You write every day at work: emails, reports, proposals, maybe even an old-fashioned put-it-in-an-envelope-and-mail-it letter now and then.

But how much of what you write does someone actually read, understand, and act on? And how can you increase the chances they’ll respond to your message the way you want them to?

The best business writers keep it simple, straightforward and crystal clear.  They’re not following the rules they learned from Mrs. Whomever in their high school English class.  And they’re definitely not padding their content with extra multi-syllabic words the way they did 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? That’s right, it starts with you.  Most business people 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 phrase, and find a way to start with “you.”
  1. 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 before they 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.  Put it up front and then fill in the back story.
  1. Use short sentences.  (Like that one.) Your readers are busy people; there’s a lot of competition for their attention. Make it easy for them to absorb what you’re saying with short, direct sentences.
  1. 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 it shows your respect for your reader’s time.
  1. 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 and it makes documents deadly dull. Active voice is stronger, more direct and easier to read.
  1. 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 page.  The eye will be drawn to your content when it’s framed by white space.
  1. 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.

If you keep that 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.