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Business Writing Tips
You’d think business writing is always carefully crafted, but the truth it’s often ridden with misspellings, misused words and inaccuracies. The good news is that you can easily improve your business writing in a few easy steps.
First, Know Your Audience
Often our writing suffers because it’s inappropriate. We write convoluted emails, we format reports poorly, and overall we don’t try to make our content reader friendly.
Knowing the purpose a piece of writing serves gives you a sense of direction. Writing a business report should follow a specific format; for example, an in-office email could be short and informal, but a customer email or a PowerPoint presentation should follow guidelines of courtesy, clarity and conciseness. Your audience should be your compass; keeping in mind what the recipient seeks to learn narrows down the possible directions your writing should take.
Style, tone, and vocabulary use should be in line with your audience and situation. This is not just a matter of appropriateness and content effectiveness, it’s about your flexibility to communicate adeptly with different audiences, to empathize with them, and thus be able to connect at an appropriate and effective wave-length.
See: Know Your Audience for more information.
Focus on Content and Style
Is your writing organized along the following essential features and rules?
Simple Language – Create reader-friendly content by avoiding adjectives, using the active voice, and opting for commonly-known, shorter words. Your aim is to communicate your point across as effortlessly and as quickly as possible. Avoid "hidden verbs" by being conscious of unnecessary nominalization; for example, instead of saying, "We’d love to be of assistance" say instead, “We’d love to assist you.” The second sentence is more effective and customer-friendly, because it’s direct, efficient, and comprehensible.
Conciseness and Brevity – Business writing has to be succinct. Your audience doesn’t have the luxury to browse through multiple report pages to get the information they seek. Respect your recipients’ time; they should be able to access important information easily. You can achieve this when you:
- Stick to your subject matter
- Focus on facts
- Aim for clarity and avoid ambiguity
- Choose short words
- Avoid unnecessary décor (adjectives and adverbs)
Distinguishing Opinion From Facts – These two aspects of communication should be clearly separated in business writing. Ensure the reader can tell with certainty when something is a fact or merely your viewpoint. This way you’ll avoid misunderstandings and you’ll keep your writing ambiguity-free.
Serving a Purpose – Each piece of business communication should serve a clear purpose. Make an effort to not divert from this purpose. If you’re emailing a colleague with a follow-up email about a report due, don’t include three other unrelated requests in the same email.
Use Formatting Wisely
Every piece of writing should be properly formatted to maximize efficiency. Use headlines, bullet points, numbering and other formatting features (bold, italics, different colors) to ensure the reader can skim and scan with ease through your text. But don't overdo it! Too many distracting visual elements take the focus off your message.
This applies to all types of writing. Whether it's an email, a report, or a presentation, formatting helps your writing become clear and user-friendly. When possible, substitute text with visual presentations, graphics or charts.
Proofread Thoroughly, Revise Ruthlessly
Your first draft shouldn’t be your final product. Especially if we’re talking about a business proposal or report, it’s crucial that you review and edit it multiple times until you’ve created a respectable version.
Putting so much work in creating a professional piece of writing should wrap up with thorough proofreading.
Ensure you check for syntactical, grammatical and typographical errors. If you cannot proofread your own work, have it proofread by someone else to make sure it has flow and readability and it’s free of embarrassing errors.
You can also run it through an online spellchecker to catch common grammatical errors and misspellings, but remember that spellcheckers cannot detect contextual spelling errors (e.g. if the misspelled word is a properly spelled different word, like their/they’re, accept/except, right/write, here/hear). Spelling errors can best be avoided by improving your spelling skills using software like Ultimate Spelling.
Being aware of commonly misspelled words or grammatical weaknesses you have will help you anticipate and prevent them from spoiling your writing.
Be Aware of Attitude and Perspective
This is a rarely emphasized aspect of business writing. It’s not enough to know your audience and what they want from you. It’s crucial that you also know the different layers of meaning your writing conveys.
Word choice, sentence structure, viewpoints and expressions all reveal more than you think about your attitude and perspective on what you’re writing about.
The "You"-attitude is an aspect of business writing worth considering. It suggests that your writing should adopt the point of view of the reader, rather than yours. By embracing the recipient’s perspective you’re more likely to elicit positive responses. When the reader is the focal point, then they’re more keen to help, support, partake or act in what you ask them to. The You-attitude more often than not motivates the reader to act towards your desired direction, makes you appear more trustworthy, and promotes a feel-good atmosphere.
It might seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth it to focus on these five points and polish up your business writing skills. The benefits of doing so are many; you’ll find it easier to communicate your thoughts and people will be more likely to understand and consider your ideas.