The 6½ Principles of Business Writing
by Ilja van Roon
Ask yourself: can you turn yourself into a business writing expert, fix yourbad writing habits and compensate for your lack of writing talent, overnight?The answer is: probably not. But applying certain principles can teach youinsights that will allow you to become a better writer over time.
There are several ways to improve yourbusiness writing. You can focus on specific techniques and master a singleparticular genre, such as articles, press releases or case studies. You canlearn so-called power words or use costly templates that others have developedfor you. Perhaps this works for you. Perhaps it doesn’t.
Either way, there’s another way: learningand applying the 6½ Principles of Business Writing.
Principles of any kind are deceivinglysimple. Simple because they seem very obvious once you have understood them.Deceiving because that wrongly makes you believe they have no value or effect.The opposite is true: writing from principles is focused and powerful.
Principles share another trait: they onlywork if they are applied. That is why your ability to improve your writing,depends on your application of the 6½ principles. Reflect on them as youwrite, continuously and without regard for your own ego. Be consistent anddiligent in planning, executing and evaluating your writing on the basis ofthese principles.
Here they are
So, what are these 6½ Principles ofBusiness Writing? And what, in a nutshell, do they mean? Simply said,it’s like this:
Focus: Develop a blueprint of your writingbefore you start. Execute consistently.
Purpose: Everything you write – be it a word, sentence, paragraph and theend result itself – should serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, change itor delete it.
Meaning: Do not write what something is,explain what it means.
Substance: Substantiate your claims. Provideproof – preferably from an outsider - or elaborate with additionalinformation that allows your reader to judge your claim.
Clarity: Write succinctly and consistently.Avoid fancy words.
Structure: Organiseyour text in a consistent, transparent, supportive and logical way.
These six principles all apply to the contentor form of business writing. There is one additional principle that does notapply to either aspect of writing. That is why the next principle is onlyaccorded ‘half’ status:
Humility: Critically judge your writing andapply all writing principles without regard to your ego.
These 6½ principles cannot be seenindependently from one other. In practice, all 6½ are interrelated, inthat they depend on and influence each other:
Clarity cannot be achieved without Structure.
Purpose can only be realised through Focusedexecution.
Meaning depends on Purpose, which in turnrequires Clarity.
The choice for Substance depends on thePurpose.
Humility clarifies Purpose and Substance.
This means that the success of businesswriting not only depends on the successful application of each of these principlesindividually. Success depends on their total sum, on whether the application ofone does not reduce the effect of another.
The 6½ principles are principles becausethey apply to any type of business writing, irrespective of language, audienceor genre. They are principles because they apply to any aspect of businesswriting, be it a word, sentence, paragraph, chapter or the whole publication.They also apply to the tone of voice, the type of words, and the style you use.
If you apply these principles, you can learntwo things.
First, you can learn to write succinct, focused andstructured copy that teaches or touches your audience and serves your own businesspurpose.
Second, you can develop sound judgement as to whatconstitutes good business writing. This is of particular use when you are in aposition where somebody else does the business writing for you!
Ilja van Roon is the owner of Lucid Communication, an agencyspecialising in business writing and editing for business professionals andtheir organisations. He is the author of the e-book The 6½ Principles ofBusiness Writing.
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