With over 3000 articles, documents and reports under my belt, you can imagine that I was not expecting to learn anything new from Natalie Canavor's book "Business Writing for Dummies." My 30 years of constructing documents, reports and presentations must mean I know enough to have the skill to write a similar kind of book, surely? I was wrong, very wrong.
Full disclosure first: I did not buy a copy of this book. Rather it was kindly sent as a gift - eagerly awaited so I could see if there were any hidden nuggets. Gift or not, this review is objective and comprehensive for a reason: "Business Writing for Dummies" is packed with essential information for anybody concerned with business writing.
But what is business writing? Most of us would expect resumes and official letters to be included. But Natalie points out that the definition extends far beyond those narrow boundaries. Emails, reports, presentations, speeches, video and audio dialogue, blogs, web content - the list goes on. We interact in our daily business activities with employers, employees, potential clients and current customers. All of these require the planning and development of appropriate written materials allowing for precise communication and relationship building.
Despite my own experiences, I, too, fail to write effective business materials. In retrospect, after reading Natalie's book, I see items that are incorrectly written, unfocussed, occasionally sloppy and include errors.
The author points out the need for planning and thereafter repeated drafting and editing as a road to success - something we all can, and should, be doing. This is especially the case irrespective of our present position because, despite what we learned at school, we can all teach ourselves to write better and with a more critical eye.
Good writing comes from defining and knowing your subject and audience. What is it and who are they? With this in mind, you can write according to specific needs without being patronising or overly passive. What does your audience want? What can you give them? Think of the "you" rather than the "I" and deliver benefits in your writing style rather than listing features. How many of us really do that?
The strange thing is, this book is really influential. I read it from cover to cover and I have yet to digest and assimilate it all, yet I am already conscious of my own errors and omissions even in this review. Natalie gives us practical points to consider and real life examples of the good and bad. As with all Dummies books, there's a wealth of material far beyond the basic and everything is laid out in a logical way with plenty of tips, case studies and examples.
One thing I never fully appreciated before was the value of hooking the reader from the outset - getting straight to the point. Our senses are challenged by the world around us. With everything competing for our attention, business writing needs to capture the recipient immediately. And this book encourages us to tell stories, share anecdotes and recount experiences. This can make the communication wholesome, practical, verifiable and engaging.
The author cautions the reader to be clear, correct, conversational and persuasive. And, as a reminder, always remember the "you" in all interactions.
I feel I will benefit myself from the host of practical points the book delivers. Essential tips include the scanning and correction of writing structure, generation of impactful headlines and subheads, formulation of relevant transitions, the correct use of bullets and punctuations and, well, a whole lot more too numerous to mention but eminently practical.
Later on in the book I was surprised to come across issues of business writing that I had barely considered. I suspect that most of us wouldn't have either. The simple fact is that robust writing is essential, as well as welcomed, in other modalities such as video production, audio, speeches and alternative presentation types.
I was pleased that the author had not omitted strategic references to the digital world around us - blogs, websites, multimedia, social platforms etc. Businesses are deriving essential benefits from these digital stages. Effective writing skills, delivered in a clear and concise fashion, can support business cooperation, improve customer relationships and outsmart the competition.
If I had to choose one area of criticism, it would be the part of the book dealing with globalisation. Whilst it is true that English is the mainstay of business language, it is often found that other nationalities don't always speak it fluently enough (if at all) or that the particular nuances of the interaction are poorly understood. The author does a good job in introducing these concepts and touching upon their importance but, for me, there was a lack of depth and, therefore, practical usefulness. But a book such as this cannot hope to cover all of these practicalities - that would require a separate book for each language, nation and business scenario. If nothing else, it gives a springboard for further research and development and reminds us - effectively - to be mindful of these delicate issues.
I shudder to think that I would dare bring up any sort of criticism because this book is a masterclass in business writing. The appropriate audience is any person or institution that needs to communicate with other companies, employees, employers or customers. Even as I write, I am mindful of the messages the book holds but I am embarrassed by the fact that even this review will contain many of the errors and issues raised by the author.
Business Writing for Dummies is not a book you would read in one sitting and it is not designed as a book that will immediately turn you into a competent business communicator. But, it is far from a reference work that needs to gather dust on a shelf. The book is of immense practical value and contains tips, tricks and pointers that have immediate use. I imagine the average reader would ardently consume much of its contents only to go back regularly to remind themselves of its teachings, revisit the pivotal issues and discover more and more hidden nuggets that can be implemented straight away.
For me, this book was a gift. I am pleased that I was afforded the opportunity to accept it and was sensible enough to read it. It will be of considerable developmental value for me and I feel it could be a seminal work for business writers around the globe. I neither know intimately nor have met the author but I am glad she afforded me the pleasure of sharing her excellent work.