2 business writing tips from Hemingway

There is nothing like a good old-fashioned feud between classic authors. This example can help add oomph to your writing.

William Faulkner once said about his contemporary, “[Ernest Hemingway] has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

Hemingway scoffed: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”


Hemingway was known for writing in short declarative sentences. What can we glean from Papa when it comes to the next organizational announcement or weekly report that has to go out?

Business writing, like literature, doesn’t have to be dry. It doesn’t have to full of long, compound sentences in order to be effective or businesslike. Nor does it have to be emotionless.

Business writing is about convincing, as much as it’s about conveying.

Emotion, captured the right way, can be a great ally. Adding just the right amount of emotion—subtly—can give your next report or update to your client more wallop.

At work, I write every day. I’m no Hemingway, but here are two ways to add a little more oomph to your next communication:

1. Dramatic opening. A short declarative sentence.

One does not have to cite the opening of “Hamlet” to get people’s attention. Still, there is nothing wrong with a little less formality and a bit more decoration. Why should your next weekly update convey emotion? Because you worked all week trying to accomplish something, and your time is valuable.

“We have turned the corner. Together, with the help of our sales team, we have made tremendous progress filling the backorders of our top customers this week.”

2. Short staccato sentences. Three short sentences at the end of a paragraph.

“We discovered that these conversations—between team member and leaders—have taken on a greater meaning for the entire organization. Not only do leaders have a better understanding of the “pulse” of the organization at large, team members are becoming change agents in the process. Team members are being heard. Leaders are listening. ABC is becoming a better organization as a result.”

That sounds more powerful than a paragraph with four or five longer sentences. The three sentences at the end drive home the point, with more emotion and power behind it.

Everyone should find his or her own style.

Taking a page from Hemingway’s straightforward style, however, can teach us that less is more.

Sometimes less is more interesting, too.

Eric B. Smith is a talent acquisition manager at Dell. A version of this post was originally published on LinkedIn. Follow Eric on Twitter @ericbrendan.


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