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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 August 16, 2018

10 Huge Differences Between A Boss And A Leader

10 Huge Differences Between A Boss And A Leader

When you try to think of a leader at your place of work, you might think of your boss – you know, the supervisor in the tasteful office down the hall.

However, bosses are not the only leaders in the office, and not every boss has mastered the art of excellent leadership. Maybe the best leader you know is the co-worker sitting at the desk next to yours who is always willing to loan out her stapler and help you problem solve.

You see, a boss’ main priority is to efficiently cross items off of the corporate to-do list, while a true leader both completes tasks and works to empower and motivate the people he or she interacts with on a daily basis.

A leader is someone who works to improve things instead of focusing on the negatives. People acknowledge the authority of a boss, but people cherish a true leader.

Puzzled about what it takes to be a great leader? Let’s take a look at the difference between a boss and a leader, and why cultivating quality leadership skills is essential for people who really want to make a positive impact.

1. Leaders are compassionate human beings; bosses are cold.

It can be easy to equate professionalism with robot-like impersonal behavior. Many bosses stay holed up in their offices and barely ever interact with staff.

Even if your schedule is packed, you should always make time to reach out to the people around you. Remember that when you ask someone to share how they are feeling, you should be prepared to be vulnerable and open in your communication as well.

Does acting human at the office sound silly? It’s not.

A lack of compassion in the office leads to psychological turmoil, whereas positive connection leads to healthier staff.[1]

If people feel that you are being open, honest and compassionate with them, they will feel able to approach your office with what is on their minds, leading to a more productive and stress-free work environment.

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2. Leaders say “we”; bosses say “I”.

Practice developing a team-first mentality when thinking and speaking. In meetings, talk about trying to meet deadlines as a team instead of using accusatory “you” phrases. This makes it clear that you are a part of the team, too, and that you are willing to work hard and support your team members.

Let me explain:

A “we” mentality shifts the office dynamic from “trying to make the boss happy” to a spirit of teamwork, goal-setting, and accomplishment.

A “we” mentality allows for the accountability and community that is essential in the modern day workplace.

3. Leaders develop and invest in people; bosses use people.

Unfortunately, many office climates involve people using others to get what they want or to climb the corporate ladder. This is another example of the “me first” mentality that is so toxic in both office environments and personal relationships.

Instead of using others or focusing on your needs, think about how you can help other people grow.

Use your building blocks of compassion and team-mentality to stay attuned to the needs of others note the areas in which you can help them develop. A great leader wants to see his or her people flourish.

Make a list of ways you can invest in your team members to help them develop personally and professionally, and then take action!

4. Leaders respect people; bosses are fear-mongering.

Earning respect from everyone on your team will take time and commitment, but the rewards are worth every ounce of effort.

A boss who is a poor leader may try to control the office through fear and bully-like behavior. Employees who are petrified about their performance or who feel overwhelmed and stressed by unfair deadlines are probably working for a boss who uses a fear system instead of a respect system.

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What’s the bottom line?

Work to build respect among your team by treating everyone with fairness and kindness. Maintain a positive tone and stay reliable for those who approach you for help.

5. Leaders give credit where it’s due; bosses only take credits.

Looking for specific ways to gain respect from your colleagues and employees? There is no better place to start than with the simple act of giving credit where it is due.

Don’t be tempted to take credit for things you didn’t do, and always go above and beyond to generously acknowledge those who worked on a project and performed well.

You might be wondering how you can get started:

  • Begin by simply noticing which team member contributes what during your next project at work.
  • If possible, make mental notes. Remember that these notes should not be about ways in which team members are failing, but about ways in which they are excelling.
  • Depending on your leadership style, let people know how well they are doing either in private one-on-one meetings or in a group setting. Be honest and generous in your communication about a person’s performance.

6. Leaders see delegation as their best friend; bosses see it as an enemy.

If delegation is a leader’s best friend, then micromanagement is the enemy.

Delegation equates to trust and micromanagement equates to distrust. Nothing is more frustrating for an employee than feeling that his or her every movement is being critically observed.

Encourage trust in your office by delegating important tasks and acknowledging that your people are capable, smart individuals who can succeed!

Delegation is a great way to cash in on the positive benefits of a psychological phenomenon called a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, a person’s expectations of another person can cause the expectations to be fulfilled.[2]

In other words, if you truly believe that your team member can handle a project or task, he or she is more likely to deliver.

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Learn how to delegate in my other article:

How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

7. Leaders work hard; bosses let others do the work.

Delegation is not an excuse to get out of hard work. Instead of telling people to go accomplish the hardest work alone, make it clear that you are willing to pitch in and help with the hardest work of all when the need arises.

Here’s the deal:

Showing others that you work hard sets the tone for your whole team and will spur them on to greatness.

The next time you catch yourself telling someone to “go”, a.k.a accomplish a difficult task alone, change your phrasing to “let’s go”, showing that you are totally willing to help and support.

8. Leaders think long-term; bosses think short-term.

A leader who only utilizes short-term thinking is someone who cannot be prepared or organized for the future. Your colleagues or staff members need to know that they can trust you to have a handle on things not just this week, but next month or even next year.

Display your long-term thinking skills in group talks and meetings by sharing long-term hopes or concerns. Create plans for possible scenarios and be prepared for emergencies.

For example, if you know that you are losing someone on your team in a few months, be prepared to share a clear plan of how you and the remaining team members can best handle the change and workload until someone new is hired.

9. Leaders are like your colleagues; bosses are just bosses.

Another word for colleague is collaborator. Make sure your team knows that you are “one of them” and that you want to collaborate or work side by side.

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Not getting involved in the going ons of the office is a mistake because you will miss out on development and connection opportunities.

As our regular readers know, I love to remind people of the importance of building routines into each day. Create a routine that encourages you to leave your isolated office and collaborate with others. Spark healthy habits that benefit both you and your co-workers.

10. Leaders put people first; bosses put results first.

Bosses without crucial leadership training may focus on process and results instead of people. They may stick to a pre-set systems playbook even when employees voice new ideas or concerns.

Ignoring people’s opinions for the sake of company tradition like this is never truly beneficial to an organization.

Here’s what I mean by process over people:

Some organizations focus on proper structures or systems as their greatest assets instead of people. I believe that people lend real value to an organization, and that focusing on the development of people is a key ingredient for success in leadership.

Learning to be a leader is an ongoing adventure.

This list of differences makes it clear that, unlike an ordinary boss, a leader is able to be compassionate, inclusive, generous, and hard-working for the good of the team.

Instead of being a stereotypical scary or micromanaging-obsessed boss, a quality leader is able to establish an atmosphere of respect and collaboration.

Whether you are new to your work environment or a seasoned administrator, these leadership traits will help you get a jump start so that you can excel as a leader and positively impact the people around you.

For more inspiration and guidance, you can even start keeping tabs on some of the world’s top leadership experts. With an adventurous and positive attitude, anyone can learn good leadership.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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