Carpe Diem


Yesterday’s post titled simply “Grammar” got lots of comments, including some from John McIntyre, whose recent column on grammar was featured in the post. I’m always a little pleasantly surprised that readers of a blog primarily about economics express so much interest and even passion about a very non-economic topic like grammar.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on grammar, I now present this post titled simply “Writing,” featuring comments from Dave Kerpen in his post “Want To Be Taken Seriously? Become a Better Writer“:

Your writing is a reflection of your thinking. Clear, succinct, convincing writing will differentiate you as a great thinker and a valuable asset to your team.

If you want to be thought of as a smart thinker, you must become a better writer. If you want to be taken seriously by your manager, colleagues, potential employers, clients and prospects, you must become a better writer.

It’s not just you who must become a better writer- it’s all of us. I’ll be the first to admit, I too have had to learn to become a better writer. So here are five ways that I’ve become a better writer over the last several years:

1) Practice, practice, practice. The old joke comes to mind: A tourist in New York asked a woman on the street, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” and she replied, “Practice, practice, practice.” The truth is, the best way to get better at anything is to do it repeatedly. Write a personal blog or begin that novel you’ve always wanted to write. Offer to write some content for your company’s marketing team. Write a short, interesting LinkedIn update each day. The more you write, the better you’ll become at writing. That’s why I write here on LinkedIn every Monday and Thursday, no matter what.

2) Say it out loud. I read all of my articles and books out loud before I publish them, and many of my emails out loud as well. It’s great to hear my writing the way others will “hear” it as they read. Especially since tone in emails is difficult to convey, it’s valuable to say what you’re writing aloud, and then consider a quick edit, before you put it out there.

3) Make it more concise. Less is often more, so during my editing process, I’ll often ask, “How can I say the same thing in fewer words?” People don’t have time to read a long email, or memo, or article, so out of respect for your intended audience, practice making your writing short and sweet. I’d even argue that tweeting has helped me a lot with this, as it obviously limits you to 140 characters. If you’re not on Twitter yet, this is another reason to get tweeting.

4) Work on your headlines. A mentor once told me that 50% of your writing is the headline. So, spend equal time and energy working on your headline as you do the piece itself. Whether it’s the headline of a blog post or an inter-office memo, or a subject line for an email to a sales prospect, your headlines will either grab your reader’s attention, and get them interested in what you have to say, or not. Lists and questions work very well as headlines and subject lines. Practice them.

5) Read. Besides practicing writing, the number one way to improve your writing skills is to read great work. I read at least one book per month, at least 20 articles per week, and countless tweets, Facebook posts and emails per day. I know we all have limited time, but truly the best way to become a better writer is to become a better reader.

HT: Craig Newmark

14 thoughts on “Writing

  1. “Make it more concise.”

    In economics, there’s often enough terminology and missing math steps on one page to expand it into another book or two.

    So, you can spend days trying to understand one page instead of reading a whole book or two :)

      • Most people don’t have that much trouble with economics, because 90% who apply for grad econ aren’t admitted, and 90% of those admitted, don’t complete it.

        I guess, my problem was I completed it (or maybe they gave me a degree just to get rid of me :))

        • Economics works with “invisible” forces:

          “Economics cannot ascertain any clearly defined laws…These theories may contradict each other, but they may be proven true in certain cases or even at the same time.

          Unlike other scientists, economist don’t have special laboratories where they can create isolated models to test their hypotheses.

          A vacuum of the economy just doesn’t exist and cannot be created…to prove their hypotheses as easily as other scientists.”

          • Someone once said the root of economics is about incentives. If true, the goal of economists is to maximize the net positive effect of the incentives.

          • Someone once said the root of economics is about incentives. If true, the goal of economists is to maximize the net positive effect of the incentives.

            I thought the goal of economists was to observe and explain human action in society – including incentives. Economists as policymakers have been a disaster as far as I can tell.

          • You’re delusional. Economists have been very valuable in macro, micro, international trade, etc..

          • Heh! I’m not sure someone who believes the demand curve for labor slopes upward is is in a good position to call anyone else delusional.

  2. These days, clear and succinct writing is frowned on in the academy, but the more verbose and incoherent, the more convincing most academics seem to find it.

  3. In business, make things comprehensive and concise! Comprehensive because you must communicate the important things well, and concise because otherwise no one will read it.

    If it seems you must have an absolute mastery of a subject matter to achieve this, you are correct. Before you can communicate a thing with such clarity that every word is meaningful, you must know the true meaning of the subject!

    It goes without saying that much business writing isn’t done well, which is all the more reason to do it well, you can stand out.

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