Last Friday was the final MBA English Support workshop of this semester. The three students who attended gained some new ideas and improved their self-awareness of their business communication skills. As identified in a recent Globe and Mail news article, communications skills are the most highly valued by business these days, and also one of the most lacking by new employees. This is something that continuing to improve will only benefit you. Here is the slideshow from the workshop.
Style is vitally important in writing. Your overall writing presentation, the words you use and how you use them has a great impact on your readers. And, of course, you write for your readers.
Academic writers wants to appear academic and professional. They do this in various ways. First, they use academic words and phrases, such as “major” instead of “big”, “much” or “many” rather than “a lot of”, “effective” rather than “good”. The words you use should convey precise meaning. For example, “good” is too general; as a reader, I want to know good in what way? Except for social media, you do not write the way you speak, or you should not. Professional style also avoids jargon, slang, or colloquialisms. This
style of language is too informal for academic professional writing.
Academic writing also adopts a style of writing sentences that are neither too short, nor too long, but which are clear and demonstrate the writer’s knowledge. My rule of thumb is that a sentence should not exceed 3 lines on a page. A sentence should reflect one idea. An idea can be complex, thereby requiring numerous clauses. But if it is too complex, it is best to break it into several sentences. Don’t make it too difficult for the reader. As a writer, you know what you mean, but you should put yourself in the shoes of the reader.
One important way to support our points when writing is by examples. Examples can be introduced within a sentence, or as a sentence on their own. Remember to say something about the example given rather than just throw it in. Try to use powerful examples that are current and ideally universal. Examples from history don’t necessarily need to be avoided, but they should be blended with those nearer to us in time.
Examples from one’s own country may not necessarily apply in other countries. Examples must be credible, relevant, and easy to comprehend.
One of the challenges writers in Canada who come from other countries face is that what is considered good academic style in their country may not necessarily be considered good in Canada. In North America, you don’t write to show off. Using “multi-syllabic words” that most people don’t know (for example: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis ) or filling your writing with unnecessary words to make it longer is just bad writing. The democratic ethos holds that good writers write in a way that anyone with the necessary context and background knowledge should be able to understand.
It is also important to remember that all academic writing is not good academic writing. There are many bad writers in academia who do not necessarily write clearly and concisely. A good way to improve your writing is to find some models of exemplary academic and professional writing, and emulate them. Read the Economist or Time magazine. Or Harvard Business Review. Find a writer you like and study their style.
Remember it takes time to develop a style that fits you and fits your reader. Knowing the key principles comes first, then following them.
You may find these internet resources useful.
You can read the online version of one of the best style books, appropriately name The Elements of Style here.
More words and phrases to avoid (with alternatives) from the British Council
- What makes for good business writing?
- Can you think of the top ten criteria?
- What should effective business writing not be?
- How does this compare with typical business writing in your own country?
- How does your business writing stack up?
Think of these questions as you engage in and seek to improve your own business writing.
First, what types of business writing do you do? What kind of feedback have you gotten about it?
You may not be able to fix everything about your business writing, but you can make a start by focusing on a few significant trouble spots. What are three specific things you can improve about your business writing?
A recent Forbes article noted 8 keys to better business writing. While clearly important for business contexts, they are applicable to all writing.
- Know your purpose.
- Know and understand your reader. (What do they need and want? What do they like?)
- Write a quick first draft. (Don’t over-think things.)
- Revise and edit. (Always be sure to check before clicking the ‘send’ button.)
- Be extremely clear and direct.
- Avoid redundancy (of words and ideas).
- Avoid jargon.
- Use the appropriate tone. (This point is related to point 2; be neither overly formal, no excessively informal).
Here is a wonderful example of how writing can be improved.
Remember, your writing is an immediate and enduring reflection of who you are.
The Internet has so many tools and resources these days to help us better do what we do. The problem is that there is too much and most of it is not very good. Knowing which tools are best helps immensely. Here are some I can recommend.
I recently came across this website quite by accident, but it looks very interesting and worthy of exploration.
Also, for business students, the Business Writer’s Free Library has a bountiful supply of resources.
Finally, this business writing blog is definitely worth subscribing to.
Numbers are extremely common in academic writing, especially business writing. Therefore, it is important to abide by correct conventions in using them. As it is, there are different rules depending on whether your discipline follows APA, MLA, Harvard Referencing, or other formats. Since VIU’s management faculty has adopted APA, this blog post will cover the main rules according to APA.
According to APA, write the numbers as words for one through nine. For above nine, write out the number.
I ate one pickle She ate four pickles. He ate 10 pickles. They ate 99 pickles.
However, if a sentence begins with a number, write out the number.
Ninety-nine pickles fell onto the floor.
For numbers in technical contexts (i.e. dates, times, addresses, prices, statistics), write out the numbers.
The jar of pickles cost $4.99. He bought it on May 2, 2014.
Speaking numbers and listening to numbers are another matter for another blog post.
Look at the use of numbers in this letter: