Poor writing could mean an email failing to secure a vital relationship, a report with careful analysis getting ignored, or even losing out on a business critical bid.
10 top tips to improve your business writing
Getting ignored, or even losing out on a business critical bid. It can be bewildering when we realise, or perhaps we are told, that we need to improve our business writing skills. Better business writing is an unclear objective. How do we go about it?
Here are 10 top tips for making your business writing more successful:
- Establish Your Objective
Get clear on why you’re writing what you’re writing. Before you start, stop and think about what you want and need to say. Try to use the ‘5Ws + H’:
- Who: Who is my audience?
- What: What do they need to know?
- When: When does this apply, when did this happen, or when do they need to know it by?
- Where: Where is this happening?
- Why: Why do they need this information?
- How: How should they use this information?
Professionals in every sector are inundated with reports and emails every day, many of which are unnecessary. Save yourself and your reader time by making sure that each communication you send is necessary and relevant.
- Do Your Research
Gather all the relevant information together. Know your audience. To communicate effectively, you have to know your readers. Are they familiar with your subject? Write in a conversational tone. Don’t alienate people by being too formal or bureaucratic. Make your writing as inviting and personal as you can. Write as though you are having a conversation with one specific person – your ideal customer.
Know your message. Before writing, decide what you’re trying to achieve. Do you simply want to share information? Do you need to explain a difficult concept? Or do you want to inspire your readers to do something? Most importantly, what is your key message?
- Keep It Brief
Once you’ve identified what you need to say, get to the point quickly. People are always pressed for time, and they will appreciate your brevity. Short sentences, paragraphs and documents have a better chance of capturing readers’ attention. That’s particularly true of emails and other electronic documents because we read more slowly on screen than on paper. Determine your most important point and state it up front, in the very first sentence.
One of the great problems of business writing is postponing the message to the middle part of the writing as you’ll have probably lost most readers by then. Practise summarising. If your opening message doesn’t work, then the whole piece of writing will fail. Write to express, not to impress.
- Avoid Acronyms and Buzzwords
In writing, your goal is to be clear and direct. If your reader has to use Google to decipher what you’re trying to say, your message isn’t working.
Avoid jargon whenever possible. It often makes you sound pretentious, and it can further alienate your reader. Instead, write the way you talk. Keep it natural and direct. Replace embellishment with solid facts and reputable testimonials.
Every industry sector has its acronyms and technical terms. They’re useful shorthand when every reader knows the jargon. But if you’re writing for people outside your field – which will often include your customers – get rid of the slang or you may create confusion. If you absolutely can’t avoid using the lingo, at least explain it. On a webpage, for instance, you can insert a hyperlink to the definition.
- Use the Active Voice
In an active sentence, the subject performs the action of the verb. In a passive sentence, the subject is letting the action happen to them. Active sentences are direct, bold, and more interesting than passive sentences. Your writing will improve dramatically if you strive to use active sentences whenever possible.
- Always Be Professional
Sometimes it’s tempting to throw in a joke to lighten your writing. However, this doesn’t contribute to your message and can negatively affect your reputation if it’s misunderstood. When you’re texting, go ahead and use “&”, “etc.”, “e.g.” and other shorthand. But if you’re writing to impress clients, employees or investors, use full words. It’s simply more professional.
- Clarify Your Call to Action
Your business communications are sent with a purpose. Don’t leave it up to your reader to figure out what you want them to do with this information. Spell it out and be specific. Be clear about what you want and you’ll probably find you get better results.
- Edit Your Document
Don’t rely solely on on-screen editing. Print out your document and read it aloud. If you encounter any awkwardness you need to rewrite your work to make it more conversational and improve the flow. Helpful format elements include:
- Headings and sub-headings
- Indenting text to show it’s a sub-element
- Bullet and number lists
- Plenty of white space
- Short paragraphs
- Appropriate use of bold text.
When proofreading, read each sentence carefully. Grammar and spelling mistakes are embarrassing, and they hurt your credibility. Spell check tools are good, but they don’t catch everything, especially words that are used out of context. If you see one mistake, read the rest of the paragraph particularly closely – typos tend to cluster.
Once you’re finished writing, proofread it immediately. And if possible, put it away and read it again a few hours or days later. Giving yourself some distance from the writing will help you spot mistakes you might have missed on the first read through. If your piece of work is particularly important, give it to a trusted friend or colleague to read over before you send it to its intended audience. A fresh pair of eyes might spot additional mistakes that you missed.
- Ask for Feedback
Show your document to someone outside your area of expertise and ask whether anything is missing. The best feedback can provide crucial insights. As writers, we are often too close to our own words to gauge their effects on others. Your readers will be seeing your words for the first time, so listen carefully if they tell you a certain section was confusing or they found that you repeated yourself in a few places.
One final thought … anyone can learn to be a better writer, and the best way to improve your own writing is to practice. The more you write, the better you’ll get.
Babel delivers language training in all major world languages, coaches delegates to be culturally competent in their global roles, briefs expats for starting new jobs overseas and helps create high-performing remote teams.