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Writing rules you should break

Business writing can feel like a balancing act. trinians titles cartoon On the one hand you want to get your point over in an engaging way, on the other you want to appear professional. So how do you get it right?

Here’s a quick guide. Three writing rules you should break, (and three you shouldn’t.)

Rule 1.
Write in proper sentences.
Not a straightforward point, and I’m not advocating the death of punctuation. Rather I’m suggesting you treat your sentence structure with a bit of flexibility. I sometimes think of sentences as hand and footholds for the reader, as they climb their way through your writing. Sometimes it’s good to reach an easy one. A very short sentence, coming after a series of longer ones, makes an impact. Like this.

Of course ‘like this’ is not technically a sentence at all, but if it works to make your point, then why not use it? I don’t have a problem with one word ‘sentences’ either. If they contribute to the flow of your writing and help the reader understand what you’re trying to say, then throw a couple into the mix. Simple.

Rule 2.
Metaphors belong in poems.
Poetry is full of fabulously inspiring literary rule breaking and business writers can steal a trick or two. Metaphors are a quick win. Poets seek images that have an emotional resonance to make lasting connections with readers. Connection is your number one aim with a piece of business writing too.

I don’t mean scattering your website with moonlit walks and hosts of golden daffodils. Rather that you think laterally and creatively when you’re writing. If an image comes to mind when you’re trying to describe a process, or an idea, (like my climbing metaphor in the first point) don’t be afraid to use it. Seek them out and give your writing more impact.

A word of caution. Because metaphors and analogies make real connections with readers, it can get confusing if you throw too many in, or keep switching themes. For example, if you’ve set up your writing with driving metaphors – full throttle, stuck in gear, hair pin bend - and then you change to sailing ones -full steam ahead, stormy weather, choppy waters- your reader will become disorientated. Sea sick, even.

Rule 3.
Long words impress readers.
Your English teacher at school probably gave you a big tick when you managed to wiggle some complicated piece of vocabulary into your essays, but you won’t get full marks for it in business. Simple straightforward words are better. Don’t say ‘cascade’ when you mean ‘tell’, don’t say ‘strategize’ when you mean ‘plan’, don’t say ‘empower’ ever. Just don’t.

And an even quicker guide to those you mustn’t break.

Rule 1. Spell it right. Although our language is flexible and evolving, you do need to spell everything correctly.

Rule 2. Punctuate properly. Don’t forget your full stops and capital letters. Your aim is to make your reader understand. Taking away the punctuation is like taking away the road signs – no one knows when to slow down and when to stop.

Rule 3. Don’t get your ‘it’s’ and your ‘its’ mixed up. People get awfully irate about it. (My rule – see whether ‘its’ could be replaced by ‘his’ or ‘her.’ If it can’t be, you need the other one!)

If you need help with shaping up your business writing, give me a call on 07985 015300.

2 Comments

  • 1
    January 21, 2011 - 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Sharon.

    I’ve read through all the posts on your blog this evening and have really enjoyed them! I see what you mean about letting your personality through in what you write – yours shines through on your blog!

    I’ll definitely be following your advice.

    All the best,

    Nick

    • 2
      admin
      January 23, 2011 - 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Nick, really glad you liked them. Hope it helps with your website. Best wishes, Sharon.

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