How well does the
average business writer write? Well, it probably depends on how you define
effective on-the-job writing.
The bottom line is this:
Effective writing gets the job done. Or as Mary Munter puts it, “Managerial
communication is successful only if you can get your desired response from
But what are the components
of effective writing? What are the checkpoints for determining the likelihood
of obtaining that “desired response’’?
One approach is to define
effective writing according to five categories:
So, how does your writing
For a quick assessment of
your ability in the latter two categories, take this three-part, 15-point
1. Circle the
appropriate word choice in the following sentences: (a) The list is
comprised of/composed of 20 common errors. (b) I’m not looking for
compliments/complements. (c) I don’t intend to push the issue
further/farther. (d) The last thing I want to do is persuade/convince
you that I never make mistakes. (e) Here is the principle/principal
point for business writers.
2. Correct six common
errors in grammar and spelling in these sentences: (a) The complexity of
the problems make this a difficult issue. (b) The Good Writing Press may have
to trim their payroll, however, the company is expecting new demand for it’s
products. (c) Good communication skills can help managers affect change. (d)
Our procedures for following up on delinquent accounts are inconsistent,
incomplete, and not reliable.
3. Punctuate the
following sentence: “To communicate effectively you must know three things
your audience your purpose and your material’’
Here are the correct
answers (and I hope you’re not peeking):
1. Word choice:
composed of (or comprises, but comprised of is always
wrong), compliments, further, convince, and principal
(remember: principle is always a noun, never an adjective);
2. Grammar and spelling:
lack of subject-verb agreement (should be “The complexity of the problems
makes . . . ’’), lack of pronoun-noun agreement (should be singular its in
reference to the singular antecedent The Good Writing Press), comma splice
(should be a period or a semicolon after payroll), misspelled possessive
pronoun (like his and hers, the possessive pronoun its requires no apostrophe;
it’s is a contraction of it is), misspelled verb (effect is usually a noun and
affect is usually a verb, but effect can be a verb when used to mean “to bring
about”; if you crossed out both choices, you get extra credit for being
clever), and nonparallel construction (should be inconsistent, incomplete, and
3. Punctuation: a
comma after effectively (optional but recommended), a colon after
things, a comma after audience (and – depending on whether you use
the serial comma – after purpose), and a period after material
that goes before – not after – the quotation marks.
Now, give yourself one
point for each correct choice. In my writing seminars, business writers
typically score between 8 and 9. One class of 17 MBA students averaged 10.59.
Susan Peterson, my editor at the Star Tribune, scored a perfect 15.
How do you compare?