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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Business Writing

Proven Techniques for Writing Memos, Letters, Reports, and Emails that Get Results

Wilma Davidson, Foreword by Janet Emig

St. Martin's Griffin


Introduction: Why I Wrote This Book

To a three-year-old child, a crayon in the hand is pure power and enjoyment. Eagerly and effortlessly that youngster scribbles an imprint for the world to see. Yet by the time that child is an adult, and the crayon is replaced by pen, pencil, or computer, the sight of a blank page or blank screen is likely to provoke terror and helplessness.

When and where did so many of us learn to dislike, and even fear, an activity that was once natural and fun? Chances are, it was the moment writing became associated with being graded and judged. Most likely, this happened in school—where, unwittingly, early instruction stressed perfection rather than growth; where misguided teaching sought to correct and eliminate every error at once instead of encouraging experimentation and learning through mistake-making; where to collaborate with another was not only discouraged but often viewed as cheating; where the goal was to impress the teacher by the paper’s length—not its message.

No wonder so many of us began to hate writing. Dutifully corrected by well-intentioned teachers, each paper punctured our self-esteem. But, like it or not, we learned to write—for the world of school, that is: Use big words, fill lots of pages, impress the teacher.

But writing in the business world demands different skills—skills not necessarily learned in school. In school we wrote for the teacher only. In the workplace we write for broader audiences with varying needs and expectations. And our business audience is far less patient about wading through our inch-thick reports or reading between the lines for our point. All too often the business writer confuses the goal of business writing with the goal of school writing. In business we write to get a job done, a problem resolved, an action recommended or approved. In school we write to impress the teacher with our display of knowledge and vocabulary.

While this book does not concern itself with school writing, it is adamant about overcoming its legacy. One goal here, then, as in my seminars and private consulting, is to help business writers discard an impoverished view of writing that originated in school and to enlighten them about what works—and won’t—in the workplace. The book focuses on the attributes found in the best business writing and on the principles we can follow to make these qualities our own.

A second goal is to remind business writers that although writing well is often challenging, it can just as often be comfortable. Rediscovering that fact will help us once again write effortlessly and emphatically.

Three premises energize this book and my workshops. And these premises are strongly supported by considerable and reputable research into how writing is best learned:

1. We learn to write by writing, often by playful practice, texting and tweets included. That’s why the book is filled with exercises for you to try.

2. We learn to write by discussing our writing with others, by trying it out and getting feedback. That’s why sample memos have been included for you to compare with the versions you draft. It’s my way of providing feedback, even if only indirectly.

3. We learn to write by groping uncomfortably, even chaotically, for a time without fear of reprisal. That’s another benefit of the book: You can read and experiment and mess up and try again—in privacy and at leisure.

Enjoy this edition. It’s different from other books that claim you’ll learn to write better by just reading about how to do so. Reading alone doesn’t make you a better writer. Writing makes you a better writer. So I invite you to interact with the book. Practice and experiment. Try new ways of approaching your business writing. You’ll find what works best for you, and, I hope, you’ll regain that childhood sense of power and ease whenever you find yourself in front of your computer or iPad screen or with pen and paper in hand.

Copyright © 2015, 2001, 1994 by Wilma Davidson, Ed.D