When was the last time you read a business document and understood it on the first pass?
Remember that a written document is a permanent record of how you present your thoughts and ideas. A muddled document may reflect badly on you. People make value judgements about you based on how you write. Whether they’re right or not is irrelevant, sloppy business writing sends a message to your prospect/reader/customer that you lack professionalism, lack attention to detail and may not be competent. Harsh – but that’s how it is. On the other hand, reaching the point quickly and using the appropriate language contributes to a sense of organisation in your thoughts.
So what do we do?
Let’s consider the following 2 principles when writing for business purposes. By applying them with consistency you can assure yourself that, at the very least, your message will be clear and understood.
Principle #1: Know your purpose
Who am I writing to and what result do I want? What message am I trying to get across? What does the reader want to know?
In business writing, you state your conclusion or recommendation first and then follow up with supporting information. Your customers and prospects are typically time poor, so you want to make sure you get your message across immediately. State your purpose up front.
Principle #2: Be correct and concise
Many writers take too long to get to the point. Long sentences and big words do not make you sound more authoritative, they simply cause unnecessary confusion. Here are a few tips to help get your writing on track.
Use plain English: use plain, simple words rather than longer, more obscure words. For example, use begin rather than instigate, quickly rather than expeditiously, first rather than initial and so on. There are a million examples. Check your writing and get rid of the overly flowery language.
Keep sentences short: on average keep your sentences between 15 – 25 words. Vary their beginnings and keep the subject close to the verb (more on this another day!).
Keep paragraphs short: keep paragraphs to around 5 sentences.
Avoid jargon: one sure way to turn a reader off is to use industry related jargon. Never assume your reader knows your jargon. If you do use it, make sure you explain the terms. Using unfamiliar terms will put your reader offside, make them feel stupid or just bore them silly. The upshot is, you will lose them.
Get the mechanics right: make sure you spell correctly, use capitals and punctuation correctly and avoid ambiguity.