THE BLOG
11/27/2013 09:48 am ET Updated Jan 27, 2014

The 4 Pillars of Good Business Writing and Speaking

I've been on a reading rampage as of late, even more than usual. Blame or thank my iPad and bunch of long flights. That's not to say that I read every business book that comes my way. Authors and publishers like sending me them because I write for some high-profile sites.

It's not that difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. (I'd argue that the following list applies to public speaking as well.) I've come to the realization that most good business writing includes ample does of each of the four elements:
  • Facts - I for one appreciate it when authors have done their homework and can tie current events to historical ones. Have we seen this movie before? Where? How is the present similar/different from the past? Why?
  • Data - We live in an era of Big Data, but only 12 percent of all business books contain numbers. OK, I'm kidding, but I've read plenty of books whose authors have failed to use any numbers to buttress their arguments. Yes, stats can be abused. Mark Twain thought so. Still, I'm more inclined to buy a book's core argument if a statistic or two backs it up.
  • Stories/Case Studies - Data and history are necessary but insufficient conditions for a compelling business text. Show me don't tell me, as a Rush song goes. Bonus points if your social media book doesn't cover well-trodden ground like Comcast Cares or United Breaks Guitars. Pioneer new case studies if you can.
  • Opinions - Yes, these are important too. What's your viewpoint? Only after you've shown me facts, data, and stories am I likely to believe your opinions.

Simon Says

These four elements don't guarantee a good book, much less a bestseller. Ditto for talks. I'm more likely, though, to enjoy and recommend a business text with these four things.

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