5 QuickTips for
Writing Like a Person
(Not a Mindless Drone)

by Joel Saltzman


1. Keep it Simple

Unfortunately, lots of business people think: If it's writing, it's got to be wordy and complicated. The truth is just the opposite: If it's writing, it's best to be simple and straightforward. In other words…

2. Think of Your Writing as "Talking" on Paper

The more your writing sounds like talking, the easier it will be to write - and to read. In contrast, consider this interoffice memo from the director of employee relations at a major corporation. His memo begins:

Good attendance to include being at work on time is expected as well as a condition of employment.

This is the language of lawyers, bureaucrats and windbags. It may look like English but it's Greek to you and me. Surprisingly, the memo continues in fairly simple language:

Our hours of operation are Monday-Friday, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. We understand that there will be times when you need to be absent, late, or leave early. When this happens, it is your responsibility to notify your immediate supervisor and inform him as far in advance as possible.

This is the difference between "writing" (Good attendance to include being at work on time…) and "talking" on paper. With the first sentence, you can barely translate it; as for the rest, it almost sounds human.

Remember: The more you "talk" on paper, the better they'll listen. Meanwhile…

3. Keep Your Reader in Mind

I recently received a letter from my internet provider, reproduced below word-for-word. To protect myself from litigation, I've changed their name to Acme Cable. Also, I've added in brackets [like this] my "internal monologue" - what I was thinking as I read each line. The letter reads:

Dear Acme Cable Customer:

As the final part of the transition to the Acme Power Plus high-speed Internet access network, you will need to exchange your current LANcity modem for a new DOCIS modem. [That's a drag.] There is no fee or change in your cost to exchange your modem. [Why would there be?] However, please be advised that your modem will need to be replaced in the next couple of weeks or your service will be interrupted. [What!? That's not right.]

Replacing your current model with our new DOCSIS compliant modem and dynamic IP will not only improve your service reliability and function, but allows for upgrade capabilities in the future at no cost or inconvenience to you. [That sounds right.] Please see the options below on making this change and decide which will suit your needs. [Finally, someone's thinking about my needs!]

Visit any of our lobbies at the locations listed below and we will accept your old modem and replace it with a new one free of charge. [Of course there's no charge! ] Customers who bring in the LANcity modem to exchange will receive a coupon for a free month of Power Plus service that may redeemed immediately for credit on next month's bill. [I don't believe it: They saved the good news for last - after they made me really unhappy!]

That said…

4. Don't Bury Your Lead

If you've got good news - or can put a "good news" spin on things - don't be shy. Get it out in the open ASAP. For example, what if the letter above started with the headline:

How to Get a FREE MONTH of Power Plus Service

Imagine how differently the reader would feel. Instead of outrage and anger, you could score points by creating a positive, feel good, reaction [What a great opportunity for me to save some money!].

Finally, remember this: Whether you're working to craft a winning headline or struggling with your body copy…

5. Writing is Rewriting

No one gets it right the first time out. No one. Not you. Not me. Not anyone whose work you've read and admired.

Having finished his first draft of A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway wrote to his editor, Max Perkins: "Would like to put it away for a couple or three months and then re-write it. The re-writing doesn't take more than six weeks or two months once it is done. But it is pretty important for me to let it cool off well before re-writing."

What you need is objectivity - the ability to read what you've written as if you were the reader, not the writer.

How long will it take to become objective about your work? The longer you stay away from that first draft, the more objectivity you'll gain - though try not to wait so long your boss starts screaming, "I don't care what Saltzman says, we need it now!"

As a rule, waiting just an hour or two can make a major difference in your ability to see things more clearly. Even better is waiting overnight, returning to your work in the clear light of day. Suddenly, you'll be so objective you'll be able to read your work as if it were, well, someone else's. You'll see what works, what doesn't and just how much work that other person has in front of him.


Joel Saltzman is a speaker, facilitator and consultant who teaches people in business to
Shake That Brain!® and discover solutions for maximum profit.
He’s also the author of the best selling book, If You Can Talk, You Can Write.

Joel can be reached Toll Free at 877-Shake It! (877-742-5348).
e-mail: joel@shakethatbrain.com