Bullshit is everywhere…and you’re writing it.
Write like you always have and you’ll get few readers indeed. How do you change? First, you need to acknowledge a couple of ugly truths.
- You were taught wrong. You got most of your experience by bullshitting your way through 30 page requirements in your high school and college essays. The problem with these essays and the 5 paragraph format you were taught in elementary school is that writing in the real world – for business, is a different beast.
- Attention spans are at an all time low. We live in a world where most reading is done on a screen, usually on a smartphone. This encourages flightiness.
That’s why it’s become even more important to add business writing to your skill set.
Writing Without Bullshit
If you want to fix the unconscious errors you’re making in your writing and adapt to the world of screens, Writing Without Bullshit is a book you need to read. You’ll be astonished by just how pervasive bullshit is. CEOs of major companies fart it out on a routine basis when addressing the press and their own employees. They simply don’t realize it.
In Writing Without Bullshit, we see many examples of incoherent communication from CEOs of some of the world’s biggest companies. In describing major objectives to employees or especially the general public, you shouldn’t need more than 1,000 words, but this and more is routine. Worse, these releases and memos are often filled with confusing language that tunes people out, especially in the age of smartphones.
Simply put – prattling about “cloud-based analytics” and “data-driven integration platforms” is going to confuse your reader and make influence impossible. Yet, we see it all the time. There’s an opportunity, though. By eliminating these bad behaviors, your writing will stand out. Better, you can parlay this into a significant income.
How to Write Without Bullshit
- Understand that most of your bullshitting comes from fear of taking responsibility for what you write.
- Write short.
- State your most important thoughts first.
- Purge passive voices in your writing. These are usually variations of “to be” by a nebulous actor. The example Bernoff gives is “attention must be paid to the state of our nation.” This begs the question – paid by who? Make your subjects and actions clear or you’ll exhaust your reader.
- Get rid of jargon whenever possible. Use plain language. Unless you’re addressing a specific inside group, language like “agile self-service” or “curated dashboards” will confuse your reader.
- Eliminate weasel words. These are usually modifiers like “very” or “few” that are used as lazy ways to escape responsibility for what you write because you don’t feel like providing specifics. If that’s the case, get rid of them.
- When you need to, use numbers responsibly. These are better than modifiers.
- Change the structure of what you write. Use bulleted lists, section headers, etc. In the era of screens this is crucial.
Since I’ve been doing these things in this post, I communicated in 500 words what might have taken 800 or more had I gone with my usual writing habits. That alone should prove to you that this is a book worth reading. If you don’t think you’re doing the eight things on the list above, trust me, you are, and you’ll want to get rid of them. Each of them has a chapter that will show you how to do so.
A Splendid Second Half
While the first half of Writing Without Bullshit aims at directly improving what you write, the second half is valuable also. It goes over how to get into “flow” to make you more productive, how to write to maximize your effectiveness with different mediums (emails, blogs, social media, etc.), and more. If you’re in a corporate environment, the chapters on producing effective reports and collaborating will be a boon. If you’re freelancing, the chapter on promotions will be particularly useful.
Sprinkled throughout the second half are sections on how to prepare for each project, with a specific test to make sure that what you’re about to write is even worth the effort. It will save you time and make your work clearer.
I’ve been brief and that’s the point. Writing Without Bullshit is a book of about 250 pages, but it’s a breeze to get through because Josh Bernoff wrote it with such clarity. It’s already made me a better writer and I hope that this blog will be better in the future because of it. It was startling just how many mistakes I was making, even with all my experience.
If you want to boost your own career and become more persuasive, this is a book that you shouldn’t be without. You can get it here, or you can continue to be a mediocre writer and not know why.