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Three Steps to Effective Business Writing

Three Steps to Effective Business Writing

Written documents are how professionals convey their ideas to the peers, clients, and bosses. This means that professionals need to be skilled writers if they want to get ahead.

(Here’s more on why writing is a critical skill for professionals today).

Unfortunately, I often find that even the smartest, most talented professionals lack the requisite writing skills. Here are my three most important lessons for getting better at business writing:

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1. Plan ahead by writing an outline

Creating outlines can help you ease the intense mental burden of the writing process. While you write, you have to (1) organize your ideas into a coherent structure, (2) translate your ideas into words and sentences, and (3) re-evaluate whether each new sentence conforms to what you’ve already written. If you try to do all three steps at the same time, you’ll get stuck.

A better strategy is to separate these steps of the writing process, as much as possible. That lets your brain focus on one thing at a time, instead of having to juggle many different tasks.

You can accomplish the first step of the writing process—organizing your ideas into a coherent structure—by creating an outline before you actually start writing. Write down your key points and think about how they go together. Which points, or counterpoints, follow from your main arguments?

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Although the step of creating an outline takes time, you’ll make up for it when you sit down to actually write. That’s what Professor Ronald Kellogg, an expert on the science of the writing process, found in his experiment. Professor Kellogg randomly assigned students into two groups, one that was told to outline for up to 10 minutes before writing, and another group that was told not to outline at all. Both groups wrote the same number of words per minute—even taking into account the time spent outlining. Independent scorers found that the “outline” group tended to write better papers.

2. Don’t try to write a perfect first draft

A lot of people get hung up trying to perfect the wording of every sentence before moving onto the next one. In other words, they try to write and revise at the same time—creating a very high mental workload.

Instead, you should be willing to write a very rough first draft. Try to capture the gist of your ideas, without worrying too much about whether you’re saying it in the best possible way. After writing a draft (of the entire document, or at least a significant chunk of it), you can come back and revise your original sentences.

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Better yet, take a break after writing before coming back to analyze your wording. Go for a walk, or do some of that mindless busy-work that you’ve been putting off. After a mental break, you’ll be able to approach your draft with a fresh mind, which will help you come up with the new ideas that you need.

3. Structure your writing for skimmers

If you’re writing a lengthy document (more than a page or two), you should write in a style that makes it easy for time-sensitive readers to find the information that they need. These “skimmers” might be looking to pick up the main ideas, a specific example, or something else related to their own purpose for reading your document.

That means including an executive summary and/or a clear introduction that summarizes the main points of your document. Similarly, your conclusion should provide the key takeaways—without just summarizing what you’ve already written. In addition, you should make use of subtitles and headings to “direct” your readers to the sections most relevant to them.

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Finally, organize each paragraph to make it easy for skimmers: start each one with a topic sentence that conveys what the paragraph will say. A skimmer should be able to understand the line of argument (or main points) of your document by reading only your topic sentences.

If you follow these three steps, you will write faster and more effectively – helping you become a more productive professional.

(Now that you’ve learned the basics, read more tips on developing your writing skills.)

Featured photo credit:  signing finance contract via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019

8 Life-Changing Skills You Can Learn in Less Than 6 Months

8 Life-Changing Skills You Can Learn in Less Than 6 Months

Everyone has the ability to learn a life-changing skill not just this year, but in the next 6 months.

By life-changing, I mean something that can have a positive impact in your life moving forward, even if it’s something you can’t envision today. Certain skills we can immediately reap the benefits of, while others will be life-changing when we least expect it.

In this article, we’ll share 8 life-changing skills you can learn in 6 months, where you can learn them, and how you can get started today.

1. Speed reading

Bill Gates has been known to state that if he had one superpower, it would be the ability to read faster. What Bill and the rest of the mega-successful understand is that knowledge is power. The ability to process information faster from books, articles, and reports is what will help us learn faster, and therefore improve each aspect of our life faster as well.

Where you can start learning: Speed reading courses are becoming more popular, as more people realize how important it is with the limited time we have. You can check out free courses like Read Speeder or you can start learning how to use Spritzlet, which allows you to speed read articles online with a browser extension.

2. Public speaking

Research shows that people fear public speaking more than death itself. There’s something terrifying about being in front of dozens or hundreds of people, and exposing yourself completely. It’s when you’re most vulnerable, but learning how to public speak is a life-changer.

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Warren Buffett has given advice to recent graduates that the number one skill you can have to succeed is public speaking skills. Everything from communication, confidence, and sales is developed when you develop your public speaking skills.

Where you can start learning: Luckily, there are great communities out there like Toastmasters that organize local meetups all around the world. You’ll find amazing public speakers that are looking to get to the next level to beginners that are just getting started. Check out Toastmasters’ website here.

3. Spanish

As the third most spoken language in the world, the ability to speak Spanish will allow you to reach over 500M people around the world. No matter where you live, knowing how to speak Spanish is becoming increasingly more important, with the Hispanic population and economy spreading quickly worldwide. If you’re living in the US, this is even more important, with over 30% of the population being Hispanic.

Spanish is also on this list, because it’s one of the easiest languages to learn. Sure, Mandarin is an important language to learn, but it’s an incredibly difficult one to learn. If we were to measure the level of importance and the time to learn for all the languages available, Spanish would make it to the top of the list.

One of the biggest reasons why people never reach fluency in any foreign language is: using the wrong method, and lack of time.

It turns out that humans retain only 5% of what we learn from lectures, 20% of what we learn from apps (visual cues), and 90% of what we learn from immediate immersion. Yet, how do 90% of learn a new foreign language? Language schools (lectures), books, Duolingo (apps), etc that don’t provide the real-life immersion required for our brains to learn faster.

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Where to get started: If you want the most effective way to learn a language, learning from real-life interactions is the best way to do it. There are great websites like Rype, which offers Spanish coaching for busy people, solving the issue of lack of time and bringing real-life immersion to your screen. With Rype, you can book as many lessons as you want, at any time of the day, any day of the week, allowing you to fit it into your schedule, no matter how busy you are.

4. Accounting

If you’re looking to get into business, accounting is one of the core fundamentals you’ll need to succeed. While you don’t need to be an expert, you definitely should understand the basics.

This skill can also be used to manage your personal finances, to meet your financial goals, and having more control over your life.

Where to get started learning: If you didn’t learn accounting in school, no worries. You can either teach yourself using books, or check out free accounting courses online.

5. Microsoft Excel

Most people reading this probably have a basic understanding of Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet. While this is a good start, there are so many powerful functionalities that are hidden, which could make your life a lot easier.

Excel is also a great asset to have whenever you’re looking for a job, as many corporations rely on Excel to organize and manage multiple parts of the business.

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Where to get started learning: With the popularity of Excel, you can find tons of free resources and videos online to learn. Check out Excel Exposure, Lynda, and Excel with Business.

6. Blogging/Vlogging

Blogging is a powerful tool if you want to spread your ideas, build your brand, or grow your business. Since it was introduced, blogging has taken on a life of its own, and today there are ~2M blog posts being written on a daily basis.

Where to get started learning: Anyone can start blogging today. All you need is a content-management system like WordPress, which is completely free. Personally, I think the best way to start learning how to blog is to just start writing. There are techniques you can learn on how to promote your blog, but the best way to grow your blog is to write great content.

7. Weight training

Yes, weight training is a skill. It’s not as advanced as learning how to code, nor will it take as long as learning a new language, if you just want to learn the basics.

We’re not promising that you’ll get a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but you will see much faster results for whatever goal you have, just by understanding how to workout properly. And of course, when you’re dealing with an activity that involves physical strain, you’ll always want to caution yourself.

Where to get started learning: There are amazing body builders that are sharing all of their secrets for free on Youtube. You can check out Bodybuilding.com’s Youtube channel to get started.

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8. Photo and video editing

In the digital world that we live in, from Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook, there is no avoiding photos and videos. In fact, social media has increasingly gone away from text sharing and almost everything to photo and video editing.

Where to get started learning: For photo editing, you can use Photoshop. For video editing, you can use iMovie or Final Cut Pro. Keep in mind, there are dozens of editing software tools for video and photo editing, but what’s more important are your editing skills, not the tool itself.

Check out education websites like CreativeLIVE or Skillshare, where you can learn from experts themselves on how to best use design and software tools.

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