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Practical steps for clear business writing

Business people who have faced a blank page or display screen and stewed over a long-postponed memo or report will find valuable advice in ''Writing to the Top: Writing for Corporate Success,'' by Deborah Dumaine (New York: Random House. $7.95).

Through her Boston-based firm, Better Communications, the author has taught managers and corporate executives how to avoid ''writer's block'' and how to focus their ideas in writing to achieve the best possible impact. In her book she illustrates various ways to approach a writing task, whether it be a short memo, a letter, or an extensive financial report, and explains how to hone it into a clear, concise presentation. Practical exercises are also included.

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Despite the advances in telecommunication, she points out, writing will continue to be the starting point for conveying most information. Many messages, proposals, and reports are too complex for oral communication alone.

For most people, the hardest part of writing is getting started. To overcome the ''blank page syndrome,'' Deborah Dumaine offers six strategies to get ideas flowing. Suggestions include the traditional outline, free writing, ''brainstorming,'' and cataloging ideas on index cards.

She explains that planning takes up a sizable amount of time before any actual writing is done. Gathering the facts and formulating the proposals and ideas for presentation often takes up about 25 percent of the writing process, she says.

The next step is to analyze, organize, and position the facts and ideas. She advocates the use of ''headlines'' to highlight the major topics to be covered and to put the most important information up front, either in summary or complete form. An exception to this would be the presentation of an unpopular decision or a controversial idea that may require a gentle or persuasive lead-in.

The author divides the writing process itself into two stages: creating content and structuring form. In writing the first draft, she advises expressing all ideas in rough form as quickly as possible without worrying about word choice or sentence structure. It's not necessary to start at the beginning and write the perfect first sentence. Some writers prefer to get the easy sections out of the way first while others like to tackle the more difficult areas.

Once the information is down, the writer can concentrate on improving the sentence structure, word choice, final polishing. The author believes trying to work on content and form at the same time tends to slow a writer down.

In all cases, she advises making the final product as brief as possible without omitting any essential ideas.

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''Write to the Top'' also offers tips on making written material visually appealing, using modern alternatives to pretentious language, establishing the correct tone, and writing to negotiate agreements. The book also includes a section on grammar and punctuation.


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