Saturday, September 10, 2005

Lesson 1: Write how you talk

If you really want to be the strongest, clearest writer you can be, it comes down to six things. I'll start with the one that is probably the most valuable: Use a conversational style.

You see, most of us are better talkers than writers. If we're in a conference room or on the phone with someone, we can do a great job of getting our ideas across.

But when we're sitting in front of our computer, we stare at the blinking cursor until we become a blinking cursor ourselves. We get stuck. We don't know how to write what it is we want to say.

How this tip works

Well, how would you say it? Just imagine you are sitting across the table from your client, your customer, your boss or whomever it is you're addressing your writing to. What would you say to them? Then, write it down.

I even suggest people whip out their cell phone and pretend to speak in it. And type as you talk.

Writing how you talk means shedding some of those antiquated writing phrases. Like:

Pursuant to our discussion should become As we talked about
Enclosed please find
should become I've included, or, I've attached
Upon completion
should become When you're finished

What to watch out for

There are some trouble spots when you write how you talk. One is that you may break grammar rules. Because even the best orators in the world will unwillingly slip into substandard English when talking off the top of their heads. A great example is political candidates. Even with all their training and education, they will crack under pressure and say, "I will be a president that..." when it should be "who," or "If I was governor..." and it should be "If I were governor..."

The second trouble spot is using slang. In casual conversations we may slip in a word or phrase that is maybe not the one we should use in a professional setting. For example, when describing how a co-worker was dressed for an awards banquet, we might say, "She was all blinged out..." and we might be better off saying, "She really dressed the part of an award winner."

But even if you make such mistakes when you're writing, you can go back and edit that out when you read it over. Because there isn't a faster way to pick up speed when you're drafting a document than to write it the way you would say it.

This tip sounds so simple, yet so many people don't think it's that easy. But good, clear writing - especially persuasive writing - should sound as if someone is having a conversation with you, talking to you one-on-one. It really is that easy. It should be your Writing Golden Rule.

And if you make it a common practice, you'll find it worth gold, too, in helping you increase your speed in writing and the understanding your audience will find in it.