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You write every day at work, don’t you? Emails, proposals, maybe a blog or social media post. You might even crank out an old-fashioned put-it-in-an-envelope-and-mail-it letter now and then.
Here’s the thing. How much of what we write does somebody actually read, understand, and act on? And how can we increase the chances they’ll respond to our message the way we want them to?
The best business writers keep it simple, straightforward, and crystal clear. They’re not following the rules they learned from Mrs. What-was-her-name in their high school English class.
And they’re definitely not padding their content with extra multi-syllabic words the way they did when they were writing term papers in college.
Here are 7 quick tips to boost your business writing skills.
1. Focus on your reader from the start. How did this article begin? Yep, it starts with you. So many professionals begin their correspondence with a bunch of blahblah about themselves. Using the word “you” instead draws the reader in immediately, gets their attention, and lets them know you’re interested in them.
If you find yourself writing, “I just wanted to take a minute to let you know …” or “I’m excited to tell you about …” or any similar phrase, do yourself (and your reader!) a favor. Drop the runway stuff and find a way to start with “you.”
Or you might consider starting with “we” in the interest of putting you and your reader firmly on the same side, suggesting a shared point of view or a shared purpose. You’ll notice I made that switch in the second paragraph.
2, Make your main point clear. And make it right at the top. Writers are often tempted to build to a “big finish” or to lay out all the supporting data and then make their point. In most business writing, you’re better off not to bury the lead.
Don’t make your reader wade through a bunch of verbiage to find out what you recommend, request, or propose. Because many of them won’t do it. Put the big idea up front and then fill in the back story.
3. Use short sentences. (Like that one.) Your readers are busy people; there’s a ton of competition for their attention. Make it easy for them to absorb what you’re saying with short, direct sentences.
4. And on the subject of short … short words are good, too. The crisper your language is, the more power your message has.
Bad business writers think extra syllables make them sound smarter. Not so. When you write “use” instead of “utilize” or “buy” instead of “purchase” or “show” instead of “indicate” you sound strong and confident. And you demonstrate, no, make that show your respect for your reader’s time. (See how that works?)
5. Stay in active rather than passive voice. A meeting was held, a decision was reached, it is to be hoped … this passive language shows up often in business writing. (Sometimes it’s an effort to dodge responsibility.) It makes documents deadly dull. Active voice is stronger, more direct, and easier to read.
6. Use formatting like bullets, numbered lists, and subheads to clarify things for your reader. They’re signposts that point the reader in the right direction.
And stick with short paragraphs so there’s plenty of white space on the screen. The eye will be drawn to your content when it’s framed by white space.
7. Write the way you talk. Contractions are perfectly okay – they’re natural and conversational. A document with no contractions sounds stiff and stilted. Fragments? Fine. And forget whoever told you not to end a sentence with a preposition.
Are there expressions you use often in conversation? Idioms that “sound like you” to your readers? Include them in your email, blog post, or letter for a conversational tone.
If you keep your focus on your reader as you write and use these tips to make reading your work easier and more engaging, you’ll find that you get much better results.
And maybe you have a suggestion to share? Put it in a comment here.