Business Writing Is a Different Business
Most people don’t consider themselves writers, but everyone is a business writer. If you’ve applied for a job, you have written a resume and a cover letter. Any person with an office job does it daily. Think of the preponderance of emails, reports, memos, and meeting notes you look at every day. Good business writing is a rare commodity in most offices. How many emails do you send asking follow-up questions or clarifying something for the umpteenth time? Being a good business writer will help you standout from your peers. You’re in luck, two words can guide anyone through effective business writing: be considerate.
Good business writers are considerate of their audiences. That phrase covers more than being courteous (although that is part of it). Emails inundate office workers to the point where clearing the inbox is a burden. People don’t want to read an email or a memo multiple times and still be uncertain of what the author meant. Poor business writing kills productivity and results in an endless back-and-forth. Being a considerate business writer can break the cycle. It is difficult and requires extra effort.
The Audience is the Number One Priority
The goal of business writing is to present the necessary information to an audience in a clear and actionable manner. This means the audience needs to understand the message and act upon it.
The first step in becoming a considerate business writer is to understand how business readers read. Reflect for a moment. How do you read the memos, emails, and reports that you receive? Chances are you read them quickly and search for key points. Good business writing caters to this reading style by being clear, concise, and easy to read.
Answering the following questions will guide you to write effective business copy:
- What’s the message’s purpose?
- What information needs to be included?
- What does the audience already know?
- What does the audience need to know?
- What action does the audience need to take?
Addressing these questions will ensure that your message is complete (contains everything it needs to). Sending a complete message limits endless email chains.
The Cs of Considerate Business Writing
Considerate business writers take the reader’s perspective. Business writing needs to address the question, what’s in it for the reader, not what’s in it for the writer. Good business writing requires the writer’s emotions to be conspicuously absent. Considerate business writing is concise, clear, concrete and credible.
Brief documents are more likely to be read. Nothing bloats business writing more than wordiness. Cut the meaningless expressions and phrases from your writing. “Free Gift” occurs an alarming amount in promotional content. Remove “free” all gifts are free. Here are examples of common phrases to avoid:
- Due to the fact / use because
- It has been found that / delete
- Until such time / use until
- A number of / use some or many
- End result / use result
- In order to / use to
- For the purpose of / use for
- with reference to, with regard to/ use about or regarding
Business writing has a purpose, an action that needs to betaken. Good business writing is easy to understand and follows a logical structure. Considerate business writers write in plain English, avoid jargon, and emphasize main points. Business writing should be conversational. Yes, considerate business writing is informal. The best business writing is written like a face-to-face conversation. Look at the wordy phrases above. Would you say, “Due to the fact that” to a coworker or a manager?
Good business writing is informal but not slang. Remember, consider the audience first; only use words that you would in a conversation. If you’re explaining a project to a VP, you’re not going to use slang or jargon. It’s imperative that she understands the project, so you’ll explain it like you're introducing it to her. Considerate business writing is written like the project explanation.
Clear business writing also uses proper syntax and correct word choices. Wrong words and punctuation mistakes reflect poorly on the author. This is heightened for external audiences where errors reflect poorly on the entire organization.
If the goal of business writing is to elicit a desired action, it needs to be concrete. Only concrete messages are actionable. Considerate business writers are explicit. If you need something done soon, spell it out (e.g., I need the monthly report completed by 5 p.m.).
Considerate business writing is credible. Good business writers do their research, support their positions, include accurate information, and use valid sources. Inaccurate information or information from dubious source kills an author’s credibility.
Good business writers are confident, courteous, and persuasive. Considerate business writing is positive and avoids negative words (e.g.,“can’t,” “don’t,” “no,” and “permit”) and situations. From the reader’s perspective, negative words are nonstarters. You need the reader to do something, and they won’t be inclined to if they feel criticized. Rather than saying the audience can’t do something, tell them something they can do.
Don’t include emotions in business writing. Avoid words like “Pleased” or “regret,” readers don’t want to be told how to feel and don’t care about the writer’s emotion. If I received bad news, the blow isn’t cushioned by the writer having regret.
People appreciate it when you hold a door for them. If you’re a considerate business writer, readers will walk through the door and thank you. They will read and take action because they know you’ve valued their time—you’ve put them first, like any considerate person would.
Note: For a great course on business writing, check out Business Writing Principles by Judy Steiner-Williams.
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