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New Year’s Resolutions–More or Less

Most New Year’s resolutions have to do with more and less. I will exercise more. I will eat less. I will delegate more. I will spend less time working late. In the spirit of more and less, I offer these suggestions for improving your business writing in 2007.

1. Pick up the phone more. Talk with people. Share a laugh. Relate a story. Express interest in the other person. These things are very hard to do well in email, so use the phone.

2. Write less. Cut your documents by 10 percent. Get to the point at the beginning of your message rather than clearing your throat (metaphorically), and end when you finish your thoughts. Don’t make yourself write more just to fill the screen or page. When it comes to writing, less is more–more effective.

3. Be more understanding and empathetic, and communicate those feelings in your writing. Put yourself in the other person’s place. Rather than arguing for “me” and “us,” think about the person and write “we,” “you and I,” and “you.”

4. Plan more. Instead of just typing, think first. Plan what you need to communicate. Think about what your reader needs from you. Then write.

5. Be less reserved. Use people’s names, sign your own name, say “hi,” and use an occasional exclamation point (Thanks! Terrific!) After all, you are writing to human beings who actually like to have fun and smile.

6. Be more generous. Give away an article, a tip, a strategy, a recipe, a quote, an idea. You will enrich the other person, yourself, and perhaps the world.

7. Use less jargon. If you do, more people will understand you.

8. Be more organized. Put that email in a folder–or delete it–as soon as you have handled it. Give documents precise names. Do it now.

9. Guess less. Double check spellings (especially of individuals’ and companies’ names), look up abbreviations, and get confirmation of numbers and other details. Learn to use punctuation correctly. Become known for accuracy.

10. Give yourself more help. Buy a style manual, pick up a recent book on writing, take a class. The time and money you spend will pay off many times.

11. Give people more than they expect. If you say the proposal will be ready on Friday, deliver it on Thursday. If you promise a refund, give a refund plus postage. Insert a free gift or certificate with your product. Delight people when they are not expecting it.

12. Allow more time to finish a piece of writing. Then if you finish early, you will have extra time to polish it, proofread, deliver it early, and get more exercise.

As with exercise, don’t overdo it. Pick just one of these suggestions and try it–today.



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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

2 comments on “New Year’s Resolutions–More or Less”

  • Dear Lynn,
    I must really appreciate the simplicity in your style! The real life examples helps the learner get a very clear idea of the concepts of Business writing. It’s indeed difficult to be an equine police officer!
    Vaishali Jundre

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