Define your objective, and target the writing to your audience.
Make your sentences active rather than passive.
Use headings and bullets to break writing into small chunks.
Keep your writing simple and specific.
Use an informal style whenever possible.
We’ve all suffered through brochures, proposals and letters so boring they nearly put us to sleep. Ever wonder what makes these documents different from the good ones—the ones that sound interesting and compelling? Read on!
Business writing doesn’t have to be boring or stuffy. It doesn’t have to follow the same rules that apply to a doctoral dissertation. After all, your writing has a completely different purpose, and a totally different audience.
Define Your Objective
Business people write to accomplish a goal: selling, persuading, solving, explaining, etc. This means your first task is to determine exactly what your writing should accomplish. The next step is to plan the most effective way to get your message across clearly and succinctly.
Write for Your Audience
Audience? That’s right, you have an audience, even if you’re writing a letter to only one person. Writers sometimes deliver information that’s overwhelming, irrelevant or simply boring to their readers. Instead, try to anticipate what the reader might want to know. Rather than telling your clients why your company is great, tell them what benefits you can offer them. Use familiar terms they can relate to and avoid technical jargon.
Checklist for Effective Writing
Effective business writing should be:
Clear & Concise
Read what you’ve written to hear how it will sound to the reader. Does your point seem clear? Is there any “fluff” you can eliminate? Keep sentences short; sixteen words or less is a good rule of thumb.
Easy to Read
Use headings and bullets to grab the reader’s attention and to divide the text into bite-sized pieces. Use bullets with short phrases to highlight important points.
Easy to Follow
Does the document have a coherent theme with a logical sequence of thoughts? Most documents should have an introduction, a body and a conclusion (or summary).
Geared to Your Specific Reader
Will readers understand your document and get your point? Is the tone appropriate? The terminology?
Tips to Maximize Impact
1. Make sentences active rather than passive. This is the most effective way to “liven up” boring text.
Active: Six workers staged a protest. Dramatic!
Passive: A protest was staged by six workers. Boring.
2. Use an informal tone and “real” words.
Try reading your own sentences. If you can’t imagine yourself actually saying the sentence to someone, then it’s probably too formal. This doesn’t mean that you should write exactly the way you speak, but do cut out the stuffiness and the antiquated phrases.
Informal (and refreshing): As we discussed, I’m enclosing a copy of the proposal for you to look over.
Formal (and rather silly): Per our conversation, enclosed please find a copy of the proposal for your perusal. Huh?
3. Be specific rather than vague.
Specific: The marketing department will use the money to buy a new computer and graphics software.
Vague (and passive): The money will be used by the marketing department.
4. Use simple language.
Simple: The criminal escaped from the jail.
Complex: The individual that perpetrated the incident escaped from the incarceration facility. Seriously??
5. Don’t be afraid of “we” and “I.”
Using we and I makes your documents seem more personal and more convincing. It’s also okay to use contractions like “don’t.”
6. Check spelling and grammar!
Misspellings and poor grammar present an unprofessional image of you and your company. Use a spelling and grammar checker, or have someone proofread.
Get Professional Help
We all get stumped by a grammatical issue now and then. Get a good book to help you or find a reference web site. There are also lots of useful books on the subject of business writing.
Writer’s Block (Blank-Paper Phobia)
The hardest part is getting started! If you break out in a cold sweat when confronted with a blank document screen (or paper), take heart…check out the How To article “Creating a Document Step by Step.”