Ernest Hemingway’s 10 Step Guide to Persuasive Writing

One of tricks that Hemingway plays on the reader is that while the prose is ‘ordinary’, you can’t help but keep reading on and on and on… It looks simple until you try it. Look at how he does it. His writing style is crisp, direct and engaging. All the signs of a great writer. Look at how he makes long sentences short, mundane subjects interesting, and clips along at a nice pace. And without ever losing the thread. Us business writers can use these techniques to improve business plans, proposals, white papers and case studies.

Let’s get started.

ernest-hemingway-writing-desk

10 Step Guide to persuasive Writing

Here are some ways to improve your business documents:

  1. Highlight the Benefits to the Reader – Write from the reader’s perspective. Instead of writing about you and your products, turn it around and show the reader what’s in it for them. How does this proposal solve the company’s financial problems? How does this email keep the project on track? How does this procedure simplify complicated business processes?
  2. Give the reader a compelling reason to open your email, read it through, and then take action. We’re all the same. When you get a business proposal, you’re first reaction is, “What’s in it for me?” It is your job as a writer to tailor the material so that it answers these questions.
  3. Write at Appropriate Level – Match your writing style and choice of words to your audience. Do not use complex terms or jargon that the reader will not understand. Likewise, do not use simple terms or use poor examples if the reader is capable of understanding your material. They’ll assume you’re being condescending or patronizing them. Get the tone right and go from there.
  4. How to Structure Paragraphs #1 – Business letters are not read the same way as articles, reports, or books. Usually, they are read by people in a hurry. Business people looking for answers. Quickly. Structure your material so that it’s easy for the reader to find the answers to these questions. Don’t make them dig it out. Use short paragraphs, lots of information rich headings, bullet points and useful summaries.
  5. How to Structure Paragraphs #2– Fine-tune each paragraph for purpose, content, and function. If you have a paragraph that cover more than one idea, consider dividing it into two or more paragraphs. Likewise, if two paragraphs cover the same ground, merge them into one.
  6. Be Specific – don’t mix two ideas in the same paragraph. Make it easy for the reader by giving each topic its own paragraph. Use language that describe your ideas correctly and highlights the relative importance of each concept.
  7. Understand Relative Importance – Use phrases such as “most important,” “major,” or “primary” when discussing business concepts you want to emphasize. Use phrases such as “a minor point to consider” or “least important” to introduce ideas of less importance.
  8. List Key Points – Use verb-leading lists whenever possible. These are lists that start with a strong action verb. Lists also help the reader identify the important points and get a feel for the material with a quick scan.
  9. Prioritize Information – Consider how you introduce and position important information. Remember, content at the start and end of the paragraph tend to be read first. People scan documents. Critical business information buried in the middle of long paragraphs is easily overlooked. Knowing this, put important information in high-visibility points.
  10. Get the Tone Right – Consider the tone and word choice when writing negative or critical communications. For example, in a ‘negative’ project assessment email, you can thank the team member for reader for their input or involvement but state that you cannot comply with their wishes. Then follow this response with your explanation.

Business writing is not difficult but…

Business writing is not difficult. What makes it hard is that the way we approach it defeats our purpose. Your goal as a business writer, oddly enough, is to write less.

Why?

Because every time you write something, you goal should be to push it towards completion. Write your emails so that your team knows what to do next and don’t come back looking for clarification. Write your status report so that your Project Manager know the risks and issues and doesn’t reply looking for more information.

PS – do you have a favorite book by Hemingway?

About the Author: Ivan Walsh provides Business Tips for Smart People on Klariti.com. His also writes on the Business Plan Blog at http://www.ivanwalsh.com

Google News: How to Get Your Blog Indexed

Google News: How to Get Your Blog Indexed Ever wondered how some blogs appear on Google News and others don’t? Ever wanted to get your site on Google News. Google has published guidelines explaining how the process works. Do it right and you might be indexed. If you’d like a site to be included in Google News, you can also send them the URL directly. Continue reading “Google News: How to Get Your Blog Indexed”

How do you Manage Extremely Negative Comments on your Blog?

angry ostritchI need your advice. Someone has left a fairly negative comment on my blog. What should I do? Approve or Delete? The reason I ask is this. I want people to give their opinion and, even if it offends me in some ways—let’s say they made some sarcastic remarks or found a typo—I’d still approve it. Feedback can be a great learning opportunity. But, where do you draw the line?
Continue reading “How do you Manage Extremely Negative Comments on your Blog?”

Detox your Documents: Put Your Words on a Diet

Goethe once wrote to a friend, “If I had more time, I’d have sent you a shorter letter.” Here’s why.

Goethe once wrote to a friend, “If I had more time, I’d have sent you a shorter letter.” Here’s why.
We’re all guilty of using clichés and resorting to figures of speech, especially after a long day slaving over a PC. Nonetheless, we still need to streamline our material and make sure that readers get something worthy of their attention.
Here are seven ways to cut the fat from your documents and get them back to health.

The Non-Designer’s Design Book
Let’s start.
Get a recent sample of one of your documents writing, for example, a sales letter or proposal, and look for the following horrors.
1. There are…
Avoid using this as an opener; it sounds jaded. It gives the impression that you couldn’t think of anything more interesting.
The same goes for “It is.”
These empty subjects and weak verbs add no value to your work and dilute the power of your writing. Rearrange sentences to avoid these fillers.

Not: There are now thousands of websites on the Internet.

Use: Thousands of websites are now on the Internet.

2. Ditch clichés
Make a list of your most frequently used clichés.
Paste it next to your PC, or wherever you work.
Once you’re finished drafting a document, double-check that you have not let any of these creep in.
Watch out for clichés entering your copy when you are tired, in a hurry, or impatient.
I tend to resort to clichés when I’m low on energy or waste want to wrap things up. It’s a waste of time. In the morning, I have to re-write it anyway.
Some words and expressions are so overused that they’ve been reduced to meaningless phrases.
For example:

Pre-plan — plan is fine. Can you really pre-plan?
Solution — isn’t everything a solution these days? There must be an alternative.
Seamless — is it really?
Micro Manage — manage
Access — usage, allow,
Paradigm — business model
Radical — different
Broad Range — spectrum
Synergy — connection,
Enterprise — company
Virtually Unlimited — endless
Utilize — use
Proactive — active

3. Remove what’s redundant
Go through your writing and root out redundancies, such as:

Blue in color (what else could it be besides color)
Large in size (what other kind of large is there?)
New innovation (is there an old innovation?)
End result (and the beginning result was…)
Final outcome (… was just the outcome.)

4. Be selective with Passive verbs
Passive verb tend to offer a weak, roundabout way of saying something.
In general, you can replace a passive verb with an active verb and improve the clarity of the sentence.

Not: The computer was built by John.
But: John built the computer.

5. Evil adverbs.
“Rather,” “very,” “quite”: These adverbs dilute your writing.
Cut them out and the meaning of your sentence becomes sharper and will resonate with more conviction. Poor adverbs tend to convey vagueness and a lack of interest.

Not: I was rather worried that our computers were quite unsafe.
But: I was concerned that our computers were unsafe.

6. Get to the point
We use the verb “say” so much that we tend not even to read the phrase itself.
Hemingway could get away with it, but you’re not Hemingway. Well, I’m not anyway.
Even though it’s nice to use an alternative choice every now and then, avoid using different verbs simply to get around using “he said, she said”. Constantly using different verbs in place of “say” knocks the reader off balance; it sounds contrived.
7. Jargon
Just as rappers (and their fans) used their own private language to differentiate themselves from others, companies also fall into this trap.
One of my former managers always spoke about ‘low hanging fruit.
I bet that if you worked for the company I did, you’d have heard it.
Why?
Everyone used this on conf calls and in presentations. It was company lingo. They all used it to emphasize that there were ‘in’.
There was never a plan – we ‘transitioned’ instead.
Programmers were ‘technologists’.
It was our own private, internal language. When it crept into emails, memos, and circulars, then it could be understood. But when it appeared in customer facing reports and technical documents, then you have a problem.
3 Style Guides and Writing Books I Recommend

The Non-Designer’s Design Book

Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace (3rd Edition)

Technical Editing (4th Edition)

What clichés do they use at your place?

Why Users Want Familiar Web Design and User Interfaces

jakob-nielsen-usabilityJakob Nielsen warns us that users hate change. He recommends that “it’s best to stay with a familiar design and evolve it gradually. In the long run, however, incrementalism eventually destroys cohesiveness, calling for a new UI architecture. ”
You often hear design team members (or their management) say, “We need a fresh design.” This usually gets redesign projects off on a wrong footing, with the wrong goals and strategy.
Continue reading “Why Users Want Familiar Web Design and User Interfaces”

How To Mind Your Grammar On The Web

Ben Parr (Mashable) asks: “Say your project manager comes to you with his proposal that will be going out to investors, business partners, and potential clients.
Then you find that your manager has used “4” instead of “four”, “r” instead of “are”, and abbreviations such as lol, atm, and idk.
How would you react? ” Continue reading “How To Mind Your Grammar On The Web”

How to write guidelines for Twitter?

I’ve been asked to prepare a set of guidelines for Twitter by a company I used to work for in Sacramento. They’re a well-established financial services firm and are struggling to get a handle on how best to approach this. What’s the balance between allowing employees to use it as their discretion while also protecting the company from legal issues and other possible negative fallout if/when an employee rants or discusses company business on Twitter? I should stress that they want their employees to use Twitter (within reason) but are a bit nervous. Remember they want to create guidelines – not rules.

twitter-birdI’ve been asked to prepare a set of guidelines for Twitter by a company I used to work for in Sacramento.
They’re a well-established financial services firm and are struggling to get a handle on how best to approach this.
What’s the balance between allowing employees to use it as their discretion while also protecting the company from legal issues and other possible negative fallout if/when an employee rants or discusses company business on Twitter? I should stress that they want their employees to use Twitter (within reason) but are a bit nervous. Remember they want to create guidelines – not rules. Continue reading “How to write guidelines for Twitter?”

The Chicago Manual of Style Online Just Got Better!

What’s the best style guide to use? I use Microsoft’s technical publications guide for my technical documents but have started to use The Chicago Manual of Style online. It’s been a while since I visited the site and there has been some very nice features added. Like the site says: Welcome to The Chicago Manual of Style Online—the indispensable online reference for all who work with words. For professional writers, book-mark this!

What’s the best style guide to use? I use Microsoft’s technical publications guide for my technical documents but have started to use The Chicago Manual of Style online.
It’s been a while since I visited the site and there has been some very nice features added. Like the site says: Welcome to The Chicago Manual of Style Online—the indispensable online reference for all who work with words. For professional writers, book-mark this! Continue reading “The Chicago Manual of Style Online Just Got Better!”

How to write your first Standard Operating Procedure

Writing your first Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) can be a daunting task. Before I left for Japan I managed to get some words over to Carlos. Here’s a few ideas I had. What do you think I should add?

SOP Template | Procedure Template
SOP Template | Procedure Template

A colleague in South America asked me this week to help “design and development standard operating procedures for training.”
I’ve done a lot of this over the years and even developed Standard Operating Procedure templates for Klariti Ltd.
Writing your first Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) can be a daunting task. Before I left for Japan I managed to get some words over to Carlos. Here’s a few ideas I had. What do you think I should add? Continue reading “How to write your first Standard Operating Procedure”