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Book Review: Business Writing For Dummies by Natalie Canavor
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Book Review:  Business Writing For Dummies by Natalie Canavor - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Business Writing For Dummies by Natalie Canavor

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Business Writing For Dummies by Natalie Canavor

“Good writing is one of the most powerful weapons you can add to your career arsenal,” writes Natalie Canavor in Business Writing for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, 2013). We reviewed the HBR Guide to Better Business Writing a couple of months ago, and thought another writer’s approach would be an interesting comparison. There are a lot of business writing books on the shelves, underscoring the validity of Canavor’s point. For a great many of us, improving our writing skills feels a lot like improving our overall competency, and it’s no wonder. With the increase in daily electronic communication, written conversation happens in greater volume and with more frequency than it might have when we spent too much of our time chasing each other down on the phone. Here is another approach to improvement in this vital real-world competency, a “complete foundation for good business writing, as well as guidelines to instantly improve your own writing.”

The “…for Dummies” approach is probably well-known to us all: a seemingly complicated topic is broken down into its basic concepts, explained in accessible language and a friendly voice, with easy-to-follow headers and bulleted lists so the reader may skip to the parts he or she finds relevant, plus supplemental info for people who wish to dive a little deeper. Some volumes in the series, like this one, are more conversational than others, with the writer referring to herself as “I” and talking “you” through her reasoning with an encouraging tone. The “me and you” approach works especially well here as a means of breaking through the almost rhythmic, lulling effect lots of lists can have on a reader. Simplifying explanations for complex issues means stripping away a lot of the music of good writing, as anyone who’s tried to read a “…for Dummies” book all the way through in just a couple of sittings can tell you. This writer seems aware of this drawback, and tries to make up for the drying effect with an amiable voice wherever possible.

As with the HBR book, the …for Dummies book addresses from the very beginning the importance of good thinking in good writing. Canavor calls the pre-writing phase “planning and structuring,” advising the writer always to be aware of his or her audience and goal. Who is receiving this communication, and what is our goal in sending it? The approach goes beyond informational or inquisitive; it asks the composer to think about underlying and overarching goals as well as immediate goals, taking the communicator to “the real heart of good writing—real and relevant substance.” She takes it one encouraging step further, adding “I make you a rash promise: for every fraction you improve your writing, you improve your thinking along with it.” Good writing equals good thinking; you cannot have one without the other, and improving one improves the other.

Readers may be surprised to see very little mention of commas or pronouns, but a wider view of communication in general (infused sneakily with some solid, academic, communications theory) is offered instead. Now that we’ve got the audience-purpose concept down, Canavor shows us how to apply it in the specific realms of electronic communication (including Twitter), traditional written documents such as promotional materials and presentations, and international communication. The latter is a facet of business writing seldom addressed in these books, and the writer’s advice on cultural filters, formality, and stylistic preferences is well articulated and definitely a must-read chapter.

In many ways, the better writing section of the bookstore is similar to the better health section. There are a lot of different approaches to writing and health: some books might be collections of specific healthy recipes for dealing with the specific day-to-day needs of the reader, while others address mindset and lifestyle issues, the underlying support for better health. Business Writing for Dummies falls into the latter category, which is not to say the advice is impractical or nonspecific. Rather, the practical and specific recommendations address the way we think about writing and the way we approach the task of writing. The book may not be the most entertaining of reads, but for the professional looking to improve communication across the board, throughout his or her life, it would be a great place to begin.


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Book Review: Business Writing For Dummies by Natalie Canavor - Executive Leadership Articles

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