Friday, March 04, 2011

Better Writing for Business

The Wall Street Journal had an article yesterday about how top MBA students around the country struggle to write well. Every educator and student should read the article. I did find it a bit humorous, though, that one writing instructor offered the following advice. For one assignment, students at a particular university had to write a persuasive email in 150 words or less to an executive regarding a marketing strategy. The instructor noted that students have a hard time making a concise, compelling point. They waste words and do not get right to the core issue. He advises that the memo should begin, "The single most important issue here is...." I cringed when I read the advice. What do I always tell students? Use the active voice, not the passive voice! Yet, here the instructor advised the use the passive voice in the very first sentence. In a 150 word memo, the passive voice surely means the inclusion of many extraneous words.

So, in the spirit of providing useful advice for students, I offer a few tips on writing for business:

1. Use the active voice as much as humanly possible!

2. Keep your sentences short and simple. Avoid long compound sentences.

3. Keep your paragraphs relatively short as well.

4. Use colons and semicolons sparingly.

5. Don't end your sentences with a preposition.

6. Use the word "however" properly, i.e. not as a conjunction!

7. Explain and interpret charts and graphs for the reader, and do not include extraneous figures that distract from the main point.

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