HBR Guide to: Better Business Writing (2013)
By Bryan A. Garner
ISBN-13: 978-1-4221-8403-05 ISBN-10: 142218403X
"A valuable weapon in every business writer’s arsenal"
American Bryan A. Garner is a noted lawyer and businessman on the one hand, and a grammarian and lexicographer on the other. His published works include Garner’s Modern American Usage, a book that I personally rate as among the top-five books currently available on English usage, Black’s Law Dictionary and The Elements on Legal Style. He is also a contributor to the esteemed Chicago Manual of Style. He has also trained 150,000 lawyers in the art of written persuasion and effective contract drafting for dozens of Fortune 500 companies.
Garner’s latest book, The Harvard Business Review (HBR) Guide to Better Business Writing, makes the leap from writing for the legal sphere to meeting the needs of the modern business writer. So, what does this new book offer?
The book comprises four sections and appendices. Each section offers writing strategies that will help anyone writing for business today.
Garner begins by offering the reader ways to divide the task of writing into distinct steps. Following his strategy results in a more focused approach while also saving valuable time at work. It is this emphasis on early planning and drafting that is a commonly overlooked component of most books on writing.
He next points out that every writer must first be clear about who they are writing for and why – before they even start. It is more important, however, to know what any text aims to achieve before making an attempt to start writing it. The first section of Better Business Writing cleverly deals with finding that exact focus for any piece of writing. The final advice in this section is then, to start writing without worrying about the finer point. Just get it out, so to speak, and then come back and polish.
Sections two and three switch from writing aims to writing tone and style, which includes teaching readers how to summarize, use plain language and be concise, as well as how to avoid turning readers off. Garner also introduces the powerful technique of using chronology for presenting any factual account, revealing this to be a powerful method for keeping readers interested. Bravo Garner!
As a grammarian, Garner next rolls up his sleeves to outline some of the basics of correct grammar, as well as common errors, such as verb-subject disagreement and subject versus object. But have no fear; this chapter is a brief one. It is followed swiftly by demonstrating the value of drafting.
The final section dives right into how to set up and write business letters, as well as methods for getting readers to act. Next is how these differ from e-mails, memos and reports. These skills are a must for the business environment. There is even a chapter on writing performance appraisals.
The remainder of this great book is a mixed bag of dos and don'ts, a writing checklist, a dozen grammar rules to know, a dozen punctuation rules to know and a usage primer that highlights many common spelling and language mistakes.
Overall, this is a clever book because it takes draws on what it assumes most of its readers will already know – English, spelling, writing – and injects a whole lot of the missing pieces: how to make you case, how to put that into words and how to keep your audience engaged. In other words, the book provides the key towards knowing how to be a better business writer. In summary, Bryan A. Garner’s HBR Guide to Better Business Writing is a valuable addition to every business writer’s arsenal.
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Review by Jesse Karjalainen, February 2013
Author of The Joy of English and editor of whichenglish.com.