Book Recommendation: Writing That Works - How to Communicate Effectively in Business“For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”

I have no idea if Ernest Hemingway ever wrote those six words or not. Nobody else seems to know either. Those six words remind me of the power in short sentences.

I’ve been blogging and writing for over ten years. If there is one common thread I have seen in that time is that many of the best writers are advocates for short sentences. David Ogilvy, the noted marketing genius, once offered similar advice to his staff with “Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches” and “Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.”

Who am I to argue with such men?

That is why the book Writing That Works: How to Communicate Effectively in Business appealed to me when it came across my suggested reading list. As someone who lives inside their email inbox every day I recognize how important it is to have effective communication.

Portions of the book served as a good reminder for previous lessons learned. For example, email does not replace an actual conversation. Also, using the “High Importance” flag for every email you send is not as effective as you may think.

But along with such review items came some interesting tidbits such as:

  • The average US worker receives over 200 messages (email, telephone, snail mail, instant messages) each day. Reading and answering each email takes anywhere from 2-4 hours.
  • Address emails (and memos, if you still use those) only to the people that need to take action. You cc: people that you want to keep informed, and you should limit this number.
  • When building presentations delete the first few paragraphs of your outline and you will find your real opening line halfway down the page as people tend to take too long to warm up
  • Never send out the first draft of anything important; go through your draft and ask What can I remove?

I also enjoyed the story regarding the overuse of quotation marks for emphasis:

When the head of a large company put quotation marks around a word in an important paper, his administrative assistant asked him why he did that. He replied it was to stress the truth of the point. The assistant asked whether it would stress the truth if he were to register at a hotel as John Durgin and “wife”.

Brilliant.

I also enjoyed reading about how it is common for middle managers to write the worst emails: lengthy, meandering, full of buzzwords, and often with poor grammar. The executives at the top don’t have time for such communications as they need emails written in a short and concise manner. That’s why we joke about executive needing graphs and charts; those devices help them consume information quicker and allow them to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time. “There still seems to be some correlation between literacy and seniority”, was the conclusion of the authors.

I’ve added this book to my SQL Server Books page, you can find it in the Professional Development section.