When you run a business, demonstrating credibility and persuading others are your primary goals. You can’t do that without great business writing. But strong writing is easier discussed than accomplished. And it takes more than Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. From universal writing rules to advice that will change your process and your results, here are eight books (in no particular order) to make your writing better.
By Roy Peter Clark (272 pages, Little, Brown, 2013)
In How to Write Short, author Roy Peter Clark shows how concise writing can be varied, creative, and engaging. He dissects famous writing that works, explains why it’s effective, then shows us how to produce that writing on our own. In this book, you’ll learn how to effectively write anything that’s short: headlines, sales pitches, Tweets, letters, and more. This book has been described as “the updated William Strunk for those who use Twitter.” Clark is insightful and his short writing exercises make it fun to learn the craft. Clark has taught writing to professional journalists, and he’s also a writing coach and vice president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
By Anne Janzer (228 pages, Cuesta Park Consulting, 2018)
Writing To Be Understood provides a practical approach for business writing supported by cognitive science and psychology and illustrated by case studies. Author Anne Janzer’s focus on “why” we must write better makes her advice on “how” easy to apply. Janzer tackles the difficult tasks that make writers stumble and mumble, such as anticipating hostile audiences and explaining complex topics. With her emphasis on being understood, the writing advice we’ve received throughout our lives suddenly makes sense and is workable. As a business writing coach and award-winning author, Janzer practices what she teaches, which makes this book enjoyable and easy to read cover-to-cover. You can download the Using Analogies to Explain chapter from Writing To Be Understood here.
By Harold Evans (416 pages, Little, Brown, 2017)
Author Harold Evans believes that bad and blundering writing is a moral issue—and he sets out to convince you to write clearly and concisely in Do I Make Myself Clear? This book is not a conventional tour of the rules of grammar and a rehash of The Elements of Style; instead, it is an aggressive and witty discussion of how to write better. For Evans, the most important rule to follow is to get to the point, even if formal grammar rules must suffer. Evans uses colorful prose, describing nominalizations as “zombie nouns” and useless words and phrases as “flesh-eaters,” so you’ll forever think twice about writing a dull, meandering sentence in passive voice. In this book about how to write clearly, Evans demonstrates his mastery of the technique. This book is not short, but it is concise, and it’s brimming with examples and explanations. Evans is a world-renowned journalist; editorial director of The Atlantic and US News; and president of Random House.
By Anne Janzer (218 pages, Cuesta Park Consulting, 2017)
People struggle with writing for work because it requires equal skill as a writer, project manager, and politician. In The Workplace Writer's Process, author Anne Janzer teaches you how to develop and execute a business writing process, streamline collaboration, and get the final approval you need to call the job done. Janzer recognizes that succeeding as a writer in the workplace takes more than just grammatically correct sentences—and that you may be playing this role reluctantly—then she gives actionable advice that will help you complete more projects and create higher-value content. Janzer was a copywriter in the Silicon Valley tech world and is now a business writing coach and an award-winning author. You can download the Mastering the Revision Process chapter from The Workplace Writer's Process here.
By Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson (208 pages, Harper Collins, 2010)
Writing That Works prepares you to write in any business context, including memos, letters, reports, speeches, presentations, proposals, and emails. Authors Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson oversimplify some ideas by emphasizing writing “naturally,” but the breakdowns by writing type with examples provide concrete ideas of what they mean. The authors realistically address issues that cause confusion, like how lack of confidence can lead to jargon-filled, vague writing, and offer the remedy: specific, accurate, and brief writing. With this advice, writers will deliver their message with confidence, clarity, and ease. The book is organized as a reference manual with short chapters, accessible bulleted tips, and specific examples. Both authors are former executives of advertising and communication agency Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.
By Roy Peter Clark (181 pages, Little, Brown, and Company, 2014)
In Writing Tools, author Roy Peter Clark demystifies writing and shows that writing is something anyone can do—with the right tools. After an encouraging and supportive introduction, Clark provides 55 tools, described in two- to five-page segments, and follows each tool with exercises to test your understanding. The tools are subdivided into four categories: nuts and bolts; special effects; blueprints; and useful habits. Each category of tools builds on the next, but a reader with more knowledge and nuance could skip ahead. Clark puts a new spin on old lessons, which clarifies and makes accessible advice you have read before but didn’t know how to apply. Unlike other writing books that may feel pedantic and preachy, this book feels like a welcoming to people regardless of where we are in our writing journey. Writing Tools is easy to read straight through and works well as a reference. Clark has taught writing to professional journalists and is vice president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
By Arthur H. Bell, Ph.D. (230 pages, Barrons Educational Series, 2004)
How to Write Attention-Getting Memos, Letters, and E-mails is hard to find but worth the hunt. This book provides quick-and-dirty writing advice for career-minded people who want to thrive in a corporate environment. So if writing is not your passion but you need to do it for work, this book is for you. It will help you use the right language, tone, and structure for business memos, reports, proposals, and letters. It will also help you identify your own business style, recognize others’ styles, and find a middle ground to help you win over a reader with a different approach. Though some elements of this book are dated, it’s a helpful tool for business people who write for work, not for love of writing. Author Bell is a professor of management communication at the University of San Francisco.
By Rayne Hall (72 pages, Createspace Independent Pub, 2014)
This brief, independently published eBook teaches authors to self-edit for brevity. Each chapter starts with a quick introduction and several wordy-versus-concise comparisons follow. This book won’t replace other writing guides, but author Rayne Hall’s use of signal words to show authors where they can cut bloated phrasing makes for useful advice—and it fits with WordRake’s approach. Though this guide was intended for fiction writers, it will also help business writers who tend to be too wordy and casual. Hall has dedicated over 30 years to publishing and is the author of the Writer's Craft guides.
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And if you’re still trying to convince yourself that business writing matters, check out our blog posts that detail the high cost of bad writing:
Great business writing requires more than proper grammar. You must capture your audience’s attention, convert them to your viewpoint, and convince them to act. (This is true whether you’re writing for internal or external stakeholders.) So commit to better writing and add a few of these books to your reference library. When you’re ready to take the next step, let WordRake help you tighten and tone your business writing at the push of a button. WordRake uses complex, patented algorithms to find corporate jargon, wordy phrases, redundancies, unnecessary modifiers, and more. Then it presents its suggestions to you in the familiar track-changes style. It can make any document clearer and shorter. Try WordRake free for seven days!
About the Author
Ivy B. Grey is the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for WordRake. Before joining the team, she practiced bankruptcy law for ten years. In 2018, Ivy was recognized as a Fastcase 50 Honoree and included in the Women of Legal Tech list by the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. Follow Ivy on Twitter @IvyBGrey or connect with her on LinkedIn.