‘The way you write at work matters.’ We couldn’t agree more with the opening statement of Susan McKerihan’s Clear & Concise: Become a better business writer.
Clear & Concise is a useful book for anyone who wants an accessible, easy-to-read guide to creating clearer business documents. The book is packed with practical tips and techniques and lots of ‘before and after’ examples. You can use the ‘Test yourself’ sections to check your learning and revise the information you’ve just read. We’d give it a 7 out of 10. Read on to find out why.
Mostly the book follows its own guidance, so it demonstrates a fair amount of best practice along the way. For example, it sets out the upcoming content in the ‘About the book’ section at the beginning, so the reader knows what to expect. The layout distinguishes well between different types of information.
But does the book use the recommended ‘top down’ approach throughout? ‘The big picture’ eventually appears as part 3 of the book and the introductory text to this piece wanders. No doubt Susan and her editor thought long and hard about the best order. Better to get the reader interested in the more straightforward language aspects? Or whack them with the principles of reader-focused structure first up?
Here are a couple of changes we’d suggest.
Here at Write, when running our foundation workshops in business writing, we used to postpone structure until later in the day. We’d first tackle language at word, paragraph, and sentence level. But now we follow the same structure in workshops that we use when evaluating documents against plain language criteria.
We start as we mean to go on, with the big picture at the beginning. In our experience, getting the document purpose clear and mapping a reader-focused structure early in the writing process are essential to creating a clear document.
To achieve credibility in the present-day world of plain language, we believe you can’t postpone the ‘big picture’ stuff. Otherwise you risk perpetuating the idea that plain language is about, well, just the language.
On a more detailed note, readers will be on the lookout for inconsistency. So they’re likely to notice things like using ‘there is’ and ‘there are’ when the book advises avoiding this construction. Or talking about a ‘vicious circle’ in a section on avoiding clichés.
Perhaps one list of grammatical terms in one place would be more usable. (We thought ‘active and passive voice’ wasn’t explained, but found it much later in the book.) We’d add to the design section too — headings in block capitals are not easy to read, so don’t belong in a sample layout.
Quibbles aside, we’d definitely recommend this book — clear and concise it is! And by following its guidance, you’ll become a better writer at work. Because better business writing matters.