How did I learn about writing, or did I? Certainly I never learned to write like Frank Mecca, my college roommate who won awards for Shell Oil Company, or the voice of Lee Iaocca in his Chrysler car commercials. I could never write like one of my first neighbors Rod Thorp (detective novels) or like my uncle Fred who wrote the most humorous letters to me when I was in college or even like my sister who was an outstanding copywriter and consumer activist.
There were a couple of life-opening experiences I had at the University of Oklahoma that helped me learn something about writing. The first was an English class I took with a professor (name unremembered) who told us “Good English is That English Which is Appropriate to Time, Place and Situation.” Based on that definition he said we won’t talk about sentence structure or grammar, we’ll talk about anything and everything. We did and it was a fun and enjoyable class.
For example, we learned about the concentration of wealth in this country and the earliest actions of the Civil Rights Movement. Having had these discussions in class, we had to write short essays on the subjects.
The textbook by Perrin (how did I remember that name) had the professor’s definition, but we never read any more. As you can see I, unfortunately, never learned much about grammar and I became the king of the run-on sentences. Some years later I learned that professor was accused of being a communist and terminated from the University.
The second experience was also at OU in a course called “Business Communications.” We learned something about how to prepare a resume, how to write a proposal and other forms of business reports. The most important thing I learned was in all communications, tell a story.
You need a beginning, an opening, an introduction followed by the middle, the content and then an ending that is a conclusion and/or a call to action. To tell a story I was told, write like you are telling a story to a friend. In essence, write like you speak.
Here are the eight steps I gave to employees to help them improve their writing:
- Read more. Read lots of books, magazines. Read anything and everything.
- Before you start, organize your thoughts. Make notes or have an agenda for what you want to write.
- Understand you need to know something about grammar, but writing is not a separate formal language with a whole set of different rules.
- (Most important). Writing is telling a story on paper. Try writing like you would talk to someone to tell a story. Try dictating into a tape recorder or get voice recognition software for your computer. Or think to yourself what would I say if I were speaking to someone?
- You can always add the grammar when you edit your draft.
- You have to be an editor. It’s tough, but you have to go back over what you have written and polish it.
- Remember what you write has to have a beginning (an opening), a middle (the content) and an ending. The same is essentially true for each sentence.
- Write often, write a lot. The more you write the better you will get. Write notes, letters, reports.
Maybe these steps can help you or someone you know who wants to improve their writing.