The secret to becoming a better business person is to become a better writer. That’s what one of the most powerful businessmen in America thinks.
Paul Tudor Jones, creator of the Robin Hood Foundation and Tudor Investment Corporation, has a net worth of $4.6 billion. He told Bloomberg:
“The single, most important thing you need to learn in any job or business is how to communicate.”
Specifically, in the form of writing, Jones explained. And Jones’ emphasis on writing as a high-priority business skill is echoed by other entrepreneurs.
Jeff Bezos makes meeting attendees sit in silence for 30 minutes at the start of every meeting, so they can read six pages of memos and understand what the meeting is about. Bezos believes that writing thoughts in narrative form is helpful; not only for your peers, but for yourself. The act of writing forces you to think through every angle of your project or proposal.
So how do you do become a better writer? According to Jones, the easiest way is to take a journalism class.
Now, you’re busy. I know this. And you don’t have time take a journalism class. So, to make sure that Jones never tears up your memo, here’s exactly how to become a better writer.
Follow these steps and you’ll know more about writing than 85% of the population.
Keep things simple
Business writing is about clarity and persuasion. The main technique is keeping things simple. Simple writing is persuasive. A good argument in five sentences will sway more people than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences. Don’t fight it.
Omit needless words
That means removing extra words. Don’t write, “He was very happy” when you can write “He was happy.” You think the word “very” adds something. It doesn’t. Omit excessive adverbs. Stephen King once said that adverbs pave the path to hell. He’s smarter than the both of us. Trust him.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t write long memos. Sometimes lots of writing is necessary. It means you should only use necessary words. Notice how I didn’t say “It just means you should only use necessary words.” Most of the time, the word just can be omitted.
Prune your sentences
You’re finished with writing your an email, blog post, or memo when you’ve pruned your copy to the barest essentials needed to get to your point. Not when it’s long enough to get your point across, but when it concisely does this.
Prune every word, sentence, or punctuation mark that doesn’t need to be there.
Punch the reader in the face with your first sentence
Go back and read first sentence of this article. I rewrote it nine times. Your first sentence needs to grab the reader’s attention.
Learn how brains organize ideas
Readers comprehend “the boy hit the ball,” quicker than “the ball was hit by the boy.” Both sentences mean the same, but it’s easier to imagine the object (the boy) before the action (the hit). All brains work that way. Notice I didn’t say, “That is the way all brains work”?
Use short sentences and short paragraphs
25 words per sentence is about right. Each sentence should only have one idea in it. Short paragraphs are easier to read than long paragraphs because they are less intimidating. Three to four sentences per paragraph does the trick.
Warren Buffett’s infamous annual letter to shareholders averages 13.5 words per sentence. Like Stephen King, he’s smarter than you. Learn from him.
Which one looks less intimidating?
Clichés – stay away!
Never use a phrase, metaphor, jargon, or other figure of speech that you’re used to reading in print or online. “Wheelhouse, circle back, and open the kimono should be used as often as your Vanilla Ice t-shirt.”
Use stories to explain complicated ideas
Simple stories clarify complicated concepts. Warren Buffett is famous for this. When explaining why Berkshire Hathaway needs lots of capital, even when they don’t have an acquisition in mind, Buffett said:
When appealing for patience, he wrote: “No matter how great the talent or effort, some things just take time: you can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”
And when asked why he’s aggressive in bullish markets: “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked.”
Use The Hemingway app
When in doubt, use The Hemingway App. It’s a free tool that helps you become a better writer by notifying you when you’re using run-on sentences and excessive adverbs. And it gives you a readability rating. Try to write at a 7th grade reading level.
And finally, read more. A few of these points are taken directly from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. Read everything on his blog. And if you’re still interested, read Stephen King’s “On Writing.”