Better business writing is a topic that’s bound to elicit a ho-hum reaction in some of the populace. It shouldn’t, though. Dustin Wax, a former contributing editor and project manager at Lifehack, has this to say: “If you’re one of the many people in business for whom writing has never been a major concern, you should know that a lack of writing skills is a greater and greater handicap with every passing year.”
In his article “12 Tips for Better Business Writing,” Mr. Wax gets right down to business. It’s worth the five minutes it will take you to read this article, so I am presenting my favorite five. Just click the link for the rest.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this essential business writing tip in other posts. Mr. Wax says, “ … as written information becomes more and more important to the smooth functioning of businesses, people are less and less willing to read.” So be concise. Get to the point, and wrap it up.
I can hear you saying, “But I don’t have time!” Unless your manager is standing over you, ready to grab your copy, you have time. Maybe not a lot, but enough to grab a cup of coffee, do a quick breathing sequence, and then get back to work. If you have the luxury of an hour, take it. Mr. Wax notes, “The brain is tricky and will ignore errors it’s just made; some time working on something else will give you the detachment you need to catch those errors before anyone else reads them.” Rereading your work with a critical eye can also help you avoid errors in tone.
This is a biggie. If you’ve created a presentation, business requirement document, or whatever, you’ve put a lot of effort into something that can likely be repurposed and save you time. Create a folder for these pieces so you can grab them when you need to. Just make sure you do a careful reread and a search to make sure your doc isn’t referring to Company A when it should be referring to Company B.
Just as in a news story, make sure your audience knows what’s relevant to them—the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Anticipate the questions readers will ask. And if the information is particularly important—corporate lay-off policies, for example, be as brief and clear as possible. Don’t meander or sugar-coat. (My thought.)
“Be professional, not necessarily formal”
This may be the most challenging of Mr. Wax’s suggestions. Formal language, like business jargon, tends to become invisible or paid little attention to. On the other hand, you want to avoid a snarky tone or, worse, phrasing that you’ll need to apologize for. “Remember,” says Mr. Wax, “that many businesses (possibly yours) are required by law to keep copies of all correspondence — don’t email, mail, or circulate anything that you wouldn’t feel comfortable having read into the record in a public trial.”
Mr. Wax ends his article by recommending that you hire a freelancer. As a freelance content creator myself, I heartily endorse this suggestion. Writing, with all it entails, takes time and concentration. At the same time, I also recognize that many of us must write during the course of our business day and can’t hire help. We may not have had formal training, and we may not be enthusiastic about writing tasks, but clear writing usually means that we’re clear thinkers. And who doesn’t want to be respected for the quality of our intellect?
Bonus: a YouTube video on writing a bad-news letter. I leave it to you to decide whether or not the writer has done a good job.
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