6 ways your schoolteacher sabotaged your business writing

In grade school, Mrs. Pickering may have improved your syntax, your vocabulary, even your margins—but she’s not your audience anymore.

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1. They got you used to a captive audience.

At school, you handed in your homework, and it came back marked. This process taught you that every word you wrote would be read and evaluated by someone deeply interested in your thoughts.

Things couldn’t be more different in business. Your colleagues and clients are busy people with a hundred demands on their time. And unlike your teachers they aren’t paid to read your stuff.

The lesson: In business, unlike at school, you have to fight to be read. Accept that most people will scan your words. Make it easy on them by using headers, bullets, and short paragraphs.

2. They taught you to write with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

At school you learned that any essay must have an introduction and a conclusion. The meat of your argument came in the middle.

Judging by the number of business documents we’ve seen that begin by setting the scene, explaining the context, and generally “warming the reader up,” this is a hard habit to shake.

In business, you don’t have the luxury of the preamble. Your readers are time-pressed, so you need to dive straight in with your main point.

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