Effective business writing is a lot different than what most of us think about when we think about good writing. We’re not talking Shakespeare or Stephen King here—in fact, putting too much creativity and personality into your work communication is the exact opposite of effective business writing.
Business writing includes things like reports, letters, emails, resumes, press releases, articles, and blog posts. Each of these types of writing has different rules and expectations, but they all share similarities, too: rather than creating a world and a mood for your readers, effective business writing clearly communicates your points in the most concise and professional manner possible.
Below I present seven simple steps to improve your business writing in no time.
Use as few words as possible
As human beings, we tend to go into too much detail and use five words to say or describe something when really one word will do. This is actually a rule that is good for both creative and business writing—after all, Shakespeare himself is the one who said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Keeping it short means that you will keep your readers’ attention. The best way to practice this is to write and then edit, constantly looking for shorter ways to make your point.
Keep it short
I promise this isn’t the same thing as the above rule. You don’t just want to find the shortest overall way to say something, you want “short and simple” to be your guiding force. Effective business writing means short sentences and short paragraphs. As much as possible, you want everything to be straightforward and without grammatical complexity. That being said, don’t avoid commas altogether. A string of three- and five-word sentences can be just as boring.
When writing, it is incredibly easy to include superfluous information that you find interesting but that doesn’t focus on the central point you’re trying to convey. Sometimes this can be okay (even charming) for creative writing, but for effective business writing, this is a no-no. To get better at avoiding this, imagine your central point as a bull’s-eye—with all of your words aiming to hit it!
Assume nobody knows anything
It can be tempting, especially when writing about a well-known subject or to a familiar group of people, to assume your audience already knows relevant pieces of information. Couple this with the desire to keep your communication concise (a valiant goal!) and many people end up leaving out important facts and figures. Unfortunately, this is a bad way to keep your writing short, because if someone doesn’t already know the information you leave out, mistakes can happen. Leaving things out also forces your readers to go elsewhere to learn what you should have told them in the first place.
Know your audience
Here’s another effective business writing rule that also applies to creative writing. If this were a book, for example, you would adjust the way you wrote depending on whether the book was for seven-year-olds, teens, or suburban soccer moms with a postsecondary education. When writing for business, you likewise need to think about whether you’re writing for a more general audience, who will need to have things explained to them, or to a specific field that will recognize any jargon.
Mention supplemental materials
This one is especially important for emails, because if you include an attachment, you want to make sure people on the receiving end know it’s there. This is effective for other forms of communication, as well. For example, when writing a blog, it’s useful to cite where you’ve found any information or to include links to more in-depth work on the topic. Doing this also allows you to keep your own work brief, as you won’t need to include any content from the supplementary material in your writing.
Mind your manners
You should be professional in your writing, meaning you should not include inappropriate language or obscure colloquialisms. You should also refrain from using undue familiarity. For effective business writing, minding your manners also means not being dogmatic or confrontational with your audience, which can put them on the defensive. You are merely presenting information, not blaming anyone.
One other thing applies to all writing, business or otherwise: study up on your Strunk & White and use a spell-checker or a dictionary. Nothing makes for less effective business writing than bad grammar and spelling. If you take the time to ensure your writing is correct, your readers will take you seriously.