Posted on

Business writing skills that will stop you getting stuck

In writing for business, a few basic skills will stop your creative juices getting stuck in a sticky mess. A lack of inspiration is common, so too a loudly ticking timeframe. “I love deadlines”, wrote Douglas Adams, “I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” Drifting away from your objective and feeling that you’re struggling to breathe, writing need not seem like a space disaster. Three simple thoughts will keep your feet on the ground.

Know your aim

In writing the opening line for a book about the first mission to the moon, I was looking for something that ticked several boxes. I needed a first line that would immediately make readers want to read more. In the end, I found something by keeping an eye on my aim.

Knowing your aim helps to clarify what needs to be included and what doesn’t. Think about what you need to say and the ideal length of your writing. How much room have you got? A methodical structure will help you say everything you need to in the space you have available.

Know your audience

Once you know what you want to do, the next step is to think about how to do it. Here, the golden rule is to think about your audience. Knowing your aim gives you a framework to operate within. Thinking of the audience helps you focus on how you want your message to come across. A friendly guide aimed at new joiners will take a different tone to a business pitch or a technical explanation. Tone can be warm and welcoming, dynamic and punchy or authoritative and unafraid of jargon.

It’s important to keep your text natural to who you are, avoid the pitfall of writing to impress. This is a risk for anyone who might feel the need to write something that matches up to ‘expectation’. Skip the tangled sentences. Keeping things simple is a better way to go.

Decide on your approach

Having decided on your direction and tone, the next step is to put it all together. In writing your material, whether it’s an email or a presentation, you’re looking to convey your message. Perhaps you might start by catching the reader’s attention before setting out the main message and then finishing in a way that underlines your point.

Catching attention can be done with a breezy opening statement, a short anecdote or a basic fact. Again, simple is best. Then comes the meat of your message. This can be underlined in a pithy conclusion that might even touch on the point you made at the beginning, always a tidy way to finish.

Along the way, you might get stuck for inspiration. Writer’s block affects everyone. You don’t have to wait until the wheels mysteriously start turning again. Go back to your aim. What are you trying to say? What have you said already, what do you need to say next?

“Please resign this minute”

It’s easy to make mistakes. When an aide wrote to Margaret Thatcher, saying “please can you resign this minute”, Thatcher replied: “Thank you dear, but I’d rather not.” In fact, the request related to the minutes of a meeting which the prime minister was being asked to re-sign. The original version was compelling, provocative and memorable, its only downfall was inaccuracy. Our eLearning course on Effective Business Writing offers help with such dangers.

In looking for the opening line to my book about going to the moon, I wanted to catch the reader’s attention with a simple, short question. The moment someone starts to think about an answer they are engaged. All the people later mentioned in the book shared one question in particular. What would the moon be like?


Posted on

Keep in calm control with effective time management skills

Time management is not a family forte at the best of times, and these aren’t the best of times. Last summer, our two weeks in Crete got downsized to four days in Suffolk, which due to a ‘listing error’ turned out to be Essex. It was rainy, and places were shut due to Covid. A SWAT time would have struggled to get the kids out of bed. On day one, with hopes of leaving the house by lunchtime slipping from our grasp, the kids were told they’d be left behind if they didn’t get up. “Shut the door on your way out”, floated a sleepy call from their bedroom.

Lockdown didn’t help. And even now that schools have reopened, the younger members of the family have been developing new skills in procrastination. Come August, if we want to get to our holiday destination at a reasonable hour, it might be safer to Fedex the kids in advance. In the interests of time management, it’s either that or screaming into a pillow.

Summers fly, winters walk, pandemics limp

Time slips by at different speeds. Summers fly, winters walk, according to Charles Schulz, a man who clearly hadn’t spent a year in lockdown when time consistently limped by half-heartedly. On a daily basis, the best moments race by, the dull dawdle and everything in between falls by like a waterfall that you’re unable to stop. You can however tinker with time. With a few adjustments, you can take a little more control, as if you’re able to slow down time or speed it up.

While working as a radio reporter, I found that time whipped by at breakneck speed. Everything had to be written, recorded and ready for broadcast at least five minutes before the hour, every hour of a shift. You’d come away from an hourly bulletin, take a deep breath, and get on with something new. And when you next looked up, you’d be heading towards the top of the hour again.

I had to quickly learn how to manage things, if only to fend off disappointed scowls from the editor. Rolling news is entirely about managing time, (which might explain some of my frustration in disorganised moments with the kids). The following thoughts were hard-won during shifts in shouty newsrooms.

Effective Time Management

1) Lack of time is not the issue, the real challenge is mindset. Our Learnflix eLearning course on Effective Time Management, expresses this in the words of writer Zig Ziglar, who said “lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem”. In managing your relationship with time, start by working backwards. What’s the end result that you need to achieve?

2) Decide what you can realistically achieve within the time available. Stick to what is practical. Sometimes, the deadline simply cannot be moved. Recognise from the outset that meeting the deadline is as much part of the objective as completion of the task itself. It’s usually better to complete a good objective rather half-finish a great one.

3) Work through a methodical process of steps. Try to maintain focus by resisting interruptions and distractions. The point here is not to rattle through the tasks in a desperate hurry to finish everything. Better to use steps 1 and 2 to create a manageable process that can be completed calmly and methodically within the deadline.

By using these three steps, you’ll develop a relationship with time that will give you more control in completing objectives. Control can also include prioritising tasks, and knowing what to delegate and to whom. In our course on Delegating and Time Management, we explain the pros and cons of delegating work in the interests of time.

Between them, these skills can help you manage your relationship with time on your own terms. Which is a wonderful feeling to have when you feel time is running away from you, for example when you’re trying to get away on a summer holiday with the family and you’re worried about missing Christmas.