Do you consider yourself a writer? Maybe you should. Today’s business professionals are writing more than ever. We are creating emails, blog posts, business letters and social media posts and comments at an astounding rate.
The problem is that much of what is written is badly written. We have gotten so used to being fast with our written responses that we have gotten lazy. Poor writing can reflect badly on you as a professional and on your company as a whole.
Five books on business writing
If you are looking to learn or to refresh yourself on the basics of good style and usage for business writing, you may want to read a book or two on the subject. We’ve put together a short list of guidebooks for you. Some are nuts-and-bolts reference books and others are more essay-type reflections on what makes good writing.
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Books on business writing – HBR Guide to Better Business Writing by Bryan A. Garner (2012)
The author of many books on writing, Bryan A. Garner offers clear instruction for business writing in this 200-page Harvard Business Review guidebook. He gives the encouragement that anyone can earn to write better, and he offers plenty of examples to illustrate his points.
Here are some of the topics he covers: overcoming writer’s block, getting and keeping the reader’s attention, trimming excess words, earning credibility with your words, achieving the right tone and, of course, improving grammar, punctuation and word usage.
Favorite Quote: “Slow down just a little to study the work of pros…Find good material that you enjoy. It could be the Economist or the Wall Street Journal, or even Sports Illustrated, which contains tremendous writing. If you can, read at least one piece aloud each day as if you were a news announcer… Heed the punctuation, the phrasing, the pacing of ideas and the paragraphing. This habit will help cultivate an appreciation of the skills you’re trying to acquire.”
Books on business writing – The Business Writer’s Handbook by Gerald Alred, Charles Brusaw, Walter Oliu (spiral-bound edition, 2011)
If you want quick and easy access to many sample business documents and quick information on how to write in many business forms, this reference book is for you. An added bonus is that the latest edition lies flat on your desk, so you can refer to it while you type.
The nearly 700-page book offers advice for repurposing content for various audiences or different media and on writing résumés, emails, memos, resignation letters, annual reports, executive summaries, form letters, feasibility studies, mission statements, proposals, and trade journal articles. Please note: There is very little difference between this book and the Handbook of Technical Writing by the same authors.
Books on business writing – The Business Style Handbook by Helen Cunningham Brenda Greene (second edition, 2012)
Although there are many style guides, this no-nonsense guidebook focuses strictly on business writing. The email chapter should be a must-read for every business professional who feels tempted to add a smiley face or to hit reply all to every message. It is a handy and well-organized reference book for anyone who wants to writer more effectively on the job, and it may be a valuable gift for someone who uses English is a second language.
Favorite quote: “Good writing drives results. The way you write also reflects on you. It projects an image of you to people across your company as well as externally. And your external communications present an image of your organization to the outside world. So the stakes are high. In a competitive job market and work environment, no one can afford to send communications that are sloppy and full of errors.”
Books on business writing – The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White (fourth edition, 1999)
I have a well-loved, well-worn copy of The Elements of Style, and I am always amazed at the information and wisdom that is packed into this slim volume. In 1959, author E.B. White (of Charlotte’s Web fame) revised and expanded William Strunk, Jr.’s 1918 book on writing and usage. In 2011, TIME magazine named that book – often called “Strunk and White” — one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923.
Although the book is a concise style manual that offers grammar and usage rules, the best part of The Elements of Style is its essay on writing by E.B. White. White’s essay is a perfect example of what it means to write well. That is, it is clear, concise and it says something worthwhile.
Favorite Quote: “A breezy style is often the work of an egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that pops into his head is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day.”
Books on business writing – On Writing Well by William Zinsser (30th anniversary edition, 2006)
A fan of The Elements of Style, William Zinsser wrote this classic volume as complement to the “Strunk and White” classic. Originally published in 1976, Zinsser’s book offers practical advice on how to apply the elements of good writing to all sorts of non-fiction writing.
If you are looking for a technical how-to-write book, this is not the book for you. It is a collection of essays that explain how you can become a better writer.
Favorite Quote: Today everybody in the world is writing everybody else, making instant contact across every border and across every time zone. On one level, the new torrent is good news. Any invention that reduces the fear of writing is up there with air-conditioning and the lightbulb. But, as always, there’s a catch. Nobody told all these new computer writers that the essence of writing is rewriting. Just because they’re writing fluently doesn’t mean they’re writing well.”