Engaging, valuable content is the secret to business writing. Larry McEnerney advises you to add value by exposing a gap in knowledge of an existing problem. Or provide a new solution for your audience to put in place. The people you are communicating with are often not experts in your area and do not want to do the work to reach the conclusion you reached. They want your solution to their problem and help to apply that solution. Your writing creates a framework for others to think.
Writing to persuade and influence
Organizational transformation writing is the most rewarding for me to write and share. I accidentally learned how to write for communicating change. A company I worked at, Internet Matrix, was bought by another company. On the transition day, we stood in the wide-open central area on the second floor. This exact spot was where every Monday the founder would greet us at 7 AM with, “Gooooood morning, IMatrix!”. The new executive stood where the founder did. She laid it on us, “I know what you are thinking. WIIFM, What’s in it for me?” I braced myself against the wall behind the crowd and thought, “I’m not thinking that. Why is she asking that?" I looked around and everyone hung to every word she said. I realized they were thinking WIIFM. They were wondering how their jobs and livelihoods would change. I learned that day that you must frame change from the perspective of other’s benefit.
Change is hard. Change is scary. If you are driving the change then it is not so bad. People can cope with change if they know what to expect from their role in the story. A Vivid Vision tells the story of the ideal future state and helps people visualize their role in that story. In a business, the primary job of writing is to influence and persuade. There are many other contexts for writing. This article will only cover writing in business.
Should you write?
Are you sure? I don’t have anything unique to say
No one else has trod your path or lived your life. If you publish on the internet someone across the world might stumble upon your story and connect with your experience. If you change one person’s mind isn’t that good enough?
How can I write well?
Develop a regular habit of writing. Writing well will happen over time with practice. If you write enough articles some small percentage might resonate with others. I will include some simple writing tips and books in this article. You can improve your writing by applying one new writing technique per week. The best writing comes from the activity of rewriting.
What should I write about?
Write about what drives you. Educate. Inform. Teach. My passionate writing explodes when I am educating others of a mistake they could make. Life is too short to write and read anything that does not interest you. Difficult to read and understand works are not more valuable because they are hard to comprehend. The best writing focuses on adding values to others, not about your problems or daily news.
What if people do not like my writing or dislike it?
Most people are more concerned about themselves than you. People like telling others they are wrong and this is free information to improve your writing and understanding. If you write a blog on the internet you can use analytics to learn what is being read and what is not. You can always delete or rewrite your blogs.
What writing is the most engaging?
Controversy is alluring. Paul Graham suggests “… the goal of an essay is to surprise the reader.” Take a stand in your life or field of expertise through your writing. We, readers, want to learn about people that stand out from the crowd via their perspective and actions and evaluate if we should change our habits.
What is the point of writing?
Adding values to others is primary. There is a fantastic lecture on YouTube called “The Craft of Writing Effectively.” The video strikes at the heart of writing in business and specialized fields. There are many nuggets of wisdom in this lecture. Larry explains that writing by experts is a tool to think through an idea. It is different than communicating value to readers. Writing by experts is not meant to last forever. It is for moving a conversation forward. As well as develop a structure for others to think about a problem.
Where do ideas come from for writing?
If writing is rewriting, how do I get better at rewriting?
The word vomit on the page technique can work. I’ve had success using voice transcription for putting my ideas onto the page. I skip a draft if I know what message I want to convey. I search for the writings of others on a topic and collect their thoughts. I synthesize the themes and might outline them out of it. I write my articles like how a story flows. Dan Harmon’s take on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey provides a good template. Readers want to see a progression or a mystery and put the pieces together.
When I encounter impactful knowledge I collect it in Notion and let it rest. Notion acts as my knowledge management system where I can file away ideas. I can revisit the content and link to other topics synthesizing new ideas. Organic “intermediate packets” develop. I can remix, reuse, and reshuffle these packets into new articles.
How can I write a great Email?
The Holloway Guide to Remote Work explains that email is for three activities.
No one wants to read your long email. Readers want to see the bottom line up front. Email readers are thinking, “Is this an update?", “Am I supposed to act?" If you need to know when an action is complete, ask them to reply when the task is complete. You will know who did not read the email.
Read this tweet by Dave Perell. His tips are simple and easy to try and will make you a great writer in a business.
What can I use to improve my rewriting?
I was skeptical about Grammarly. As a free user, the Grammarly web application gives enough hints to improve your writing despite hiding the extra details. After using it for a year its helped me improve my rewriting process. The sidebar assistant gives you a score and many suggestions on improving the document. My Grammarly score improves when I remove cliches, repetitiveness, and add commas.
The Hemingway App highlights sentences that are hard to read. Do not go overboard with this tool. Use the app to make your sentences shorter and easier to read. If you are making a technical argument it is ok for it to be a little hard to read. Keep the spirit of your message alive. The app’s advice on adverbs lacks nuance.
Should I ask for feedback on my writing?
Maybe? You might waste someone else’s time if you are not specific about what feedback you desire about your writing. My tactic now is to write for quantity and solicit feedback via my blog. Readers can contact me through my website and share their opinions. I also monitor my website analytics for what blogs people read.
What’s the secret to engaging writing?
Read your writing out loud. If you do not, you miss an opportunity to improve your writing. When you verbalize your writing you hear the awkward phrasing. Some of your writing may bore you and you can fix it once you notice. I stumbled upon a great idea called “book in a box” via another book called “Authorpreneur”. The concept is simple, speak your ideas out loud, record those into a document, and edit your ideas into a book. Google Docs has a fabulous voice typing feature. I use this feature when I have lots of ideas I want to capture without typing too much. This enables your writing to sound more natural and conversational.
What else can I do to make my writing more engaging?
Buy this book, 55 Writing Tools, and work on one idea a week. Here is one simple idea you can put into practice in your writing. Use numbers to send a covert message to your readers.
- Four elements are a list
- Three is whole
- Two is for comparing and contrasting
- One is a powerful emphasis
I love that this number technique is memorable. It applies to verbal communication as well. The people you work with have many demands on them and it is easy to forget complex information. In my work, I have a major project to deliver by February. I kept everyone focused on the right work by summarizing all the work into three major themes and reminded them every day. Each daily stand-up I repeat, “We have three things to do, object storage, logging aggregation, and secondary site." Other days I act like I forgot, “Can someone help me here what are the three things?”.
That work will complete on time because I made it easy and memorable. There are two worlds for you. The world before you use this advice. The world after where you communicate with power. All this work to enable one thing, FLOW.
Develop a habit of writing to add value to others and scale your impact. You will improve through practice and finding your writing/rewriting process. Let me encourage you. The world wants to hear your unique story only you can tell and if you can touch one person is that not good enough?
- Your writing offers a tool or new view on an existing problem that adds value to the world
- You will develop a writing habit and process over time
- Using numbers in how you communicate is the tactic you can use today
What do you think? Is writing something you want to improve? Is this helpful and valuable to you? What’s the next step?