How to write like Warren Buffett
The famous investor put on a masterclass
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Berkshire Hathaway published its 2022 Shareholder Letter last weekend.
Warren Buffett has been writing these letters for more than 50 years.
They treasure troves of insights on business, investing and wealth generation, of course.
But you know what else they are?
Mini-masterclasses on writing.
Buffett is one of the best business writers I’ve seen.
I dissected the latest Berkshire Shareholder Letter to learn what Buffett does so well.
Here are 5 lessons from Buffett to help you become a world-class business writer:
1. Write to a specific person
The above quote is how Buffett opens the 2022 Shareholder Letter.
The line that stands out to me is the last one:
“It is those dedicated savers that are forefront in my mind as I write this letter.”
When Buffett writes, he has a specific person in mind.
In this case, it’s the “dedicated savers” who put their money in Berkshire.
But Buffett takes it one step further.
When he writes these letters, he pretends he’s writing to his sisters (both Berkshire investors).
This helps him keep the letters readable and accessible to a broad audience.
Lesson: Write to a specific archetype to make your writing clear.
2. Be clear
After the introduction, the first section of the letter is headlined: “What We Do.”
In simple language, Buffett outlines the two ways Berkshire allocates the money of its investors.
This hasn’t changed for more than half a century.
But every year, Buffett reminds readers of the basic tenets of Berkshire’s investing strategy.
His primary goal in doing this is to be clear.
He wants you to know exactly how his company manages your money, and he says it in plain English a non-finance major can easily grasp.
Lesson: Use simple language and consistently communicate to drive clarity.
3. Be direct
Part of being clear is being direct.
Every year, Buffett reminds readers that he and his business partner, Charlie Munger, do not predict the stock market.
They buy businesses they believe will perform well over a long period of time.
So Buffett tells you that in direct language: “Charlie and I are not stock-pickers; we are business-pickers.”
Lesson: Communicate your main point(s) directly without fluff.
4. Be personal
Buffett has an All-American vibe that makes him endearing.
Living in Omaha, Nebraska, is part of his brand.
Buffett’s writing reflects those Midwestern values.
It’s personal, warm and friendly.
He writes in a down-home tone, speaking in the first-person like he’s writing to friends.
Most business writing is cold and robotic.
Writing in a personal tone like this stands out and helps your message land.
Here’s how Buffett ends the letter, referencing the annual Berkshire Shareholder Meeting that occurs every year in May:
Charlie, I, and the entire Berkshire bunch look forward to seeing you in Omaha on May 5-6. We will have a good time and so will you.”
“Charlie and I.”
“The Berkshire bunch.”
“Look forward to seeing you.”
“We will have a good time.”
“So will you.”
Almost every word is designed to form a personal bond.
Lesson: Business writing doesn’t need to be cold. Write personally.
5. Craft images for your reader
From 2012 to 2021, Berkshire paid $32 billion in federal taxes.
Buffett writes this in the letter because he wants to articulate that Berkshire pays its share of taxes.
He could have just said that and moved on. But here’s what he wrote instead:
What are you doing right now?
Like me, you’re probably visualizing what 21 miles of dollar bills stacked into the sky looks like.
And you’re probably thinking, “Woah, that’s a lot!”
Which is exactly the feeling Buffett wants you to have when reading that.
He crafted an image in your head that brought to life his point.
Use this technique to demonstrate your points.
Lesson: Creating images helps your reader connect with your message.
To recap, the 5 writing lessons from Buffett:
Write to a specific person
Craft images for your reader
Put these into practice, and you’ll be a top 1% business writer.
P.S. Here’s the best book on business writing I’ve come across.
Simple and effective. Highly recommend.
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