing more words than you will end up using—and throwing away the rest. That’s a tough pill to swallow for those who don’t like to write in the first place, and those who can’t bear to part with words they spent much time, effort, and sweat to produce. But the undeniable fact is that good writers write more words than they need and toss the leftovers. A tough concept to get used to, but a big step to improving one’s writing.
When should you stop writing a memo, letter, or email? When you’ve said everything you NEED to say. That sounds obvious, but too many businesspeople feel they must write long memos, letters, and reports or they will appear unintelligent to their readers. Nothing is further from the truth. The moment you start writing simply to add length, is when your document starts to become illogical, off-topic, and wordy. Then you really sound unintelligent. If your message can be conveyed in one sentence, stop there and hit the SEND button. You will be praised for your brevity.
No one has time to ask a proofreader to edit each email they write before hitting the SEND button. But the vast majority of typos and errors that appear in emails can be eliminated if everyone took one simple step: reread each email before posting it to cyberspace.
Earnest Hemingway stopped writing at the end of each day on a positive note. If five o’clock rolled around and he was in the middle of a paragraph that was tough to write, he would work out the problem, and continue to write until he hit an idea that was easy to write about. Only then would he put his pen down. That way, he looked forward to writing the next day. Psychologically—and writing is all about the little mind games we play with ourselves—Hemingway’s ploy helped him get off to a fast start each morning. This works for business writing as well as novels. Next time you’re working on a long writing project, try this trick. It works.
Officialese refers to the jargon and convoluted phrases that, over time, become part of the vocabulary in every industry. The simple word “form” becomes a “requisite document or instrument of commerce.” Eliminate officialese. Here’s what Warren Buffet, Chairman of the Board, Berkshire Hathaway, has to say about jargon in his preface to A Plain English Handbook: How to create clear SEC disclosure documents: “For more than forty years, I have studied the documents that public companies file. Too often, I’ve been unable to decipher just what is being said or, worse yet, had to conclude that nothing was being said…. There are several possible explanations as to why I and others sometimes stumble over an accounting note or indenture description…. Perhaps the most common problem, however, is that a well-intentioned and informed writer simply fails to get the message across to an intelligent, interested reader. In that case, stilted jargon and complex constructions are usually the villain.”
Whether you’re writing a brief email or a long report, take a little time to vary the length of your sentences. It adds zip to your style. Your readers will also appreciate the change in cadence as they read. No kidding. Everyone has a little voice in their head that speaks to them as they read. Varying sentence lengths will keep that voice alert and interested.