BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Write ... right ...

This was another book that showed up in my mailbox, courtesy of the good folks at Ten Speed Press, without a query or any notice … surprise! Now, obviously, I'm a “book guy” and am, due to my on-going economic struggles, always happy to get books at substantial discounts, or, in the case of review copies, free. I do, however, from time-to-time get books that I am pretty much just not interested in reading (which makes me feel very guilty for having been sent them), and at first, I thought this was one of those. However, circumstances coalesced where this had, for purely “mechanical” reasons (being set up in fairly discreet chunks of limited length), suggested itself for filling in time while I was dealing with “computer issues”, and so I was at least a significant ways into this by the time my computer problems miraculously resolved themselves.

What I discovered is that Be a Brilliant Business Writer: Write Well, Write Fast, and Whip the Competition is a very funny book, or at least funny for the sort of book it is. This is, after all, something of “a manual of style”, so lacks any narrative to draw the reader along. And, while there is a certain development as one moves through it, the book does not really “build” to any great pay-off, so this was certainly one of those “disciplined reads” rather than something that I was aching to block out time to get back to!

Again, this is a book about Business writing, and the author team of Jane Curry and Diana Young are certainly taking much of their own advice in how the book is laid out, as each of the 21 chapters begins with a bit of set-up discussion about the subject of that chapter, then a list of the specific points that are going to be covered, and then it walks through sections corresponding to those points. Frankly, it took me a while to “get this” (I can be dense sometimes), but what might have been perceived as a certain “choppiness” made sense once that structure became clear. Curry and Young have an editorial consultancy (based in the Chicago area) which works with corporations to improve the quality of their communications. I feel safe in the assumption that Be a Brilliant Business Writer is a product of converting their seminar and coaching materials into a longer-form book.

There are quips and jabs sprinkled all through here, but I was about a quarter of the way through the book when it struck me how intentional this was, when in the “If You Want To Write With The Right Tone” chapter, in the first of three sections, “Apply The Two Critical Tenets Of Good Tone”, I discovered that:
The two most critical tenets of good tone are:
• Your lips are your best friends. If you wouldn't say it, don't write it. {...}
• Nobody likes attorneys, or at least not the way they convolute language. {...}
Yep, those are the 2 tenets! There are many other bits of “coaching” through here which are similarly shooting for levity (e.g. “Because you are not a sociopath and don't want to inflict pain on your readers, you want to write clearly and concisely.”!), as well as barbs directed to those composing pieces not adhering to these guidelines (a good deal of the book is given over to “before” and “after” variations of documents, and one of the things that makes this somewhat of a slog to read is getting past those “before” versions).

The book flows through three focuses, the first third or so are the basics (and, are the “best part”), dealing with writing and communication in general, with clear instructions as to how to avoid the numerous pitfalls targeted here. The second third or so is much more dense, but that's because it's dealing with things like “write for senior management”, “share technical information”, “write procedures that people can actually follow”, “write financial documents”, “PowerPoint presentations”, “executive summaries” and “sales letters” … none of which is exactly Oprah's Book Club material. The final third looks at various bits and pieces, like thank you notes, resumes and cover letters, coaching on when to use or not use e-mail, and how to move from “academic” to “business” writing styles.

There are certainly a number of corporate/institutional “sacred cows” being gored in Be a Brilliant Business Writer, but over-all the advice appears to be very good (even in the sections that made my eyes glaze over), and this would certainly be a help to anybody whose writing skills are under-developed and is looking for a way to better themselves. This came out in early October, so should certainly be available in your local brick-and-mortar book shop that features business titles, but the on-line guys currently have it for 25% off of the very reasonable cover price, so it's in the ballpark of throwing it together with something else to get up to the free shipping promised land. This isn't exactly relaxing beach or fire-side reading, but if you're looking to punch up your business communications, it's no doubt a good investment.

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Tags: book review
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