What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of business writing? It’s probably not “art.” But maybe it should be. Business used to be done face to face. Clients sought out the business they wanted using either the phone book or through word of mouth, and they showed up at the door. This is not the case anymore. Increasingly, business is done online. On a daily basis, you might text a client, write an advertisement, or write an online post for your website or blog. And that’s not even taking into account all the emails you’ll send in a day.
When you’re writing, choosing the right words, message, and tone can be difficult. Just think of the last time you sent an email only to have it misinterpreted. There is a certain art to composing the right words on paper (or your computer). These tips will help you refine your writing style and convey the proper message with your words. After all, without conveying the message you wish to impart, what’s the point of writing in the first place?
- Know Your Audience
This may seem obvious, but it’s not always as straightforward as it seems. Are you writing to one specific person? How would they like to be addressed? What do they already know about the topic? Will they be offended if you brief them on the topic first? If you’re addressing a group, do your best to understand their basic feelings about what you’re writing about, and frame your writing accordingly.
- Consider Their Vocabulary
When writing to your audience, have a basic understanding of their vocabulary. Avoid using jargon form your industry. If you’re talking to a team of doctors, it’s safe to assume they understand medical terminology. The same assumption is not okay if you are a nurse writing out instructions for a patient. Try to strike a balance between simple language and a respectful tone.
- Avoid Saying “Just”
If you’re worried about what someone might think of your idea, it’s tempting to say, “I just wanted to suggest,” or “I just think….” When you start an email in this manner, you immediately devalue your opinions and thoughts. There are certainly other ways to let someone know that this is something you would like to suggest without undermining your own worth.
- Proofread Your Document
This is so important! You’re human, which means that you are going to make mistakes. But one small typo can be the difference between a paying customer and someone who thinks you don’t pay attention to your business. If you miss small things like this, why should they assume you would pay close attention to their needs or requests? Proofread everything. Proofread it two or three times. If it’s particularly important, ask another person to proofread it as well. Don’t let one comma be the reason you don’t reach your quota for the month.
- Avoid Clichés
“Without further ado,” “an uphill battle,” and “as hard as a rock,” might have a place in your day-to-day interactions. But they have no place in business writing. They really have no place in any writing, but that’s a topic for another day. Using clichés weakens the message you are trying to convey. Can you really not come up with a better way to say, “This thing will be hard”? Be clear and concise to explain what you are trying to say.
- Make It Easy to Read and Scan
Scanning a novel is a hard-learned skill. Scanning an article or an email should be easy. If you’re writing an article, make sure to break up the writing with headers and white space. You want to make it easy for readers to get the gist of your message even if they don’t take the time to read the whole piece. Since the average attention span is shorter than ever, an easy to scan article will allow you to reach your audience in as little time as possible.
- Use Specific Nouns
Instead of saying “a customer,” say “Mr. Roberts.” If you are speaking with a client, don’t say “A colleague of mine will assist you with the matter.” Say, “My colleague, John Doe, will be able to assist you.” It’s important to be clear. Try your best to leave no remaining questions for the reader.
- Be Clear About the Desired Outcome
Do not start writing any email, letter, blog post, or advertisement without having a very clear understanding of what you want it to accomplish. Do you want a colleague to send a new draft of a paper? Tell them. Do you want a potential client to call your business for more information? Write a compelling call to action. Never assume that the reader will know how to act. Always be sure to state the outcome in the correspondence.
- Match Your Tone to Your Relationship
If you’re writing to a friend or a client you’ve worked with a lot, it’s okay to begin with “Hi Jenny.” If you’re addressing a new client, start with “Hello Mrs. Smith.” Use “thanks,” for people you know well, and use “thank you,” for people who you’d normally speak with more formally. Be aware of the tone before you hit “send.”
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it should give you a great foundation to get started. If you use these tips, your writing will be more engaging and compelling, and your message will be clear.