How to strip back your business writing
OK, so you’ve taken care of your up-front framing, and you’ve started to drill down to the clarity you need to write an amazing, fit-for-purpose document that’s gonna help you take over the universe. Now you’ve got to the real guts of it! How to strip back your business writing so that your message isn’t lost in all that wordy noise.
Now you’re thinking: So what do I actually write?
Why is writing so hard?
So here’s the thing. You know your stuff. And that’s both a blessing and a curse, because
- you know everything your reader needs to know, but
- YOU KNOW FAR MORE THAN YOUR READER NEEDS TO KNOW!
And you really want your reader to know all that, too.
Which is a mistake.
Because let me be clear: the more words you use, the weaker the message.
Yes, I said it.
The key to good writing is to write less.
The more words you use—the more text on a page, the more you think in someone’s general direction—the more likely they are to miss your point.
Your bottom line.
Your slap in the face.
Or kick in the ass.
Or pat-on-the-back (I thought I’d better add in a warm fuzzy—apparently my violent alter-ego is writing today).
Filtering through everything you know and want to say—and stripping back to only the key points—is the real challenge.
A process for stripping back
Once you’ve nailed that, do this:
1 – DUMP: get that shit out of your head. Brain dump. Sketch, purge, free-write, list, use post-its. Do whatever you need to do, to get your thinking outside of your head. Because outside is where you can work with it.
2 – CHUNK: take that messy dump and group it together into chunks of related info. (If you wanna feel really cool, call this a thematic analysis.)
3 – LABEL: describe each of those chunks of info. But don’t use one-word labels. Describe the chunk, like ‘How we got here’, ‘What we found’, ‘How we can fix the problem’. These will become your headings. And your readers will L O V E them!
4 – FILTER: using the purpose and the primary reader you identified in part 2, look at each beautifully labelled chunk and ask Does my reader need to know THIS for my document to achieve its purpose? Now here’s the gold (I love this. I’m excited. Can you tell?). If your answer is:
- Yes – put it in! (Yuss!)
- No – leave it out. (Duh!)
- Maybe/I’m not sure/Some readers need it. Then either mention it, summarise it, point the reader to where they can find it outside of the document, or push it to the appendices. When in doubt, go to the appendix. It’s like magic. All the evidence that you know your stuff and you’ve done a shitload of work and you’re worth your weight in gold, without losing your reader.
5 – ORDER: look at the chunks you have left and put them in order based on what’s most important to YOUR READER.
Now you have a plan
Some people might call it an outline.
But that sends way too many of us back into PTSD-like flashbacks from our university days.
So let’s just call it a plan. A map, maybe.
That plan means you can now write. With ease and clarity. Without second-guessing yourself and angsting over what to say or what not to say.
It means you can write fast and that’s good on every level (read here for how good writing saves money).
Your extra set of steak knives
My favourite thing about this process is this: It gives you confidence!
I feel confident now. I know what I’m doing. I can relax.
And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.