Whether you like it or not, the way you write is often your calling card. In letters to new customers or partners, your writing makes a lasting impression. In email conversations with colleagues, your words set the tone and quality of the discussion. And in your sales and marketing campaigns, good business writing can mean the difference between success and failure.
Business writing has become even more crucial since the Internet became ubiquitous. These days, you’re more likely to interact with colleagues and customers in written words than over the phone – which is why good business writing skills are increasingly important.
Thankfully, it’s never too late to improve. It can be daunting, of course. Perhaps you hated studying English at school. Or maybe you consider yourself one of those people who just can’t write.
The good news is that none of that matters. You don’t have to become the next David Ogilvy or J. K. Rowling, but it is possible to improve bit by bit – especially if you know what you need to pay attention to. Let’s take report writing as an example – this is a form of business writing, and is a skill that many organisations will require. If you know this is an area you struggle with, there are plenty of resources out there to help. Or, if you’re really serious about improving your skills, Activia even has training courses specifically built around professional report writing.
But to help you get started, here are seven easy tips on how to sharpen your skills – and improve your business confidence at the same time.
1. List your goals and you’ve got a plan
Let’s start at the very beginning – before you even start to write. Two of the most difficult things about business writing are knowing what to include, and knowing when you’re done.
To make this process easier, always start by making a list of goals for your content. Here’s a real-life list of goals from a letter I wrote recently:
- Tell business clients that prices are increasing
- Tell the customer the details of the new price scheme
- Tell the customer when the new prices take effect
- Thank the customer for their valued business
- Invite the customer to get in touch with any feedback on the new prices
A simple list like this is all you need to get started and plan your piece of writing. You could even use it to structure your letter – with one paragraph per bullet point.
2. What’s in it for the reader?
Once you have a clear plan on what you want to include in your content, you can move on to the next stage. Don’t start typing yet, though. As yet, you’ve only thought about one side of the conversation you’re hoping to start.
The other half is obviously that of the reader – you need to get their attention, and you need to capture their interest. To work out how to do that, just put yourself in their shoes and answer these five simple questions:
- Who is the reader, and what are their needs?
- What is in it for them?
- Where will your writing be most useful to them?
- When do they need to know by?
- Why should they be interested?
With the answers to these simple questions, you can make your business writing much more relevant and interesting to your readers.
3. Cut out the jargon
Once you’ve answered the previous question, you’re ready to write. But if you’re like most people, this is actually the worst part – because you need to use lots of jargon and long words to make your writing ‘business-like’. And that’s difficult.
Guess what? You don’t have to. It’s always better to write in plain English so that your readers can understand you more easily. Not to mention that your content can have a much bigger impact this way, as people are less likely to get confused and stop reading your content.
Whenever possible, it’s best to avoid jargon completely, because many people won’t know what you mean. Only use really technical terms and acronyms if they’re really necessary – and always try to explain them for non-technical readers.
4. Keep it short and sweet
The idea that business writing should be technical goes hand-in-hand with the misconception that it should also be lengthy. Many people think of long writing as being substantial, important, or weighty. Then, they’re daunted at the prospect of writing their own War and Peace.
The truth is, however, that your readers are just as daunted by long business writing as you are. They have so much to read, and so little time – so they will be much happier if you keep your writing short and to the point!
Your planning from points 1 and 2 should be useful here, too. Only include what you need to, and never ask for too much of your readers’ time. The shorter your text is, the more likely they will read it from start to finish.
5. Be careful with names
Have you ever received a letter or email where the sender spelt your name wrong in the opening greeting? It’s really annoying, isn’t it – especially when you know that person has seen your name written down, perhaps on a business card or in an email.
The worst thing is, it can often make you feel like the sender didn’t think it was important to learn your name properly – and that hurts. At the very least, it’s disrespectful. And it can damage business relationships.
So here’s a simple, yet effective tip: pay extra attention to people’s names and always make sure to spell them correctly (the same thing applies to titles and genders, too). They will appreciate your attention to detail.
6. End with a call to action
What’s the most significant difference between business writing and any other kind of content writing? The purpose of business writing is to conduct some business. And that means it should usually lead to an action by your customer, colleague, or partner.
Needless to say, it’s essential that your copy triggers an action. For example:
- An email marketing campaign is futile if nobody clicks the button at the bottom.
- Invitations to your product launch are worthless if nobody RSVPs.
- A letter asking your employees for feedback on new uniforms is useless if they don’t know where to send their comments.
That’s where a call to action comes in. A call to action is a clear prompt for the reader to do something. Here are some examples:
- “Don’t miss this offer – click below”
- “To RSVP, email [email protected]”
- “Please post your written comments in the box in HR, or talk to your line manager”
See how simple it is? And when you use a call to action, your readers know exactly what to do next – so your business writing is more likely to be successful.
7. Take time to proof read
Finally, completing your first draft can feel like such a relief, or such a victory, that you immediately say “Done!” and click ‘Print’ or ‘Send’. But if you just wait a day to review and proofread your document, you can massively improve your results.
Hasty sending often means:
- missed typing errors
- spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes
- no second opinion from trusted colleagues
- a lack of overall polish.
So don’t rush. Once you’ve finished writing, close the window or put your draft in the drawer overnight. You can then look at it with fresh eyes the next day – maybe even ask a colleague for their advice – and take it to a higher level.
After all, good business writing really can improve your bottom line. It can win you more customers, enhance your company’s reputation, and forge new relationships – so improving your skills is definitely worth the time and the effort.