Writing Better: Undoing the Damage of English Class

Feb 19, 2014 | Better Writing

I loved most of my English teachers. They introduced me to literature and drama and the wonder of reading. They taught me “composition,” writing papers about that literature and drama. That was a problem for me and it may be for you.

Writing a paper for your English class is different than the writing you do for business. If you want to do business writing well, you have to unlearn some habits you probably developed in English class.

Length matters, but not the same way. When my English teachers assigned a paper, they usually specified a length. That length was always “at least” or “more than.” It’s easy to believe that longer is better.

In business writing, shorter is usually better. Learn to make your point clearly, but in as few words as possible.

Flowery, complex language was OK in English class. It’s not helpful in business. Good business writing is mostly simple sentences in the active voice. Reading ease counts.

Most papers for English class analyze something and then stop. Most business writing has an action at the end. You analyze a situation and then suggest what to do next, based on your analysis. Your business writing should point toward action.

Revere those English teachers. They taught us many wonderful things. But they didn’t teach us about good business writing.