Write well

For a book so littered with wisdom, one particularly stood out. The book is Rework, and the nugget here is ‘Hire the better writer’.

They say:

“If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn’t matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever; their writing skills will pay off.

That’s because being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate.”

We value face to face communications and colocated teams a lot, particularly in software development. But still writing skill is important. Because, as said, it reflects the ability to empathize, to be clear, and to be effective. I do not know of any effort that measured the hidden cost of bad writing. It can be enormous.

Tom Peter says here on his Brand You message on Writing:

“But I do guarantee you—at least I suppose if you’re over age 26 or 27—that the quality of written communication is still incredibly important. And most of our executives, or many of our executives, are in their 40s or their 50s, so it’s particularly important if one is communicating with people like that”.

And then:

“…Work on your writing. I believe—and you’ll never convince me otherwise—it is a timeless and powerful skill.

And where to look for good writing? There’s many. Style guides like ‘Elements of Style”, Chicago Manual of Style, or Economist’s. I find valuable William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, and Stephen King’s On Writing.  Eat, Shoot & Leaves will make you laugh and learn about punctuations.

V.S.Naipaul, in Economist’s Intelligent Life (Autumn issue, 2010), lays down seven rules of writing for beginners. (1) write sentences no more than 10 to 12 words; (2) make each sentence a clear statement (a series of clear linked statements makes a paragraph); (3) use short words – average no more than five letters; (4) never use a word you don’t know the meaning of; (5) avoid adjectives except for ones of colour, size and number; (6) use concrete words, avoid abstract ones; (7) practice these rules everyday for six months.

And, of course, this post is for me. As much as for anyone else.


Offbeat books for software development

  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – Be in zone and you will work the best
  • ‘Man’s search for meaning’  by Viktor Frankl – you need to search for the meaning
  • ‘Getting to Yes’ by Roger Fischer, et al – won’t you like to discuss the estimates?
  • Influence by Robert Cialdini  – seminal book on influence and persuasion
  • ‘Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Robert Pirsig – what is quality, after all?
  • ‘Soul of a new machine’ by Tracy Kidder – rapid read through the adventure
  • Body Language by Barbara Pease – words come later, body language first
  • Elements of Style by Messrs Strunk and White  – write better, please
  • Emotional Intelligence by Danial Goleman- you need it. How can you think for a user if you don’t have empathy?
  • Alice in wonderland by Lewis Caroll – radical thinking and fun with words
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell – how money, power can corrupt many (there is also a prison experiment to prove it
  • ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Carnegie – people work better with you when you are likeable, it’s old but not outdated
  • ‘Design of everyday things’ by Donald Norman – on commonsense and elegance in design
  • White Tiger by Aravind Adiga – to get it done, no matter what