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Working on a Writing Brand

In a Writing Tune-Up for Peak Performance class, a young African-American man (I’ll call him Edward) told us he was having trouble developing his writing “brand.” I wondered what he meant, and guessed (silently) that Edward was trying to figure out how to express himself professionally while incorporating the language of his youth or his heritage. I started thinking about how I would respond to that intriguing question.

But the question was wider than I had imagined, something everyone should consider. Edward explained that he had a hard time using expressions such as “low-hanging fruit,” “bottom-line focus,” and “at the end of the day,” expressions company leaders used all the time. He wasn’t comfortable using them–they just didn’t fit. But he didn’t know what his brand should be.

Bravo, Edward!

I admire Edward for questioning the language other people use without question. People use that language because it seems clear and vivid. But it isn’t clear or vivid to many people in plenty of situations.

Is “low-hanging fruit” an easy, sure success? Then say so.

What is “bottom-line focus” really? What does it mean to you and me?

When is “at the end of the day”? Finally? Eventually? At the end of the project? At the end of the year?

To Edward, I recommended clarity and conciseness as a business writing brand. They never go out of style. Once adopted, they never require a change of habit, just small adjustments for particular audiences, purposes, and media. Clarity and conciseness work in any industry, at every slot on the organization chart. They travel well.

Imagine clarity and conciseness as a brand in your business. If everyone lived the brand, what would change?



Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
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. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

5 comments on “Working on a Writing Brand”

  • Great post! Those phrases aren’t clear or vivid precisely because they’re used in so many different situations. They lose their specificity and meaning.

  • I like your blog as I think that I get nice information to improve writing skills.I like that what Edward explained.I agree what you have said about clarity and conciseness as a business writing brand.

  • I read this waiting to see how the fact that Edward was African-American would become relevant. It didn’t appear to.

  • Thanks for raising that topic, Ally. Edward’s race was relevant because I had guessed that he might be working on how to incorporate the language of his youth and heritage into his business communication. I find that an intriguing, important question. However, his question was much broader–and also important.


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