"As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence." - Benjamin Franklin.
There are times and situations which demand communications in a written form. Letters, emails, reports, proposals or other documents are important business tools.
If you have any misconceptions that the digital age has simplified or even replaced the need to write well for business purposes, set those aside. Technology may have provided a wealth of communication and collaboration options, but people still need a good command of words to get the right outcome.
In fact, it can be safely argued that advancing your business communication skills has never been more important. Your message needs to make its way through the massive amount of information now available, and it must stand out. Mediocre won't cut through the ‘white noise' created by the internet and mobile technology!
So, how can you be effective when writing business materials and communications?
Writing for business is considered both an art and a science. It requires creative effort and logic in equal measure. This is why we have compiled these essential tips on how to improve your business writing.
"All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down." - Friedrich Nietzsche.
If you can't answer this in a precise and well-informed way, step away from the keyboard or notepad!
All business writing must have a purpose. That will vary enormously, according to the task and the person or people who will read your communication materials.
Writing to a Financial Director to release funding for a major purchase would be vastly different in structure and wording to a memo to colleagues to update them on new shift patterns.
Your audience – and what you want them to ‘do' – are the pivotal point for everything you write.
When considering your audience, think about:
From this understanding of your target audience, you can move to step two in your essential business writing skills.
The whole point of creating a piece of business writing is that it is impractical or inefficient to deliver that same information verbally. Perhaps writing it down makes it more memorable, or reaches more people.
Therefore, the aim of every piece of business writing is to satisfy a need for a physical record of key information. Beyond that, every piece of writing for business has a different set of goals.
This could well be one or more of the following purposes for business communications:
All of those require some form of call to action in your business writing. Even if it is seeking a simple acknowledgement that your report has been read and understood (educate/inform).
However, on many occasions when you communicate at work you are trying to stimulate a more tangible action. Such as you want your reader or readers to change their behaviour, complete a task or enter into a transaction with you.
Think carefully about what words and phrases you can use, to stimulate your required action. What information supports your call to action, in a meaningful way?
Spending time considering what you need to achieve – and how - is the only solid platform for effective business writing. It underpins all the other written communication tips we explore below.
"The secret of being boring is to say everything." - Voltaire.
As you may already be thinking, effective business proposals, reports, letters and emails can often take longer to plan, than to write! That's especially true as once you have drilled down on your target audience and your purpose, you need to invest time in formulating clear and compelling text.
For short emails and messages, this can be done as you write. However, sketching out a plan for more complex documents is a wise decision.
Either way, keep it simple!
Write only what is needed to get your desired outcome. Extra, superfluous or complex information may muddy the waters, rather than adding weight to your argument or report.
For longer business documents, once you have created an initial framework, you can build on it, adding in necessary detail. That avoids repetition or going off track. This has been likened to sketching out a road map that takes your readers from your introduction to your conclusion and call to action.
There are times when this will involve showing your audience how knowledgeable you are, and what a firm grasp you have on technical detail. Perhaps to sell your skills to an employer? However, even within that scenario, you must play to the level of understanding your audience has. As well as focusing on what THEY want to read, more than what YOU want to say.
Creating a framework for your business writing also helps to avoid missing out any important points, including answers to the likely questions you thought of when reviewing your audience in tip one.
There are more business writing layout insights further down this article.
"If in doubt, leave it out."
This tip on how to improve your business writing covers a multitude of sins. Including scattering jargon and abbreviations around liberally or adding in flowering language and words that don't need to be there.
This is especially true of writing commercial documents, as there is rarely a need for adjectives and complex sentences. It's all about facts and the benefits of any course of action you are proposing.
Look back over your writing and take out everything that doesn't serve a direct purpose, or which is not 100% clear.
If technical language is required, have you formatted that in a way that your reader can appreciate and understand?
Nor is there a place in business documents for the sort of shorthand used in phone text messages or communications outside the workplace. Including symbols like & and e.g.
Don't even get us started on cliches, colloquialisms and sloppy writing. For example, we are an innovative provider of soft skills. Why phrase that as being state-of-the-art or thinking outside the box? Just say innovative!
For the foreseeable future, your raison d'être should be to evaluate the wordage you use to greatly improve your consummate abilities to be succinct.
In other words, always focus on words that have genuine meaning and value.
After saying that, scanability is a word some would argue is jargon and a modern invention. However, it is vital to mention it within our tips for better business writing.
Particularly due to two key factors:
There is a wealth of evidence that reliance on technology is leading to a desire for quick snippets and soundbites and information that's easy to understand at a glance. This research includes a study by a team of European scientists who found that "content is increasing in volume, which exhausts our attention" and that "our urge for 'newness' causes us to collectively switch between topics more rapidly."
You have a brief window of opportunity to capture your reader's attention and deliver your core messages. If you follow the other tips in this guide to business writing, it will help enormously. However, document layout matters too.
It is vital to construct your business writing in a way that:
Once you are confident that this structure is in place, you can move on to the last stage of knowing how to improve your written business communications.
Don't just double-check your writing - triple check it or more!
One of the best tips for business writing is to go away and come back again. What we mean by that, is leaving aside what you have written for a while, then checking it with ‘fresh eyes'. Though of course getting a third party to proofread your business communications is often invaluable too.
It is amazing how word blindness can rob your writing of its flow and meaning. A key sentence could be entirely misconstrued due to a word – or even a comma – you inadvertently left out.
If you think punctuation is a little redundant, there are many examples of why that's untrue. Including a misplaced commain employee pay negotiations that cost a USA dairy company $5 million!
Make sure your document spell checker has not overlooked any mistyped words. Have you included recent and accurate data to support your purpose, and is it presented in a form that's easy to understand?
Finally, is your call the action unmissable and compelling?
If you follow these ways to improve your business writing, you should get the results you want more often.
However, there are also other ways to improve your business communication skills. Explore the rest of our site and then contact us, to discuss how you can benefit from our innovative communication skills training.