Writing That Works (Book Review)
“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; If what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone.” – Confucius
Lessons learnt: First things, first. Keep it simple – keep your audience on target. Write with a purpose. And the lessons learnt in writing are as relevant in presentations, talks, emails, and so forth.
Improve your writing, make it easier and give yourself a confidence boost. That is what the back of Writing That Works by Kenneth Roman and Joep Raphaelson promises – and they deliver. In less than 200 pages they take the reader on a journey along the basics of effective writing. First, they tackle the most common mistakes we all make, like mumbling, writing too difficult, or non-specific. After that the book tackles specific areas such as writing for audiences, writing a report that makes things happen, and how to write a resume. If you want to know how to communicate effectively (in business), then this book may be something for you!
“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.” – Larry King
Writing That Works was originally written on a typing machine. Still many of the chapters remain virtually unchanged. One that has been added is on writing an email. The authors show that they can get along with Generation X and provide some very useful tips on how to approach this constant distraction we have to deal with:
- Limit the number of copies (i.e. do not copy unneeded persons on your e-mail)
- Discuss ideas face to face (and prevent endless conversation threads)
- Email only when it contains a) relevant new information, b) agrees to a request, c) responds to a question, or d) asks a question or makes a request
The chapter on writing for an audience is very illuminating. One thing to keep in mind is that your reader will always have a limited amount of time and will have other (non-congruent) motives than you. With that in mind Roman and Raphaelson state the following “Decks are a reality, the business tool that gets things done.” A presentation deck should be your tool of choice. It is best to follow this flow of logic: 1) objective, 2) background, 3) facts, 4) conclusions, 5) recommendations, 6) next steps. Consultants may argue to reverse 5, 4 and 3 and luckily the Pyramid Principle (by Barbara Minto, McKinsey) is discussed “The easiest order is to receive the major, more abstract ideas before the minor, supporting ones. And since the major ideas are always derived from the minor ones, the ideal structure of the ideas will always be a pyramid of groups of ideas tied together by a single overall thought.”
Along the chapters, the reader is informed of more specific concepts and general principles are applied to actionable areas. One of these is in writing your CV: the test of what to include is as simple as it is powerful – 1) Is it relevant? 2) Is it true? I myself would like to add a third question – 3) Is it consequent? In the last chapter, the art of making things easily readable is explained. Things like headings, casing and using white space are all explained. All in all the book features great tips and techniques that even the most experienced writer can make use of. A book on writing is important, but not very urgent.