better business writerIn my final blog in this series, I focus on how business writers can achieve better results with lateral thinking. In my previous blogs, I talked about lateral thinking as every writer’s resource, how to boost lateral thinking for writers and why writing is only half the story.

I once held the assumption that if I could write fiction then I could write for business.  Buoyed by this notion and the assurance of an easy credit, I handed in a soft new release assignment which tipped the scales at 1,800 words.

In response, my instructor commented
Patty there is some good writing here but it would cost a fortune to circulate over a newswire. Writing for business is an exercise in what you can say quickly. No journalist is going to sift through four pages to find the story.

So what I have learned is that at its core contemporary business writing is basically a story with a purpose. It’s ‘applied’ writing. It could be a biography, an appointment notice, a fact sheet or a web document. It still has to conform to its end use in length, style and content.

Business writers should:

  • Take a conversational tone, informal but professional
  • Reflect the proper tense. Use past tense for a hard news release, a contract signing or major announcement. Use present tense for a soft news release, a personal profile or a trending story
  • Craft simple, clear, short sentences aimed at a grade nine reading level. Try the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Score and Grade Level Indicator. It’s a feature of Microsoft Word. If your writing, scores between 60 and 70 (the reading level of a 14 year old student), then you will reach and engage most people Ensure the writing functions interactively. You should hook your reader but you should also inspire, fully inform or motivate them to act, with an economy of words
  • Follow the inverted pyramid rule  (The Lead, The Body and The Tail)

These are most of the basic ‘Business Writing 101’ rules but if your aim is to craft truly memorable material you have to dig a little deeper. You have to transcend the boundaries of what you know and how you use it. You have to employ your lateral thinking skills.

Most ideas are not original. They are usually old ideas combined in new ways. Take for example, the Gutenberg printing press. There was a time when all books had to be copied out by hand or stamped with fixed woodblocks. In 1450, Gutenberg combined the flexibility of a coin punch with the power of a wine press, to create a printing method with movable type. This is lateral thinking at its best. It is a perfect example of what can happen when you combine distantly related ideas in a new way. The printing press allowed for the rapid reproduction and distribution of books. It ignited the spread of intellectual enlightenment throughout the Western world.

Lateral thinking drives extraordinary innovation…  That includes writing.

Here are four exercises to take your craft to the next level.

  1. Come up with three products or topics based on contradictory combinations. Write a news release based on those combinations.
    For example: An inflatable dartboard (Yes it does have a market when you include Velcro darts. Just think of it, a decor friendly dartboard that you can hang on any wall).
  2. Write from three radically different viewpoints.  Use your client’s voice, your own voice and then the voice of the product.  You can also try writing the same material in three genres: marketing, fiction and educational.
  3. Cogitate: Once you put some time into your writing. Go do something else. Upon your return it’s likely your reservoir for ideas will be overflowing. By separating analysis from the creative part of writing, you open the door to lateral thinking or right brain activity.
  4. Try the six thinking hats exercise. It’s a proposal analysis tool, created by Edward de Bono. Imagine six virtual hats in six different colours, white, red, yellow, black, green and blue
    • Pull on the white hat. Gather all the information you need to support your writing
    • Switch to red. Record your immediate impressions of the product or topic
    • Switch to yellow. Document everything positive about the product or topic
    • Switch to black. Make note of what is wrong with the product or topic
    • Switch to green. Record every way the product or topic could be improved
    • Switch to blue and evaluate whether truly innovative ideas have been generated

In summary, as a business writer you should demand of yourself, passion, passion is infectious. You should also challenge your assumptions and retool criticism to drive personal growth.

And to conclude my four part series on writing, here is your call to action.

Can you solve the following riddle using your lateral thinking skills?


The Coconut Millionaire

A man buys coconuts for $5 a dozen and sells them at $3 a dozen.

Because of this he becomes a millionaire.

How does he do it?

Click here to find the answer on page 168, Appendix 2
The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills by Paul Sloane