HBR Guide to Better Business Writing

Posted on: January 19th, 2013 by bobmorris

HBR Better Business WritingHBR Guide to Better Business Writing
Bryan A. Garner
Harvard Business Review Pfress (2012)

“I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.” Steven Wright

This is one of the first volumes in a new series of anthologies of articles previously published in Harvard Business Review. In most of them, several co-authors share their insights concerning a major business subject, as is also true of volumes in other such series, notably HBR Essentials, HBR Must Reads, and HBR Management Tips, HBR Guides offer great value in several ways. Here are two: Cutting-edge thinking from many experts in the given subject or from 25-30 sources in a single volume at a price (about $10.90 from Amazon in the bound version) for a fraction of what article reprints would cost.

In this volume, Bryan A. Garner created the material to help those who read this book to improve in areas that include overcoming writer’s block, grabbing – and then keeping – readers’ attention, earning credibility with especially tough audiences, trimming the fat from the message’s “muscle,” setting and then sustaining the right tone, and meanwhile, brushing up on the basics (i.e. grammar, punctuation, and usage). For those in need of further assistance, Garner provides a comprehensive bibliography, “Desk References,” to which I presume to add Stephen King’s On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft.

The material is carefully organized within Four Sections: Delivering the Goods Quickly and Clearly (Chapters 1-7), Developing Your Skills (Chapters 8-15), Avoiding the Quirks That Turn Readers Off (Chapters 16 & 17), and Common Forms of Business Writing (Chapters 18-21). Readers will especially appreciate the six appendices that follow that are chock full of valuable tips and reminders. These appendices will also facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key material later.

I commend Garner on his brilliant use of reader-friendly devices throughout the book. They include checklists of key points from various sources such as a series of paragraph openers from Manuel G. Velasquez’s Business Ethics (2011) in Chapter 13, “Be a stickler for continuity.” Also, “NOT THIS” — “BUT THIS” juxtapositions to illustrate a solution to a common problem and recaps of key points in each chapter.

These are among the passages that caught my eye, listed to suggest the scope of Garner’s coverage:

o Know why you’re writing (Pages 3-6)
o Divide the writing process into four separate tasks (13-17)
o Be relentlessly clear (43-48)
o Be plain-spoken: Avoid Bizspeak (57-65)
o Don’t anesthetize your reader (91-97)
o Performance appraisals (133-138)
o Appendix C: Punctuation Rules You Absolutely Need to Know (153-161)
o Appendix F: A Primer of Good Usage (169-197)

If you need assistance in any of these and other areas, Garner’s book will be of invaluable assistance now as well as in months and years to come.

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