But it all could have come tumbling down in the stern and unyielding face of just one lecturer: Ros Petelin.
Like most kids who gravitated toward the arts in school, I’d been feted as a bit of a writer. I wrote installments of unreasonably sappy romance novels late at night and distributed copies to peers on the train the next morning. I won an academic scholarship for my writing (although nearly lost it many times for my maths).
It was left to Ros—now an associate professor in the School of English, Media Studies and Art History at UQ, and a well-respected writer in business communication—to tear my self-made kingdom down, word by word, until I could rebuild it on more solid foundations.
Here’s what I now know to be true about writing effective business words.
Thanks, Ros. I hope you’re grading more kindly these days.
If you’re writing for your business, forget formal words and don’t allow fear of failure—or grammar—to stop you writing. Instead, a trick I’ve long used in business writing is to hear a typical customer’s voice in my head, and then to write like they talk.
Like acting, the craft of writing involves immersing yourself in the character. In this case, the character is your customer—and by sounding like them, you’re more likely to draw them in.
I have Ros and her fondness for US author Linda Flowers to thank for WIRMI. The acronym ‘What I Really Mean Is’ is extraordinarily helpful in bringing clarity to business writing, and it’s a tool I still use daily.
You can use WIRMI as a catchphrase at any point of your writing—when you’re trying to work out exactly what you want to say, and when you’ve written something and you need to ensure it says what you want, clearly and well.
If you’re not comfortable with writing—and plenty of people would rather line up for a root canal than write an essay—this is a great way to check you’re on track.
Finally, if you’re satisfied that what you’ve written is the best you can do, read it through once more—and then put it down.
After a few hours—or a few days, if you have the time—pick it up and critically read it again. Make a few adjustments. Delete a few words. Then hide it again.
On the third go, after another break, pretend you’re the customer and read it aloud to yourself as though you’re seeing it for the first time. If you have no more changes to make to it, it’s good to go. But chances are, you’ll think of a few.
Why at least three reads? Professional writers and editors know better than anyone that great writing comes from multiple drafts, not a single session of inspiration. Taking a break in between drafts—although hard to do in a busy work day—can be the key to achieving great results.