Writing That Works

Summary Written by Vanessa Chase
"What you do need is a degree of determination - the perseverance to be sure you’ve said what you want to say."

- Writing That Works, page xii

The Big Idea

Effective Communication Is the Ultimate Time Saver

"Your ability to write persuasively can help you get things done and arrive at your goal – today, this month, or during the decades of your career."- Writing That Works, page 5

During the course of writing their book, Roman and Raphaelson spoke with a number of senior leadership figures at large companies to get a sense as to why communication is often an impediment. One CEO hit the nail on the head when he said, “Too many of the communications I get are meaningless. They don’t help me understand what action the writer wants me to take”. This very accurately reflects how most people feel about email and other internal communications.

Making time to determine your message and call to action, and reviewing what you wrote is essential. In our fast paced world where everyone wants an instant response, we’ve picked up some bad habits. It’s time to change that. Carve out a little extra time for writing and focus on improving what you are communicating.

Roman and Raphaelson suggest a number of ways to improve writing, and my personal favourites are: make the organization of your writing clear, be specific and write the way you speak (i.e. naturally).

Insight #1

There is a Logic of Business Communication

"To those in government or education and nonprofit institutions, [the logic of business communication] is identified and welcomed as ‘businesslike.’ In business, it is taken for granted."- Writing That Works, pages 90-91

Roman and Raphaelson make a case that there is a logic of business communication and go on to define this logic as one that, “pushes projects, solves problems, sets plans and moves ideas into action”. Yet when we set out to write something, this intention is often overlooked.

This is also a key frustration for many people as they write. Halfway through you might reread what you’ve written thus far only to find that it isn’t making much sense or it’s entirely off topic. I’ve certainly had those moments and they can make you feel like tossing in the towel.

Next time before putting pen to paper or fingers to keys, take a moment to ground yourself in your purpose for writing – what Roman and Raphaelson call the logic. Understanding what you want the reader to take away enables you to work backwards to create stronger organization in your piece and stay on point as you write.

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Insight #2

Two Simple Editing Tips

"Nothing you write will be born smooth either. Edit to scrape off roughness."- Writing That Works, page 177

It can be a huge relief to hit the period key at the end of your document. What you needed to say is now said and you’re ready to move on with other tasks. Not so fast. Editing is the most essential part of the writing process because it is where you polish any mistakes, fine tune your language and make sure that your message shines through. To make the most out of the editing process, Roman and Raphaelson suggest the following.

1. Let time elapse between drafts. Allowing some time between completing your writing and editing it will allow you come back to it with a fresh perspective. If you reread it too soon, you might find that your mind will read a sentence as it remembers writing it, not as it is actually written.

2. Solicit the opinion of other people. With business communication, you are usually not writing for yourself. There’s no better way to gain insight as to whether or not you’ve communicated a message to your intended audience clearly than to get a fresh pair of eyes to read your piece. Even the late, great David Ogilvy was known to send drafts of all important papers to several people with the note, “Please Improve.”

Writing That Works is a well-organized reference book designed for professionals in any field. While I will say that most of what Roman and Raphaelson write about are things we learned in school, it is nice to have a refresher of the principles of good communication and a book full of tips to get you through the tough spots in writing. Their advice is easy to implement, allowing anyone who reads it to become an articulate writer.

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Joel Raphaelson

Joel Raphaelson, former Executive Creative Director of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, lectures on writing.

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