Each term I tell students that the business or technical writing course they’re taking will teach them to stop fluffing their writing and instead teach them top strip it down.
As someone who also teaches composition, I appreciate some really valuable tools that come out of Comp 101. Understanding rhetoric, genre and research as tools to communicate effectively, for example. But, unfortunately, what students also learn in too many of these courses is that “big” words, lengthy sentences, and fluff writing pay off. Their answer to the length requirement. That leaves me to then deliver the sad news that outside of academia, this kind of writing does more damage than good. Suddenly, I have all these very sad English majors when their first stab at a business letter largely misses the mark. “But I’ve always been a great writer,” they say. Sure, of essays. Now you’ll learn all writing isn’t equal. And, you’ll be even better.
I wish someone had given me straight up advice like I give my students. I was an English major, Summa Cum Laude, Honors Graduate, all that. But my first draft of a letter in my professional career left me crying in the bathroom. “Nice writing,” he said. “Just all wrong for what we’re doing here. Try again.” And I was writing for a law school dean, for crying out loud. If I couldn’t get away with academic-style, flowery prose there, where could I? Why didn’t anyone prepare me? Why didn’t anyone teach me to de-fluff?
So, to my new students this term, I promise to make you better de-fluffers and stronger writers. Your business writing will be cleaner and more concise than probably your academic writing before. And, in turn, your academic writing will be better, too.
And, hopefully, I can save you from the stall full of sadness scene. Trust me. It’s ugly.