Authors Aim to Crush Pompous, Stodgy Business Prose With PM-Bad Writing-Samples
NEW YORK (AP) _ It’s time for American businesses to quit using pompous and stuffy language, say two authors whose book targets everyone who has written ″please find attached,″ or ″at your earliest convenience.″
″Corporate writing is terrible,″ says Robert Bly, who co-authored ″The Elements of Business Writing″ with Gary Blake. ″The antiquated phrases, the weasily way of sayingG things, the beating around the bush, not getting to the point. I realized a book was needed.″
However, Bly and Blake - both business writing consultants for more than 10 years - said they realized their book had to be different because there are already dozens of others.
They decided to keep it simple and specific to appeal to busy business people. They borrowed a time-tested formula employed decades ago by the late E.B. White and William Strunk Jr., in ″The Elements of Style,″ now a bible for journalists and other writing professionals.
″In less than 150 pages, it really tries to take you to the key areas that need improvement, using the simple Strunk-and-White formula that we all love - before-and-after examples, simple rules and spare prose and applying the concept to the world of business writing,″ said Blake.
The 140-page paperback includes chapters on composition of sentences, organizing thoughts, tone, how to be persuasive, and tips on grammar, spelling and other rudiments.
It illustrates each rule with before-and-after examples of bad and good writing. Some excerpts:
- Rule: Be conversational. Bad: Your earliest attention to the above matter is absolutely imperative. Good: Please send us your check by Friday.
- Rule: Avoid jargon. Bad: Well-designed documentation is a necessary requisite for an optimized human-machine interface. Good: If we want people to be able to use the system, we need a manual that’s easy to understand.
- Rule: Avoid antiquated phrases. Bad: We deem it advisable for you to wait. Good: We suggest you wait.
Other tips: Start with what’s important to the reader, not you; if you’re doubtful about a sentence, read it aloud to someone else. When describing several new concepts, use similar sentence structures. Don’t try to impress readers with your knowledge. In a sentence with both good and bad news, give the bad news first; readers generally remember best what they’re told last.
The book also includes lists of sexist words, cliches, and words with commonly mistaken meanings such as principle and principal, who and whom.
Bad writing persists for several reasons, the authors say.
Many people dread it, remembering the horror of having their English teacher’s red pen scrawl all over their composition papers in school. ″Most people are so eager to get the damn thing over with that they just start writing,″ said Blake. ″If you’ve got 10 minutes to write something, spend the first two or three just organizing. It’s going to make the next seven or eight minutes flow more easily.″
New employees tend to copy the style of old letters or memos, they say. Moreover, people are vague to avoid blame when things go wrong, when most readers prefer clarity and forthrightness, they say.
Other business writing consultants say the book can be useful for finding dos and don’ts.
″What it is is a reference book. It won’t teach them how to write,″ said Judy Stein, who runs Strategic Communications, a consulting firm in New Haven, Conn., and has authored two business writing books.
″Teaching people concepts of expression, persuasion and positioning gets pretty sophisticated. That’s hard to teach them,″ said Lin Kroeger, of The Communications Link Co. in Palmyra, N.J.
″The Elements of Business Writing,″ published in hardcover by Macmillan Publishing Co. about a year ago, has been out in paperback for about two weeks.Blake said more than 20,000 copies have been sold, two thirds of them in hardcover.