"The principles are clear, the teaching style is relaxed and fun, and we actually used what we learned right away." - Jack Branhauf, Houston CPA

No matter what kind of business writing seminar, writing training, or technical writing classes you've tried, here's the only guide you'll need to learn to be clear and write what you mean.  (In 5 easy steps.)

1. Ignore what you learned in high school English class.

Sure, grammar and punctuation are important. Nouns and verbs do matter. But knowing a dangling participle from a prepositional phrase won’t make you a good writer. Knowing what you want to say, then saying it with clear and simple words will make you a good writer. That's the best business writing training you'll ever need.

Too many business people hide behind pompous language and complex words. They burden us with complication. And that makes us feel lousy. More often than not, these writers torment us with verbose language because they really don’t know what they want to say.

There’s a good chance you’ve done the same thing. We all have at one time or another. In our heads, we’re telling ourselves something like this: "If I keep on writing, and I use important sounding words and lots of sentences, and fill up this page and lots of other pages, then they’ll think I’m saying something useful."

I can see you nodding in agreement.

The key to clear writing is to simplify. To think about your ideas not your words. And to do that, you have to understand your ideas. If you don’t, then go back to your research.

Master your content before you start to write.

2. Know what you want to say.

"Hey, wait a second!" you may shout, "I don’t always have the time or the resources to master my content."

Yes, that’s the reality we all face in our work day. No matter how many business writing seminars we've taken, the fact is, we’re often called on to write about stuff we really don’t understand. If you’re in that situation, then just take a deep breath and repeat these words: "Be Clear, Be Clear, Be Clear."

Try it now.

Feels good, doesn’t it?

When I was planning to teach my first course at Harvard Business School, I wasn’t sure exactly what the students were expecting. And I wasn’t sure exactly what I was supposed to tell them. Where to begin? What to include? What to leave out? What’s important? What will be most useful to them?

Then something simple, yet significant, occurred to me. The only true goal in business writing is to let the reader know what’s on your mind. It doesn’t matter if you’re right. Or if you’re wrong. That’s all open for debate anyway. The one thing that really matters most in business communication is that your reader understands what you’re trying to say. If the reader doesn’t know what you’re saying, then what you’re saying doesn’t matter.

So, I wondered, how do I convey this idea to my students?

I played around with important sounding phrases like "Clarity is paramount." "Strive for verisimilitude." And other nonsensical stuff. I couldn’t get the idea down on paper. I started to doubt my ability to teach this stuff.

After hours of frustration I asked myself "What exactly are you trying to say?"

"Be Clear" was my answer.

3. Know your audience.

What you want to say can take many forms, depending on who’s listening.

Think about your audience.

Who are your readers? What’s their perspective? Why is what you’re writing important to them?

All of us ask "What’s in it for me?" "Is reading this document worth my valuable time?"

You’re probably thinking that right now.

You can’t write for yourself, you must write for your reader. In business writing, we typically face four kinds of readers.

1. Friendly - this reader is on your side. You write to inform.
2. Indifferent - this reader has no opinion. You inform or persuade.
3. Skeptical - this reader may disagree. You must persuade.
4. Hostile - this reader opposes your thinking. You have to work hard to persuade. 

Is this familiar?

You’ve worked for days on a report to convince your boss that your department needs to make an important move. You’ve run the numbers, created the PowerPoint slides, assessed the outcomes. Then put it all together in an impressive looking report.

A week later you find out your proposal is on the back burner. "What went wrong?" you wonder. People often focus too much on what they want to say and not enough time on how to say it.

Consider who the decision-makers are among your audience and craft your presentation for them. Know their decision-making style. Determine how open they are to your ideas.

You might find you have to present your ideas several different ways to appeal to various audience styles.

4. Plan, write, revise, edit.

In that order. No more, no less.

We’ve all struggled with the editor in our heads who won’t let us go on to sentence number two until we’ve polished sentence number one.

Fire that editor. Do it now.

There.

Now you can write to your heart’s content. Just get your ideas down. That’s what I’m doing as I write this. Trying to get my thoughts into my computer. One at a time. Without much regard to order. I know I can fiddle with the sentences later. I can choose different words. Rearrange things. Delete stuff.

And so can you when you write.

One of the biggest blocks we encounter on our path to clear business writing is the urge to fix everything as we go along. Stop that. Just let your ideas flow. Some won’t make much sense. And others will be brilliant.

But give yourself the freedom to let your fingers fly around the keyboard. Let that sturdy yellow #2 race across the page unhindered. Or allow that Mont Blanc to flow blue rivers of brilliance. You can fix those pesky sentence fragments later.

I can hear you thinking “But I don’t have time for that!”

Listen to me. It will take you less time to do it this way. I promise.

OK, maybe not at first. You might need a few attempts to really let go. You’re going to be afraid. Hesitant. That’s normal. But once you allow yourself the confidence to get your ideas down, you’ll love the feeling. And that editor you fired can come back on a contract basis to tweak your dangling modifiers.

Plan, write, revise, edit. Think about what you want to say. Make an outline. Start writing. Say what you want to say. Step back. Then clean it up. You’ll begin to see that your writing is more fluid. Easier to read. Less hectic. You’ll start to see your ideas shining through in all their glory.

The downside is, people may start asking you to write stuff for them too.

5. Take a writing workshop.

One of the best ways you can learn to be a better writer is by applying these ideas, and others, in a business writing workshop setting. Where you can make mistakes, learn from others, and put the basic principles into practice. Without the time pressures and consequences of a real-life work situation. Learn more here.