1. Know why you’re writing. Be clear about your objectives, including the audience you’re addressing and the goal you want to achieve. State the goal convincingly in each sentence of your prose. Example: Your firm wants to break its lease in an office building that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to install wheelchair ramps and automatic doors, but you want to stay on good terms with the landlord. Garner offers an elegant sample that includes this sentence. “Although we have no doubt that your oversight was a good-faith error, we hope that you understand why we can’t stay in the building.” He captures three goals at once: to explain that you’re breaking your lease, to spell out why you’re justified in doing so, and to preserve a good relationship with the landlord.
2. Understand your readers. Know that no one has time to waste. Get to the point quickly, focus on what’s relevant and use a tone that fits your audience. Imagine you’re writing to someone who is smart but not a specialist in your field. When Warren Buffett pens his annual report, he pretends he’s writing it for his sisters who are smart but not experts in finance. “To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform,” Buffett writes in his preface to the SEC’s Plain English Handbook.
3. Write your first draft quickly. Garner says writing preparation can involve four different processes he calls Madman, Architect, Carpenter and Judge. The Madman does the research, the Architect organizes the material, the Carpenter writes the first draft and the Judge edits and tightens. When it comes to the writing stage, Garner says it’s best to barrel through a draft without waiting for inspiration or perfecting as you go. If you’re stumped by a section, skip it and finish the next part or the whole piece before circling back.
4. Revise and edit. Garner offers a series of questions you should ask yourself when going over your piece: Have I told the...