Some key hints to help you write more accurate and compelling business documents.
Producing clear, effective and professional written communications is one of the ways to differentiate the best organisations from the rest. It's also key for getting buy-in from the business and to get your ideas across effectively. We’ve compiled some hints and tips for effective business writing.
1. Know what you’re trying to achieve
It’s crucial you know what your aim is. There will be times when you’re simply giving information, but often you’ll be seeking to influence and persuade – to get the recipient to take some kind of action. Being as clear as possible about what your goal is will allow you to formulate key messages that achieve it.
2. Consider your recipient/s
What do they know already about your subject – and what do they want to know? What are their concerns? What’s their attitude? Do they want lots of detail or just an overview? What will they be doing with the information you provide?
3. Keep it simple – less is more
People are busy and don’t have time to read long documents. Getting your point across concisely increases the chances of them reading what you have to say and acting upon it.
4. Have a logical structure
Make what you’re writing is easy to follow by structuring it well. Have one point flow naturally into the next. Spend time planning your structure when you start and you’ll save time at the writing stage – and the result will be better.
5. Break it up
Use paragraphs, sub-headings and bullets to break up your writing. Large slabs of text rarely get read thoroughly because they look impenetrable and uninviting.
6. Get the tone right
There are three Fs when it comes to tone: Formal, Friendly and Familiar. Reports tend to be Formal while emails are often Friendly. Use a Familiar tone only with friends or colleagues you know really well – it’s rarely appropriate for business communications.
7. Make it easy to read
Write in Plain English. Avoid long, complicated sentences. Go for an average length of 17 words – with some much shorter. Use simple words and phrases (‘use’ rather than ‘employ’, ‘now’ rather than ‘in the present situation’).
8. Use compelling language
Use ‘Power Talk’ (“I’m confident you’ll find our proposal of interest”) not ‘Wimp Talk” (“I hope you’ll find our proposal of interest”). Put your main point at the end of the sentence where it will have the most impact. Writing with conviction and certainty will enhance your credibility and make the recipient feel confident about what you have to say.
9. Get your spelling and grammar right
People who care about such things care a lot. If you make mistakes in your spelling and grammar – such as using ‘they’re’ instead of ‘their’ or ‘less’ when it should be ‘fewer’ – they’ll start to doubt the content of your communication as well.
10. Do a final, careful check Proofread thoroughly.
Print the document out – it’s easy to miss things when doing a final check on screen. Read everything twice: once for meaning, once looking for errors. Get someone else to read important documents as well. They’ll spot things you missed.