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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 March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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