Book Review: “Business Writing in the Digital Age”

Getting a Crash Course in Clear Communication from Your Best Friend

In today’s world, everyone runs around like crazy. We’re too busy to meet a friend for coffee, but not too busy to dash off a quick text message. And while a message with imperfect grammar would be okay if you’re communicating with your best friend, it probably wouldn’t pass muster if you’re emailing the boss to let her know of your latest money-making project idea.

Glitches in written communication (particularly in written business communication) slow people down and confuse them. Life is confusing enough as is without poorly conceived messages floating around and muddying the lines of communication. So, how do you combat the world of slapdash, hurried, harried writing?

Natalie Canavor is glad you asked. In her book, “Business Writing in the Digital Age,” Canavor targets people who live and work in an age where instant communication via Facebook, Twitter, and text messages are the norm. In other words, her audience is everyone.

This book could almost be used as a basis for teaching an adult education class in writing. Why? Because Canavor gives clear, concise “before” and “after” examples of writing, tells you what the improvements are, and why the improvements work. I don’t know about you, but I learn best from the old show-and-tell, and “Business Writing” is chock-full of help.

One of the first things you notice about “Business Writing” is that the author was clever enough to include a “How to Use this Book” section. While one might think it’s self-explanatory how to use a book (uh, just read it?), usually an author has a strategy on how to get the most out of a user guide.

In addition to cluing you in on how to get the most from her book, Canavor has interspersed her text with additional sidebars and pullouts to clarify and enhance. And she’s broken down the sidebars into different categories. The reader can pick and choose what extras they wish to focus on. Some of those categories include:

  • View from the Field – Tells you what it’s like in the trenches, when you have to show up every day, when you’re on the clock, and you need to produce quality work every time.
  • Sidelights – Indicate areas for additional reinforcing thought, if you’re so inclined. These marked areas can be read for further study or ignored if you’re in a hurry.
  • Going Deeper – You can speed along as quickly as you like, or you can stop along the way for a more involved look at things.
  • Think Global – As the adage goes, act locally but think globally. For instance, updates to a website may be done in-house, but have the potential to be seen internationally by a diverse audience.
  • Success Tips – Canavor offers ideas that will help you stand out from the rest of the crowd.
  • Action Time – Do the exercises presented here to get a better grasp on the ideas being discussed.
  • Practice Opportunities – Extended exercises designed to help you retain what you’ve just learned.

Throughout its 12 chapters, Canavor explains why good writing, setting a goal for your writing, and defining your audience are so important if you want your written communication to hit its mark. She explores sentences, paragraphs, email, and letters (yes, those nearly forgotten pieces of paper still delivered by the United States Postal Service).

Yet Canavor’s book is not simply an ode to the seemingly lost skill of grammar. She devotes two whole chapters to the esoteric science, art, and magic of using language to persuade your elusive audience. Attention is also given to web writing, social media, and blogging.

But she saves the final chapter as her piece de resistance. Canavor focuses directly on how you present yourself through writing and speaking. Your resume may be the most important piece of writing with your name on it and the author offers up tips on how to make yourself shine in a sea of muddy CVs. Oh, and that “elevator speech” you’ve always fantasized about giving to your company’s CEO? Yep. Canavor has thoughts on that as well. You may now press all the buttons on the way to the top floor and let fly your idea.

Throughout “Business Writing in the Digital Age,” Natalie Canavor sits down next to you like that best friend you’re too busy to meet for coffee. She takes the time to lay out the areas of business writing where many of us fall short (“OMG! u need 2 rite better!”), and then gently shows us how.

Title: Business Writing in the Digital Age
Author: Natalie Canavor
Publisher: SAGE Publications, Inc (October 20, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1412992508
ISBN-13: 978-1412992503

Craig Cardimon

Craig Cardimon wears many hats and loves all of them -- technical communicator, content curator, and freelance copywriter. In his not-so-copious spare time, he reads, writes, runs on the local trail, and watches way too much "retro" TV.

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