Best books for business writing

5 best books for business writing

If you’re writing for business then you’re writing to sell, whether that’s shifting widgets or pushing your point of view.

To achieve that, you need to know the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation. And, you need to know when to break them (such as starting a sentence with “and”).

You also require a deep feeling for stories; their mechanics and structure, how and why they work. That quickly takes you into psychology and an understanding of how we decide. What makes us do the things we do?

There are many, many books out there. A large number are gazing down at me, right now (though Strunk and White went into a sulk long ago and no longer talks to me). The five that follow are my “go to” references, the books I recommend when people ask.

The Economist Style Guide

You need this book. It deals authoritatively, succinctly and humorously with the important stuff like punctuation, abbreviations, grammar, etc. It is at its best dealing with everyday mistakes:

Cassandra Do not use Cassandra just as a synonym for a prophet off doom. The most notable characteristic about her was that her predictions were always correct but never believed.

Hypothermia is what kills old folks in winter. If you say it is hyperthermia, that means they have been carried off by heat stroke. 

The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker

Subtitled “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century”, this book explains why most style guides (including the venerable Strunk and White and especially corporate style guides) are wrong. It shows you why they are wrong – arming you against an army of pedantic, tin-eared, armchair editors – and presents a coherent, scientific basis for effective communication.

Bonus recommendation: Pinker refers often to Clear and Simple as the Truth, by Francis-Noel Thomas and Mark Turner. As a guide to Classic Style, this is a fantastic book for further reading.

The Elements of Eloquence, Mark Forsyth

One of several books I’d recommend on the subject of rhetoric. Forsyth takes an entertaining approach to an important topic. You don’t need to know what “diacope” is, but it helps to understand why “Bond. James Bond.” or “Burn, baby, burn.” are such effective and memorable phrases. As a writer, you want to be memorable.

Other good books on the topic are Sam Leith’s You Talkin’ to Me? and Language Intelligence by Joseph J Romm.

I also ramble a bit on rhetoric in the occasional Rock and Roll Rhetoric series.

Influence, Robert B. Cialdini

This classic on the psychology of persuasion is (should be) on every marketer’s bookshelf, and it’s an essential for business writers, too. What works? Why do we decide the way we do? In this world of supposed “influencers”, how does influence actually happen?

It’s psychology, of course, and bonus reading is definitely Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. This is a heavier read, but deeply insightful.

Tell to Win, Peter Guber

A business storyteller, from the business of stories, talking about stories that sell. Guber grew up in the film industry and is Chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment. This is a great book for making it all real. Just how do stories sell stuff?

What have I missed?

There are other books I love but I felt weren’t essential or instant references. You could go deeper on stories with Joseph Campbell or Christopher Vogler. You could go back to the classics, like Aristotle’s Rhetoric and you could (and should) step sideways into graphic design and other related fields.

But, this is my writers’ starter pack. What have I missed?

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