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Practice Management > Building Your Business

How to Be a Better Wordsmith

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“Let me start by pointing out that we have actualized our goal of making sales 20 percent higher in the second quarter.”

You’ve probably read sentences just like this in countless business letters and emails. Let’s face it, you’ve probably written similar statements yourself. So what’s so bad about it?

Jack E. Appleman, an award-winning writer with more than 20 years of experience as a trainer, professor, and PR/communications professional,
would probably say this sentence is “overstuffed” and unclear. On top of that, it includes the annoying buzzword “actualize.”

“Today, we’re all writers,” Appleman writes in his book “10 Steps to Successful Business Writing” (ASTD Press, 2008). “We generate more documents than ever before — but we don’t do it well. The latest studies reveal that employees who write poorly waste countless hours and, more important, countless dollars.”

Fortunately, Appleman says that anyone can learn how to write more effectively. “It doesn’t matter how extensive your vocabulary is or what grades you received in high school or college English. If you can learn to convey a message simply — so readers quickly get it — then you can become an effective business writer.”

In his easy-to-read, practical guide, Appleman shows you how to polish up your business writing skills — a move that could increase your productivity, demonstrate your leadership skills, and propel your business to the next level.

Make it crystal clear
“Despite our best intentions, our communication with others is often unclear,” Appleman writes. “If people would speak and write exactly what they mean, we could avoid so many problems and so much wasted time.”

According to Appleman, if you want your writing to be clear, you have to include all the pertinent details. “Never make readers guess what you’re saying — they’ll often guess wrong,” he explains.

For example, let’s say you write the following sentence in an email: “I need to speak with Rick before his meeting today with the sales force at 3:30.” Your reader probably isn’t sure what you’re trying to tell her. Are you saying that you need to talk to Rick at 3:30? Or do you need to speak with Rick before his meeting, which begins at 3:30?

Don’t be so stuffy
In the writing world, simplicity always reigns supreme. Don’t try to dazzle your reader with complex sentences and corporate jargon — you’ll just end up confusing them.

For example, Appleman says the following sentence is “stuffy and wordy”: “You will be advised of my decision regarding whether our team will be able to meet the deadline that you requested as soon as I review the situation with my supervisor, after which I’ll inform you of the outcome.” Huh? Do you really think the reader understands what this person is trying to say?

Appleman says you can easily convert this complicated sentence to “plain English” by changing it to read, “After I check with my supervisor, I’ll tell you if our team can meet the deadline.” The reader is much more likely to understand this simple, straightforward statement.

Get to the point
While clear, concise sentences will definitely help your readers understand what you’re trying to say, it will take a little more effort to grab their attention in the first place.

“On a typical business day, the average worker is exposed to more than 3,000 marketing messages,” Appleman points out. “Most employees today are impatient and don’t want to slog through several paragraphs before figuring out what you’re trying to say. In other words, they want you to get to the point immediately.”

If you want your reader to get the message, you need to reveal your primary point in the very first sentence of the letter or email.

“To a great extent, you are what you write in the corporate world,” Appleman says. “Those who learn to write better will work more productively and be able to demonstrate leadership and management abilities.”

Amy Bell is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to the Agent’s Sales Journal. Visit her Web site at or email her at [email protected]. “10 Steps to Better Business Writing” can be purchased online at or


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