Krug: Words of wisdom for the wannabe wordsmiths
Krug: Words of wisdom for the wannabe wordsmiths

For a society hell bent on sending emails, texts and tweets, coaxing someone to write a decent business brief or the vaunted one-pager can be viewed as asking for two pints of blood and a pound of flesh.

Even in a business where the primary focus is communication, you’ll find great reluctance.

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For a society hell bent on sending emails, texts and tweets, coaxing someone to write a decent business brief or the vaunted one-pager can be viewed as asking for two pints of blood and a pound of flesh.

Even in a business where the primary focus is communication, you’ll find great reluctance.

It reasons that people don’t like to put their ideas out there for all to see. I once worked with a person that swore the “e” in email was shorthand for “evidence.”

Writing requires a level of bravery and confidence that many simply don’t have – at least not at the ready. For them, the power to convey thoughts in that wide-open, white rectangle must be summoned from elsewhere.

Nonetheless, the ability to define thoughts on a subject of importance is an important part of professional development. It’s rare that you meet a CEO that doesn’t have the ability to write. And if you want to report to a CEO – or any high-ranking executive, for that matter – someday, the ability to write will be an imperative.

Writing, in business, is viewed as an extension of critical thinking. A well-conceived, grammatically, tonally and factually accurate document offers perspective that cannot be adequately captured in an extemporaneous conversation. A document has permanence. When someone asks for something to be written, there is an expectation that it is thoughtfully composed, intellectually honest and meaningful.

If you’ve been bumping your head on a glass ceiling and wondering why, perhaps some part of the challenge you hadn’t considered has been an inability to express yourself with the written word.

Fear not. Writing isn’t as difficult as one might think. With Internet access, a copy of Microsoft Word and enough pride to spellcheck your work, almost all of the tools required to write a competent business brief are in reach.

As for the composition itself, here are a few quick tips that can help you elevate your game:

Know your audience: Always presume that your audience will extend beyond the single person that has asked you to write the document. Depending upon where you are positioned in an organization, this means the work could go vertically or horizontally across your company – and possibly be transmitted elsewhere. Consider the ramifications of the content if shared across a wider scope.

Define the purpose: Understand the significance of the document and the expectations of the work before you go rushing off to open the lid of your laptop. Ask as many questions as necessary before beginning. If the purpose of your work is unclear at the start, you cannot start.

Think first: After clear on your audience and your subject matter, take a moment to be with your thoughts. Draw the appropriate connections. Pull together the necessary facts. Double-check your facts and then check them again. Then start thinking about actually beginning the writing.

See the circle: Think of your document as if it required a beginning, middle and an end that connects to the beginning, like a circle. Start by making your case. Establish your premise in a clear opening sentence that defines your subject. Build the body of your document with factually important information that is delivered in some clarifying order. Sometimes chronological order is important, if you are outlining how a project may occur. In other cases, an explanation of key information should be articulated in some meaningful hierarchical order (for example, expenses or sales projections or key data) for the eventual reader to use to fully comprehend your point of view. Finally, close out the document with your sharpest insights, offering perspective on how this information should be viewed and your certainty of the contents in the document.

Write for the ear: The best advice anyone ever offered with regard to writing was to think about the words as if they were being spoken. How your document would sound if it were read aloud, and how it may be interpreted are critical to the overall value of your finished product. If when you read it aloud, or in your head, the words sound clumsy or the sentences lack flow, steamroll those sentences and smooth them out.

Seek precision: The attention span of someone running a department, a division or an entire company is startlingly short. Nobody in the C-suite has time to read a tome on anything. Think about the single page as a painter’s canvas and its margin as a frame. Magic can occur in this space. Focus. Your. Thoughts.

Focus on one thing: Documents that try to do too much often fail. You cannot, as it has been said a billion times, boil the ocean. You can, however, pick a subject (which you already have determined in the first sentence of your first paragraph) and stay with it.

Listen to it one final time: Some writers believe that pushing deadline creates the adequate amount of pressure to ensure that their work is excellent. Wrong. Procrastination may be a commonality among those tasked with writing something, but it is not a technique. Start as soon as possible on anything that you have been asked to write and edit it thoroughly. There is infinite writing technology available in the world today. You’d have to be an imbecile not to spellchcke (sic – making sure that you’re still paying attention) your work before presenting it. But as a matter of practice, allow the last revision of the document be an out-loud read. Close the door to your office. Whisper in your cubicle. Scream it in your bedroom. Doesn’t matter. How does it sound to you? Is it on the money? Does it hit flow? Does it make you sound like the company’s next rock star? If not, fix it. If so, send it along.

Here’s a little secret, just between us: Writing doesn’t come easy for anyone. It is an art of practice, just like dribbling a soccer ball, playing the piano or painting with oils.

The more you practice, the better you become.

The better your documents, the higher you’ll climb.

The higher you climb, the more likely you are to be the person in the C-suite that gets to ask the next someone like you to write your documents for them.

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As always, stay classy.

Chris Krug is president of the progressive media communications firm No Limit Agency in Chicago. No Limit is a full-service agency whose practice focuses on strategy, brand management, creative campaigns and delivering unparalleled placement in the media. No Limit Agency works with some of the best-known brands in North America, and that’s not a coincidence. Contact Krug by calling 312-526-3996 or via email at [email protected].

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