How to Win People Over With Your Writing

by | 07 November 2014

In an age where technology constantly transforms how we communicate with one another, it pays to be good at business writing. As Bryan Garner, author of “The HBR Guide to Better Business Writing,” describes it, in the business world it takes “only a few words to make a strong impression — good or bad.”

If you want to succeed, you’ve got to learn to write well. And to write well, you’ve got to be clear, informative, concise and persuasive.

Fortunately, you can learn to become a good writer. But it takes practice.

Thankfully, there are plenty of resources on the Internet that can help you improve your business writing immediately. One of our favorites is this video from Harvard Business Review, featuring the aforementioned Bryan A. Garner. In “Five Ways to Improve Your Writing,” Garner, a noted legal writer and teacher, offers up a short list of concrete ways to make you a better writer right now.

His first tip? Use personal pronouns skillfully. Garner advocates avoiding the (over)use of the word “I.” Instead, he urges you to deploy the much more engaging and friendly pronouns “we,” “our,” “you” and “your.” These pronouns shift focus away from you and pull your reader in.

His second tip is to use contractions. That’s right: Use “can’t” instead of “cannot” and “won’t” instead of “will not.” Garner says many writers are afraid of contractions because they’ve been taught to avoid them. But in the business world, he argues, using a contraction here and there doesn’t break any real rule. Besides, contractions help you to sound less stuffy and stilted.

Watch the video for Garner’s other three tips. They’re just as commonsense as you’d might expect — but no less helpful. Take advantage of these great reminders the next time you sit down to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Let us know what you think. Did Garner miss any important points? What’s the best writing tip you can offer?