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Five Ways to Improve Your Business Writing Skills Today
When business writing isn't something you do every day, sitting down to write an article, brochure or webpage can be quite daunting. You know what you want to say, but you’re not confident that you can translate it into a dynamic piece of writing.
Well, here’s five tips to help you improve your business writing immediately!
Figure out who you’re writing for and write for them
Ask yourself, ‘what’s the point?’
Establish the structure of the document
Turn your passive sentences into active ones
Read your writing out loud
You hear it all the time in writing courses _ who is your reader? But one more question is just as important _ how do your readers want you to speak to them?
You may be an organisation with a lot of in-depth scientific information on, say, pig diseases. However, if your audience is Joe Farmer who just wants to scan your content quickly for an answer to what’s wrong with his pigs, you might be hitting the wrong tone completely. Joe is going to go elsewhere to find answers.
If you can’t summarise the point of your document in one sentence, then you're probably not clear on why you’re writing it. This is a recipe for vague, wordy content that just takes up space. What’s the point?
For example, ‘I’m writing a workplace safety manual that will give new and current employees all our occupational health and safety policies and procedures, including contact details if something goes wrong’. Nice.
When you have a great idea, you feel tempted to jump right in and get a draft on paper. STOP! If you’ve taken the previous tip to heart, you've established the point of your document. Now you need to figure out what different topics you’re going to discuss to make that point.
You'll often have four or five topics, depending on the document. Write those down and use them as an outline. Even estimate how many words you’d like to devote to each. What other elements will you need? An executive summary? A bibliography? A contents page?
Don’t jump in and write without figuring out your structure. Your document will make so much more sense in the end and the editing process will be less painful.
Experts in business writing often say this. What on earth does it mean?
Examples speak volumes, so here’s a couple:
Passive: The report was written to demonstrate the organisation’s problems.
Active: I wrote the report to demonstrate the organisation’s problems.
Passive: Any employees who break these rules will be terminated.
Active: I will terminate any employees who break these rules.
Point? Active voice demands a subject, someone to take responsibility for the verb. No doubt, you’ve seen a lot of passive language in corporate and government communication. And there’s a reason for that _ risk mitigation.
But remember, it’s all about the reader. Your readers no longer have patience for lack of responsibility and transparency. They want you to be honest, upfront and plain speaking. Tell it like it is. And if it seems that you’re hedging or hiding something, they’ll take to your Facebook page in droves and tell you (and the world) about it!
Of course, in terms of readability, active voice also cuts unnecessary word and syllable usage. It’s much easier to scan, which makes it essential for web content. And it sounds less formal or corporate, which is probably how your readers want you to speak to them.
This tip is underutilised, but very powerful. Reading the text out loud works because you can hear when it’s not working.
What looks good on paper can sound wrong when you read it aloud. It could be wordy, awkwardly structured or pompous. So read it aloud and keep your intended readers in mind as you do.