Business Writing: Five Fast Tips to Up Your Game
This is a guest post by Andria Bicknell. Andria is a contributing writer and editor for Aspire. She writes about recovering from the effects of perfectionism on her own blog, Type A Plans B. Andria draws her leadership experience from ministry, business, and home.
- Wes Saade, M.D.
Not everyone is a writer. But everyone must write. I’ve been pursuing my nerdy love-affair with writing since I was eight years old. And it has taken me years to realize my dreams to write professionally. After two decades in the corporate world, I fully understand how one’s writing skills can make or break them professionally. You must write well in order to succeed in business. But you don’t need to be a writer in order to write well.
We live in a world where information is rapidly exchanged at our fingertips. Our words and ideas are quickly dismissed if we do not express them proficiently. As leaders in particular, we must communicate intelligently, or our reputations will undoubtedly take some hits. Here are five fast tips to keep writers, and non-writers alike, at the top of our game.
1. Be succinct.
Succinct means to be short and direct. To the point. Don’t leave the reader shaking their head two paragraphs in, wondering what they’ve just read or where you’re going with this. Be quick to make your point, even if the remainder of your communication requires detailed support.
Delete, delete, delete. The best way to keep your content in check: Use the delete key. Unlike the words we speak, we have the remarkable ability to edit what we write. So, get it all down first if you need to. Then select your key points, and omit the irrelevant.
Keep it short and sweet. Mechanically speaking, opt for shorter sentences and paragraphs. It’s okay to abandon the lengthy formulas for writing that we learned in grade school. Reading and writing have evolved. With the stream of information bombarding us today, readers appreciate the ability to quickly extract important information. When appropriately placed, bolded statements, bullet points, and numbered lists are a valuable gift to your reader.
2. Be specific.
Offer constructive and relevant details. Which one of these statements would you rather read on your evaluation?
“Alex does a great job!”
“Alex is a key player on our team because he looks at the big picture and is proactive to improve inefficiencies—even when it means thinking outside of the box to connect with another department to streamline old processes.”
Specificity is equally effective with critique. When we are specific, we give people useful tools to work with. When we are vague, we communicate nothing of real value. Note the difference:
“Rachelle displays a poor job performance.”
“Rachelle has trouble making it to work on time. She often leaves thirty minutes early. Her use of office hours to make personal calls is unprofessional. These behaviors are leading me to question her level of commitment and work ethic.”
3. Create a cheat sheet.
The English language is quirky and illogical at times. An intelligent reader may overlook an occasional error or two, but it is like nails on a chalkboard to read content that is filled with incorrect usage. Keep a cheat sheet in your desk drawer or on your phone to help you with your most common mistakes. It’s okay, you won’t be sent to the principal’s office.
I’ve listed a few of the most frequently confused words below. Interchanging them is incorrect and painful to read. Here’s a link to another 12 Commonly Misused Words and Phrases from Huffington Post. Enlisting resources like these will increase the accuracy of your writing.
their Charlie is their dog.
there He is barking over there.
they’re They’re not going to be happy about that.
your Your daughter is brilliant.
you’re You’re such a devoted parent.
to I am going to dinner.
too You should come, too.
two We’ll get a table for two.
4. Make two laps.
Whether writing formally or informally, read back over it a couple of times. Making two laps back through is minimal to check for errors and tone. We’ve all been misunderstood by email or text. It’s a common risk with our short bursts of written communication. A second lap through from the reader’s perspective can help you “hear” your words from a different angle. Don’t neglect to edit yourself. And if it’s an important project or presentation, always enlist a second pair of eyes. Editing and rewriting is the secret to polished communication.
Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost. - William Zinsser, On Writing Well
5. Don’t be a suit.
Professional writing can be respectful, pertinent, and valuable without putting your reader to sleep. Overly formal language kills meaning and interest. Think…legal documents. Your memo shouldn’t be so obscure that it requires two attorneys and an HR manager to interpret your message.
At the same time, remember you are not texting your buddy. You must maintain a certain level of decorum in business communications. Don’t presume to be so casual that you sacrifice your integrity and professionalism.
Finally, never be afraid to be yourself. Don’t be a suit hiding behind big words and stuffy language. People don’t connect with that. Balance your professionalism with your personality, and people will quickly relate to you and your message.
Contributing Writer, Aspire
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