8 Ways to Improve Your Business Writing Style

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

Nowadays, we all do ‘business writing’. I don’t just mean crafting clever prose for marketing purposes, or snappy powerpoint presentations. Email, memos and even instant messaging are examples of business writing too. To communicate clearly, effectively (and impressively), it’s important to get these things right!

In my experience, effective business writing is something that was learned, the hard way. You know, it’s something that we develop as a skill. Some learn faster than others. We don’t need to learn the hard way! There are a few basics we can all put in place which will make any business communication achieve its goal. Let me share them with you.

  1. Get to the point. Heck, we’re busy, right? So are the people we’re communicating with. So be to the point. Why say something in 1,000 words when 10 will do? Dispense with the unecessary pre-amble and state your message as soon as you can. This saves time, but it will also grab the attention of the recipient quicker.
  2. Use plain language. Creating a good impression and demonstrating your fine articulation is more about using words effectively, not words with more than 3 syllables (for the sake of it.) Use plain language that everyone can read, not just the super-intellectual.
  3. Structure the message. In any communication, use an appropriate structure which takes the recipient through a logical journey (especially if writing to persuade or sharing a plan). One which I use is this: Purpose, Process & Payoff. In purpose, I tell the recipient why they are receiving the message, and what the message is intended to do (this is important, but often overlooked). E.g. I am sending you this memo because I require your approval for my proposal. In process, I tell the recipient how I expect the purpose to be achieved. E.g. We should meet to discuss my proposal so that I can show you the profit forecast I am projecting. In payoff, I create the motivation for actually completing my request. E.g. If done quickly, we can get this into next years budget now, to avoid later rework or delay. The beauty of this structure is that it answers all the basic questions that a recipient will be asking themselves anyway – why should I read it, what do I need to do, and what’s in it for me/us?
  4. Be specific. It’s important, wherever possible, to be specific about business information. Be it targets, time, profit, risk, whatever. Add detail if you have it, and if you don’t, go find it. Vague messages tend to be ignored or consigned to the trashcan. If you want to grab attention and get your point across, your message has to contain the business data to provoke your desired response!
  5. Target your message. Before you hit the keyboard, think carefully about who will read it, and what they will want to get from your message. So tune into your audience’s listening filters and, before you hit Send, double-check that everything that needs to be in your message is actually in it. If you know someone important to achieving your purpose likes to know who is involved in the caper, then say so. If your finance guy is a stickler for numbers (show me one who isn’t) then put in the numbers.
  6. Use positive language. I’ve written a whole article dedicated to this subject: How To Persuade Your Colleagues and Your Boss. Positive language makes a really big difference, often without it being recognized. Avoid negative words to keep the positive flow when reading!
  7. Use good grammar. Good writing and good grammar go hand in hand. It’s not about being dogmatic too. You see, when we read something, we want it to flow. Our brains like a message that is easy to read. Bad grammar, though, punctuates reading in an unpredictable way making it harder to read and more laborious – it requires effort – effort which busy people just won’t want to put in.
  8. Use a spell-checker. Most email, IM and word processors have them, so use them. Sometimes, we forget! I forget. (Bet if you checked through all my articles on this blog, you will probably find some typos!) It’s well worth hitting the spell-checker to avoid disrupted reading and a failed communication.

Do you want to get your point across and become a master of business writing?

Then you need this book: Business Grammar, Style & Usage: The Most Used Desk Reference for Articulate and Polished Business Writing and Speaking by Executives Worldwide – you’ll discover how to write kick-ass prose from the pros (sorry, couldn’t resist that.)

Based on the actual writing and speaking styles of leading business executives worldwide, this book features easy-to-follow instructions and techniques for preparing polished written documents and writing and speaking in an articulate manner.

Focusing on how leading business professionals really communicate, the basics of writing and speaking, including traditional grammar and speaking dos and don’ts, are covered. Examined are the particular styles in which business professionals communicate with each other and how to develop a personal professional style.

Featured are special sections on writing memos, offer letters, e-mails, and other business documents that business professionals need to master.

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