What is Good Writing?

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Architect Louis Sullivan’s motto was: “Form follows function.”

Sullivan thought that if you knew the purpose of a building, you could design it so it was easier to achieve that purpose. Probably the best example of that in history is the Bell Labs research center in Murray Hill, New Jersey.

When the building opened in 1941, its design reflected the ideas of Mervin Kelly, Bell Labs’ Director of Research. Kelly thought the purpose of Bell Labs was to turn new science into new things that made a difference.

He wanted people with a variety of skills sharing knowledge with each other. So, he designed long, wide corridors, where chance encounters and conversations could happen. There were private offices for thinking. There were laboratories and workshops for turning thoughts into things. Those spaces often had movable walls, so the workspace could be changed to fit the challenge.

My clients write business books. They want readers to do something different and better after they read the book. Good business book writing is writing that makes it easier to achieve that purpose.

Good business book writing is simple

The more readable your message is, the more likely your reader will get it. Most word processing programs can generate readability statistics for you. The most common tests are Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and Flesch Reading Ease.

Simple writing scores best on those tests. Use short, simple sentences. Write in the active voice.

Good business book writing flows well

Go beyond the readability score to determine how readable your material is. Read it out loud. Legendary writing coach, William Zinsser said that all writing is for the ear. Reading aloud will prove that to you. Your tongue will trip over things your eyes thought were just fine.

Good business book writing is understandable

Use language your reader will understand. If you must use a technical term, define it and give an example. If you use a lot of technical terms, consider a glossary.

Use concrete examples. Our brains understand the concrete and struggle with the abstract. Use analogies to connect concrete images to abstract concepts.

Charts and graphics give readers another way to grasp your concepts. So do checklists, exercises, and suggestions for applying your ideas in their life.  Make it easy for them to know what to do.

Bottom Line

Good business book writing helps a reader solve a problem or answer a question. Write simple prose that flows easily when you read it aloud. Use common language and concrete examples. Help your reader apply your ideas in his or her life.

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