For a long time, I had a bad habit. I was an unconfident writer. In this series of articles, I’ll show you how you can avoid my mistakes and write with confidence.
Writing with confidence isn’t just about trusting your skill as a writer – it’s more than that. It’s about writing in a way that’s clear and honest, rather than distant and ambiguous. It’s about projecting confidence in the way you write, and sharing that confidence with your readers.
We can inject confidence into our writing by focusing on three qualities:
- Active voice
In my last article we talked about being assertive, and avoiding phrases like ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’.
This time, let’s look at the core of confident writing – authenticity.
Ask anyone what they hate most about business writing, and you’ll hear the same answer over and over again: business bullshit.
To be clear, every industry has jargon and most of it is genuinely helpful and descriptive when used appropriately, even if in practice it is often used too much. This is not what we’re talking about.
We’re talking about a specific type of business bullshit: the type that relies on jargon and fancy-sounding language to make it look like you’re saying something meaningful, while actually making it harder for the reader to understand.
In some cases, business bullshit is used to hide the fact that there’s not much being said. In others, it unintentionally drowns valuable information in a sea of well-meaning but largely meaningless nonsense.
Consider the following sentence. This is far from one of the worst offenders, but it’s a very typical example that’s loosely based on a real document I’ve worked on:
Our project management system will be refreshed based on joined-up principles to provide a connected view of projects and deliverables.
This sentence sounds like it’s saying something. It includes businesslike words such as ‘refreshed’, ‘principles’, and ‘connected’, but the actual thing being proposed is very vague. Even if the underlying message is genuine (as I’m sure in this case it was), the language positively encourages readers to skim over it and move on.
Assuming the writer really does understand what they’re talking about, how could they communicate that more effectively?
Part of the reason business bullshit is so widespread is that, culturally, we’ve created an idea of what it means to sound professional. Just as we write essays differently to how we write WhatsApp messages, we write our business content according to a set of unwritten rules.
This is why, even though we might all complain about business bullshit, most of us are also guilty of using it in our own writing.
Many of these rules are counterproductive. It’s time to stop following them.
Instead, I want you to think carefully about what you want to say, and then imagine how you’d explain it so someone in person. Taking the example sentence from above, we might explain it something like this:
We’re going to update our project management system to capture more information about how different projects and deliverables interact with each other. This will help us track key dependencies and identify potential problems earlier.
Take a sentence you’ve written and try rewriting it the way you speak in your own head, free from the unwritten rules of business writing. Imagine someone listening to you say it, and think about whether you’ve explained it well.
Pay attention to the words you choose. Most of us think and talk in far plainer language than we write. Does it really help to say ‘utilise’ rather than ‘use’, for example?
You’ll find that not only will this make your writing clearer, it’ll also make it more honest and authentic. Readers will be more likely to pay attention to the things you write, and you’ll develop a reputation for delivering substance rather than noise.