There’s an art to business writing, an art that begins with good writing.
I was caught by an article on March 3, 2011 in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Students Struggle For Words” (Diana Middleton, page B8). It documents the growing complaints by employers of the inadequate writing skills on the part of newly minted MBAs. Anecdotal evidence includes complaints about business school graduates rambling, using pretentiously technical language, or careless and overly-casual emails.
There is some hard evidence to back up these complaints. Ms. Middleton cites evidence from the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the Graduate Management Admissions Test. GMAT essay scores have fallen from 4.7 out of 6 to 4.4 in the last four years. Or take Sharon Washington, executive director of the National Writing Project in Berkeley, says our high schools and undergraduate programs have de-emphasized writing and constant digital communication has eroded writing skills (LOL, WTF, OMG, BRB, etc.)
Arthur Levitt, former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bloomberg contributor, has been on a jihad to bring plain English back to business. He says much business writing is incomprehensible. “It lacks color and nuance, and it’s not terribly interesting to read.”
There is one quality I find essential in written communication with real decision makers at corporations. That quality is simplicity.
Executive face time has immense value. My firm, Corporate Rain International, only does one thing which is to create serious introductions for our clients with strategic corporate leaders. I strongly believe that, short of a personal introduction, the best way to initially reach out to corporate decision makers is a snail mail letter of utter simplicity. Ideally this letter on your best stationary should be able to be scanned in four seconds by a busy executive and be focused on ROI. Prolixity is to be avoided at all cost.
A written letter shows respect, personal seriousness, and class. While simplicity is the byword of the introductory letter, that does not mean you should limit the use of exact vocabulary. Don’t dumb it down. High level executives are usually educated, sophisticated people who respect the subtle and gradated use of language. However, the primary point of business writing is to simply get to the point with grace and exactitude. (For more on this scroll back to Dec. 7, 2010 Letters and Executive Sales.)
And perhaps most important of all is to actually have something of worth and originality to communicate in the first place. As Sholem Asch writes, “Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.” (New York Herald Tribune, 11/6/55)