Business writing is a skill that is important for any professional to master. Effective business writing can help you make an excellent first impression, and even close a deal. Remember that before you get to meet employers or partners, you reach out to them first through writing.
To learn and master this new skill, you have a couple of options.
One, you can disconnect from Netflix and put aside a couple of hours this weekend to learn business writing from bestselling author Daniel Pink. The videos are short and insightful so it’s a great way to relax and learn something new.
Two, if you’re more of a reader and step-by-step kind of person like myself, then this article is for you. Keep reading and follow these principles to improve on your business writing.
- Think well and focus before you even start writing
Before you start the writing process, be sure that you are in a favorable state of mind. Think well before you put any of your words and thoughts into writing. Writing business documents is not the same as writing an informal letter to your friends or your lover. You have to put so much thought process into the message that you are trying to convey. You can try outlining your thoughts or your key points so you can have a guide to follow. When you do so, you can achieve the following:
- Your message will be better structured.
- You can avoid having repetitive sentences.
- If you are a first-timer, seek the help of a professional
One of the easiest ways for you to learn the secrets and the ABC’s of effective business writing is to seek the help of a professional. Doing this is highly beneficial for you especially if you are new to this form of writing. When you seek the help of a professional, they can show actual examples and give you one-on-one advice and answers to any of your questions. When you have this kind of exposure, you can learn effectively and grasp the concepts of business writing better. With the help of a professional, you can even learn other additional skills that are beneficial to you such as copywriting.
With the help of a professional, you can be guided to do the following:
- Set any emotions aside and take criticisms constructively.
- Be conscious about your strengths and weaknesses, so you will know which aspects you need to highly improve on.
If you do not have the luxury of time to seek the help of a professional, you can learn through other mediums such as reading self-help books, blogs, and courses that you can take at your own convenience.
- Have your purpose of writing in mind
As you start your writing process, have your purpose in mind. Your purpose will set the direction of your correspondence and will also determine your style of writing. The tone of your purpose of writing will also be controlled primarily by the purpose of what you are writing about. For example:
- You are writing for an invitation
- You are writing for an announcement
- You are writing an office memorandum
- You are writing a business article
- You are writing a formal letter
For example, if you are writing an office memorandum to invite the whole company to a company Thanksgiving party, you have to sound exciting and encouraging, without the use of long, boring, and dull sentences compared to when you are writing a business article.
- Know your readers or recipient
When writing a formal letter, document or post, the most critical question for you to answer is, “What can I gain from this document or proposition?” When your recipient or audience receives and reads your document, they will always check to see what it is you can offer them, hence you have to be precise and clear with your chosen language by knowing your readers.
Reaching out to a senior officer who is fifty years old requires a different tone and language compared to when you are writing to dynamic millennials. Remember the following points:
- Use words that are relevant to their age and generation
- Use words that are at par with their educational attainment, as talking to highly educated individuals are different from those who have lesser attainment
- Be brief, but concise
The most important thing for you to remember when writing a business correspondence is to keep your words simple. Your paragraphs should also be brief and concise. Remember that you are not writing for your convenience, but for your recipient’s. Acronyms and unnecessary flowery words can easily annoy a busy executive, for example. Here are other things you have to remember:
- Spell out abbreviations
- Avoid street slang or company slang
- Avoid unnecessary technical and academic jargon
An essential tip for you to remember is to pretend that you are sending out a telegram, where you have to pay for each word.
- Remember to use the five “W’s” and an “H”
When you are trying to put up business announcements or correspondences, think like a reporter. What this means is that you should always put all the vital information concerning your report in the first few sentences or the first paragraph. This follows the inverted pyramid style of writing where the most important information are seen immediately by your reader. Remember your W and H questions:
When you can answer these questions, you are effectively putting up an informative and straightforward business post.
- Always use the active voice, as well as a confident tone
When writing a formal or business paper, or even an article, for example, if possible, always use the active voice instead of the passive voice. Have a confident tone of writing, too. Here’s are two examples:
- When writing in the active voice, you will say, “Let’s talk about this contract soon!” On the other hand, when writing in the passive voice, you would say, “The contract would be discussed soon.”
- When writing with a more confident tone, you will say, “I am going to close the deal with Investor A by the second quarter of 2019.” On the other hand, writing with less confidence will sound like this: “Perhaps I can close the deal with Investor A by the second quarter of 2019.”
When you write in an active voice, in addition to your confident tone, you will sound more believable to whoever your audience is. You will also sound more serious and dedicated about the matter being discussed.
- Be particular about the format
Effective business writing not only involves the words that you use, or your phrases and sentences. A major part of it has to do with proper formatting as well. Remember that if you are trying to reach out to busy people in the industry, they will most likely skim through the document first before actually reading the whole thing. Hence, it will help you become more effective if you practice excellent formatting. Here’s how:
- Put important details such as dates, time, location, in bold
- To cut important points or detailed statements, break them down into bullet points
- Avoid long paragraphs, as sentences in each paragraph should only be around two to five
- Stay away from abbreviations
Abbreviating any text has no room in formal business writing. These abbreviations will only destroy the look and the flow of your document, and will also make it seem informal. Leave these abbreviations for your private and informal messages instead. Examples of common mistakes relating to abbreviations in business documents include:
- Using & instead of “and”
- Using “etc” instead of “etcetera”
- Using $ instead of “USD”
- Be friendly and conversational
Writing directly to the point does not mean sacrificing a friendly and conversational tone. Do not be too forceful, bossy, or formal with your tone. For example, “I would like a response within a month” can be replaced with a more friendly tone, such as, “I look forward to hearing from you within a month or so.” The best tip that you can have in mind when trying to sound friendly with your writing is to write like the way you speak. Surely, you don’t like talking to someone who sounds like a robot.
- Avoid using clichés
Unnecessary clichés will only sound boring to your audience or recipient, as they are merely going to create redundancy. As aptly mentioned above, go directly to the point and be straightforward. There is no benefit that you can gain from using any of these clichés. For example:
- “We are a service-oriented company”: All companies are service-oriented
- “We are an academically-inclined school”: Of course, all schools are academically-inclined
- “We are a technically-advanced computer software company”: No computer software company is not technically-advanced, as you necessarily need technology in this kind of industry
When you are using clichés, you are only wasting your reader’s time.
- Stay away from hyperboles
Hyperboles are not made for formal business writing. You need to set a more reliable tone rather than one that seems almost too good to be true, or one that has no force of believability. Upon reading your document, your reader must know that you are in for the real deal and that you are stating facts and not just exaggerated common statements. For example:
- Instead of saying, “We are number one in the whole of Europe,” you can say instead “Consumers have ranked us in the consistent top 10, out of 100 companies in Europe.”
- Instead of posting, “We provide the best nursing care for your ailing loved ones!”, you can be more believable by saying, “Clients have consistently given us a 10 out of 10 excellent rating in service!”
- Do not use adverbs
Adverbs refer to the words that are used to describe verbs, or alongside verbs. When writing formally, these words tend to simply lengthen your document. At times, they may be unnecessary. For example:
- “I am writing to bring to your attention Mr. A, who was reported to have shouted loudly at Customer A.” can simply be stated as “I am writing to bring to your attention Mr. A, who was reported to have shouted at Customer A.” The word “loudly” is an adverb to “shouted,” which is simply unnecessary, as a person who is shouting is already loud with his voice tone and volume.
- Allow your reader to have ease of reaching out to you
When you are writing in the business industry, you should go direct to the point and not linger on matters, terms, and details that have little to no significance at all. Be sure to make it easy for your readers to contact you, such as providing direct links when you are sending an email, or posting your direct contact details as well. This fact is one thing that a lot of business correspondents miss out, which results in the reader having to Google, or ask someone else to find a way to reach you directly and more quickly, rather than just through your email address.
- Edit and proofread your document
As much as possible, do avoid sending or posting a business document without proofreading the same. Nobody’s perfect, even if you have been writing for a very long time. It will still do you good to double check and make sure that you leave no room for error at all. You do not know if the person you are trying to reach is very particular about grammatical or spelling errors that will immediately turn them off.
There are now many online websites for you to proofread your document, such as Grammarly.
- Read aloud your document before sending it
Writing is different from when you actually read it aloud. Before you send your file, it is important that you first remember to read it aloud. When you first look at your written document, you might have the impression that it is written close to perfection; however, once you read it aloud, you will realize that there are some awkward statements. Reading aloud your document has the following benefits:
- It will sound more conversational
- It will have a smoother transition and flow of words and sentences
- You will be able to identify sentences that are too long and need to be broken down
- You will be able to catch some spelling or grammar errors that you might not have seen the first time you read the document
- Practice regularly
Practice makes perfect, and there certainly is so much truth to this saying. The more that you practice what you learned, the more that you can perfect your business writing skill. Do not rely solely on the days that you are asked to write, and it is on this occasion that you start from scratch again with re-learning what you have to do. During your free time, take time to practice. Working in the business industry necessarily involves business writing, so this is one skill that you must always make sure to master.
Poor business writing skills can cost you your job, or let your document get lost in a sea of other letters or correspondences that are better written. You can do no wrong in making an initial first impression through excellent business writing. These tips mentioned above can help you stand out among the rest.