Project Management

Ask The Expert: Jack Appleman

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Categories: communication


In today’s installment of my occasional series interviewing experts in their field, I caught up with Jack Appleman. He’s a proponent of clarity and communication – and he wants people who write for business to just do it a bit better.

Being able to get your ideas across in writing is so important. Without that, you can’t convince, negotiate, delegate or engage your stakeholders. So, let’s dive in.

Hello Jack. What's the mistake you see most from people when it comes to business writing?

The two biggest mistakes are overwriting—conveying the same point multiple times with too many words—and inserting pseudo-sophisticated text in an attempt to impress the readers when most people want clear and straightforward language.

Yes, I see that in comms I get. Hopefully not in what I send out! What tip do you think would most benefit project managers writing about their projects at work, say, in an email or proposal?

Start with a paragraph that succinctly explains the bottom line because readers are increasingly impatient.

For example, begin a project proposal with a compelling paragraph that sums up the most important information and then provide required sections such as goals, required facilities, deliverables, etc. This offers readers a choice: Those who just want the top-line information can stop after the first paragraph while others who want more details can keep reading.

Many project managers get promoted from operational or technical jobs where everyone knows the jargon, to a job where people don't. How can people reframe what they know about technical writing into business writing for a wider audience?

Apply the same principles for both types of writing. Technical writing typically involves communicating instructions or information about technical issues or specific projects, which must be clear, succinct and well-organized—the same skills needed for business emails and other documents.

Often, technical documents are unnecessarily filled with jargon. When writing to a non-technical audience, either avoid the jargon or explain any term that readers may not understand.

OK, great. How can people develop their writing skills?

Use common sense when reviewing what you’ve written. Ask yourself, “Is this good? Would I be satisfied if I were reading it?”

Try to complete your first drafts faster so you can allot more time on the all-important editing phase. You should also consider taking a live or online business writing course or signing up for one-on-one writing coaching.

Effective business writing—for project managers and everyone—is about getting your message across in a clear, concise and well-organized way so the reader understands it and takes your desired action. It’s not any more complicated than that!

Much of what project managers do is computer-mediated communication, either email or instant messaging, or through a project management tool. What are the pitfalls of that and how can project managers get round them?

Today, virtually everyone communicates via email or text messages. Apply the same principles of effective writing regardless of the communication channel, and practice proper etiquette (e.g., complete sentences, no weird abbreviations and correct grammar).

Plus, recognize when the message is too complex or sensitive to send via instant messaging or a text.

Good advice, thank you! How can people find out more about you?

Go to or email [email protected].

About Jack

Jack E. Appleman, APR, CBC, business writing instructor and author of the top-selling 10 Steps to Successful Business Writing (2008, ATD Press), has developed innovative teaching methods to help working professionals achieve better results with their writing. The principal of Successful Business Writing, Jack has led workshops, webinars and coaching programs for organizations including HBO, Johnson & Johnson and the U.S. Olympic Committee, which have consistently earned outstanding evaluations. 

Posted on: June 13, 2017 09:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (2)

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Absolutely fantastic! I struggle with my project engineers on this. I'll have to read a technical document that goes into extreme detail on complex technical pieces but doesn't flow or have the "So what?" That is the test I often use, when I read something I ask "So what?" what is the value here, what am I trying to convey. One of the greatest strengths any PM or Technical lead can have is being able to write clearly and succinctly. So follow Jack's advice - go take a course, or regularly have your writing shredded by someone who knows how to write. Eventually you'll learn and not see so much red!

Great article, thank you for sharing!

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