The growth in trends such as e-mail or IM communication throughout the workplace, as well as a growing preference for text-based client communication, means that everyone could benefit from brushing up on their business writing.
Employees that studied finance, business, IT, science, engineering and other non-language based fields are now being forced to engage with that field they tried so hard to avoid.
Not everyone has a secretary or a hired-copywriter they can ask to shoulder the burden of writing, so here are ten ways you can improve your business writing:
Short, Sharp, Spare and Simple
Thanks to modernism and the current obsession with all things Scandinavian, ‘less is more’ has become a mantra to live by. It applies to business writing as easily as it does to your home décor or your choice of ingredients for your next pasta creation.
Good business writing will be short, sharp, clear and to the point. That means using the most succinct word possible and using the least amount of words to make your point. You won’t score points by sending a 600-word email, full of Latinate words and lyrical prose, to your boss.
If you can get your point across in a few, short sentences you will save valuable time and display your knack for concise communication.
You should avoid jargon wherever possible. We all have that friend that uses business jargon in every situation, and we all know how grating it is. The idea is to communicate clearly, so if you can think of an everyday word to replace the jargon – do it. Don’t talk about a department’s ‘core competencies,’ list their strengths and move on.
Put The Big Stuff Up Front
An e-mail isn’t a novel; you don’t have to build suspense before hitting the reader with the big reveal. The critical communication point or points should be in the first line of your e-mail, they should probably even be in the subject line. Again, it’s all about stating your position quickly and precisely.
Unless you’re working for ASIO, you don’t need to write in code. Don’t be ambiguous; if there is a problem with customer service say it. If you write, ‘there have been mentions of issues in communication between staff and customers’ that could mean anything. It could mean the Internet has been down, e-mails are being routed to the wrong department, or the French translator has been on holidays, so the Parisian customers are up-in-arms.
You may not be working for ASIO but just remember that some companies are required to keep all emails for legal purposes. Be careful what you write to a close co-worker, you never know when it could be dug up, and there are countless stories of people being fired over a joke.
This doesn’t apply to all workplaces. Of course, if you work in a family business you can be informal in your communications. If you’ve been in the same workplace for thirty years, this point won’t apply to you. However, if you’re communicating with colleagues that you don’t know well, choose a professional greeting and sign-off. A simple, ‘regards,’ works perfectly. There’s no need for a ‘have a great weekend,’ or, ‘hope the family is well’ after every e-mail.
Active, Not Passive
Remember when your Dad told you that a firm handshake is a key to a good impression, or that you should always look at someone when they’re talking to you? Well, using passive verbs instead of active verbs is the equivalent of a floppy handshake or staring at your shoes while the boss is firing off his latest missive.
Don’t write, ‘the project was streamlined due to the involvement of the marketing team.’ Write, ‘the marketing team streamlined the project.’ If you’re a member of the marketing team, say, ‘we streamlined the project.’ By using the active voice you appear more confident, the sentence is far shorter, and the meaning is far more apparent.
Use Correct Grammar
Give your e-mail a bit of a once-over before you send it off. ‘Impactful’ isn’t a word and there is a huge difference between ‘affect’ and ‘effect.’ It’s incredible how many people still confuse ‘your’ with ‘you’re’ and ‘its’ with ‘it’s.’ If you struggled with grammar while you were at school, it’s a good idea to jump online and brush up. Even though it is no marker of intelligence, lousy grammar really can influence how people perceive you.
Avoid Gender Confusion
Just remember, you’re always an accidental ‘s’ away from questioning the gender of Mr/Mrs Bossman. It seems like a small thing, but for some higher-ups, this could be a hangable offence. The same goes for spelling of names; it’s a simple courtesy to spell someone’s name right.
Make a Point
Don’t send e-mails or other business communiqués unless there is a point. Some people are a bit trigger-happy when it comes to ending off e-mails. Every e-mail you send should be designed to create an action or share an important piece of information. Consider the point of the e-mail before you send it; if it’s pointless, delete it.