Better Business Writing to Build a Better Business
Strong communication skills are the foundation of an effective business. So it’s a strange circumstance that sees so little focus put on the essential skill of business writing
Let’s make it clear: better business writing helps build a better business.
Good writing is fundamental for everything from vital investor communications to an internal document highlighting your essential new data-handling practice. Engaging the skills of a professional copywriter can be a powerful tool in empowering your business communications, but it’s all too easy to make that decision for key communications without thinking about the everyday business writing that makes up your core operations.
Want to improve your business writing? Here are some simple rules to help you along the way.
Consider your communications
It all starts with a good think. Consider what it is you’re aiming to achieve with your communication, what the key information you wish to convey might be, and what vital information you should include in order to reach those goals. You don’t necessarily need a structured PowerPoint presentation planning an email, but it’s still important to pause and consider your communications prior to diving right in.
Want to know what happens when you don’t have a good, hard think about the goals and content of what you’re writing? You risk generating a storm of controversy, like this infamous case of a tobacco company writing a report highlighting the economic benefits of people dying from lung cancer. Great work communications team.
Say what you mean to say
It’s important to be direct and deliver your point quickly in business writing. People are busy, and so a communication that gets to the point without any fluff is always welcome. A US-based study showed that workers spend over 20 hours a week checking work-based emails. Don’t add to the burden unnecessarily.
If you’re writing something longer than an email, try and include a good summary to start the piece. That will help recipients understand and reference the topic quickly and efficiently, before diving into the meat of the communication itself.
Whatever format you choose, keep the core topic as your guidance throughout. You might have something else interesting to say on an unrelated topic, but chances are it will have a lot more impact if you keep it for a separate, dedicated communication.
Avoid the word bloat
The greatest peril of writing isn’t writing too little, it’s writing too much. Use the words required to make your point, and try not to get caught up with irrelevant anecdotes or fluffy filler. Keep your writing tight and to the point to deliver the message.
There are undoubtedly complex topics where writing anything less than a full-scale report is virtually impossible. Avoiding word bloat doesn’t mean avoiding lengthy documents all together, it just means making sure the writing is as tight as it can possible be using the format that is required.
Remember about relationships
It’s important here to mention that being careful of word count and maintaining business focus in no way eliminates the potential for building relationships. Business relationships are built on good communication, that means a good communication strategy helps build better relationships.
So many business writing tips fail to address this concept. Yes, business writing is often about conveying a necessary point in an efficient and convincing manner, but framing that communication with some personalisation and rapport can be equally useful, especially when we’re talking one-to-one communication.
I’m not suggesting that you describe how your dog chewed your favourite collectible action figure as part of a quarterly report, but tagging some polite engagement and conversation on an email or letter can be seriously beneficial. You need to use your own judgement as to when that might be appropriate.
Kick the jargon
Jargon is the enemy of good business communication. As a marketing professional I regularly have to check up on acronyms that mysteriously appear in client communications, or query strange slang used on feedback for a document.
There are obviously acronyms and shorthand which are widely recognised, and in many cases they can be acceptable to use. But be very careful in assuming what those are. Here’s a good rule of thumb – if you could email your friend across town who operates in a completely different industry and be entirely confident that they would understand the terminology you use in your communication, then it’s probably OK. If there is any doubt – cut it out.
Put it into practice
Theory is a good place to start, but the only sustainable way to improve your business writing is by putting these rules into practice. Run through the quick check list in your head next time you’re thinking of writing a quick operational summary, sending a business update by email, or crafting a report.
- Consider your communication – think through what you want, and need, to say?
- Say what you mean to – get right to the point, and stick to it
- Avoid word bloat – keep the writing tight and succinct
- Avoid jargon – make sure terms you use are clear to everyone
- Put it into practice – practice, practice, practice!