Choosing the right words: 6 sure steps for business writers

Choosing the right words: 6 sure steps for business writers
July 18, 2014 Beth Nyland

“You are such a fun writer. I love the tone.”

One of my clients rewarded me with that positive feedback yesterday. I smiled and glowed for a few minutes, warmed by her appreciation.

Then I looked at my to-do list. A half-dozen other clients were waiting for equally strong writing from Spencer Grace. So I barked to my inner self: “Basking time is over, sister. Focus on the words—and choose the right ones!”

That’s when I decided to share these six ideas with you. I assembled this list for a writing student about a year ago. I take these steps whenever when my first drafts feel especially rough; they help me choose the right words for business communications.

I hope they serve you, too.

1. Be concrete.

Inspect each word to ensure that it is earning its space on the page and delivering a clear message, not subject to interpretation. Words like important, society, culture, improvement, and quality may not be pulling their weight. Even if you have to add words, replace vague terms with specifics that convey a precise message to your reader.

2. Use words you know.

Avoid words you would not use in daily conversation.

If you must use an extraordinary word, look it up. Make sure you understand the definition, and study usage examples so you can see the word in context.

3. Be real.

Never attempt to choose words simply because they sound important or impressive. This generally results in inflated language that confuses your reader and may not even convey your intended meaning.

Challenge yourself to find the simplest way to express your idea—the fewest words, the shortest sentences or paragraphs, the plainest language.

4. Give yourself options.

If you question a sentence or paragraph, write at least three alternative versions. Then you can choose the one that sounds the best and most effectively conveys your meaning.

5. Engage an objective reviewer.

When in doubt, farm it out. Pass your draft along to a reader who will question your choices and point out opportunities for improvement. Ideally, enlist help from someone unfamiliar with your subject matter.

6. Read articulate writing.

I find good role models in Harvard Business Review (especially some of their bloggers) and the Wall Street Journal. I also study the blog posts, books, and articles of respected business authors like Seth Godin and Dan Pink.

Whose business writing do you love? Share links to your favorite examples in the comments below.



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