Better Business Writing in 5 Easy Steps
by Paul McDonnold
In the business world, everyone is a writer. The advent of email has made the craft of writing more important than ever. Words are powerful. They move minds, armies and, in the business world, money. Unfortunately, most business people do not take the time to develop their writing into a true skill. Just browse through your inbox. Misspelling, loose sentence construction, poor grammar - these are just a few of the problems you’ll probably find.
This is like having an incredibly powerful tool at your disposal, and letting it sit unused. The up-side is that it creates an opportunity for you to elevate yourself above the crowd, with writing that really punches, communicates, performs and persuades. And we are not talking about a major undertaking here. If you take the following five simple pieces of advice to heart, you will be well ahead of the pack in terms of communicating. You will be able to package your ideas in a way that commands notice. Like good music, people respond to good writing, whether they practice it or not.
1. Put the reader first, the writer last. Not following this dictum is the cardinal sin of a lot of business writing, and communication in general. When you are writing something, think about who will be reading it. They are your audience. Put yourself in their place. Think about what you are trying to tell them. Make it clear.
Too often, people write with the intention of making themselves appear smart. They fill every communication with big words, fancy jargon and long, involved sentence structures. This comes at the expense of communication. Never try to make yourself feel smart by making your audience feel dumb. Don’t write to impress, write to communicate. In the end, that’s the most impressive thing of all. Be very sparing with the use of words such as ‘obviously’ and ‘of course’. Of course, if something is so obvious then why would you even mention it? Obviously, this can give the feel of talking down to the reader.
2. Use positive, confident language. If you can’t be confident in what you are saying, how will your reader have confidence in it? Words such as ‘perhaps’, and ‘maybe’ can water down your message. Look for such message killers and delete them if not absolutely needed.
3. Brevity Brevity Brevity. “Omit needless words,” William Strunk Jr. says in the invaluable handbook, The Elements of Style. There is a lot of overstuffed writing out there. If you can say something in 100 words, there’s a good chance you can say it better in 75. When you proofread (see #5), be alert for any un-needed words or phrases, as well as ways to say the same thing more succinctly. This increases the punch of your piece, and shows respect for the reader’s time.
4. Avoid clichés. When you write in clichés, you’re not thinking creatively. You’re trading on old ideas. When you see a cliché in your writing, think of a way to say the same thing with different words. This practice will make your writing fresher, and more authentic.
5. Always proofread. This one is simple, but often ignored. Non standard spelling, while often employed in casual communications, is confusing. Avoid it. Keep the grammar standard as well. Sentence fragments may be okay, if you want a conversational feel. But don’t overdo it.
Proofreading is important not just for spelling and grammar, but as a way to apply all five of the recommendations we’ve covered. The improvements you make in your writing will pay back the time spent, with interest.