The New World of Business Writing
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal asked the question, “Why Can’t M.B.A. Students Write?” One of the answers was that “Not all students view writing…as important,” an observation supported by an example from Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. Executive students in this MBA program jumped to sign up for a speech class, but a business writing class offered at the same time had to be canceled for low enrollment.
The students’ undervaluation of writing contrasts sharply with the opinions of business leaders interviewed for the article. Chris Carlson, university recruiter for consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., describes how “new hires fresh out of business school aren’t permitted to work on a written proposal alone until they have perfected the craft.”
And among the almost 2000 readers of this article who participated in the accompanying poll, a whopping 96.5% answered yes to this question: “Do you think writing skills are important in the corporate world?”
Corporations are looking for job candidates who are skilled writers. The most common complaints employers have about business school graduates are that they “tend to ramble, use pretentious vocabulary or pen too-casual emails.”
The WSJ article is just one of many indications that rhetorical ability is likely to be pivotal in your business career. So if you’re already in the corporate world, one reliable way to fast-track your career is to hone your writing skills. If you’re an attentive business student, you know that the lagging economy has made the job market you’ll be entering soon more competitive than ever. Becoming a highly skilled writer is one of the best methods of jacking up your chances for success in that rough-and-tumble real world.
A Streamlined Culture
Whether you’re an MBA student, a recent grad or a new hire, you should understand how the culture of professional communication has changed over the past 20 years or so. Sure, the business world has always been pragmatic compared to other parts of western culture. But business had its pretensions too, in language and other forms of behavior, that often clogged up its communications. Humorist Dave Barry said that when he worked for a consulting firm in the 1970’s, he spent all his time “trying to get various businesspersons to … stop writing things like ‘Enclosed please find the enclosed enclosures,’ but … eventually realized that it was hopeless.”
It’s not hopeless anymore. As the digital age has ramped up the pace of our professional lives, the business world has caught on to what works best in speech and writing. Time-efficient communication is more important and more valued than ever. Today’s business professionals don’t have hours or minutes to waste wading through stilted prose that might have impressed people 30 years ago. Clarity and conciseness are the prime objectives—conveying essential information that will speed the company or team on to its goals.
Strip It Down, Fix It Up, Persuade Your Targets
This new, more exacting pragmatism means stripping away pretense and clogged formalities. In some cases it can mean raising the level of formality—but without sacrificing clarity or economy. It all depends on the audience to whom you’re writing. Business communications almost always have a core goal of persuasion. Persuasive power is rooted in analysis of your target audience—who they are, what they think, how they feel about your agenda. Crafting a message built on a thorough understanding of your audience will take you a long way toward achieving your goals.