Businesses utilise all kinds of writing in their day-to-day dealings, from emails, newsletters or web articles to formal business documents, advertising and marketing materials. Is your business writing up to scratch, or potentially harming your brand’s reputation? Try these six tips for more effective and powerful business writing.
When it comes to conversation, environmental context, body language and eye contact all support our intended meaning. However, written communication can be a little harder to nail as it relies on only the words, tone and the context created in the document or article.
Put these six tips into action to create more engaging and effective copy that builds trust and interest in your business.
1. Embrace the living language
I very much like a term I heard recently: ‘the living language’. Whilst there are different interpretations of the term, I feel it describes the development of language. Language is alive, changing all the time, and yes, it can be challenging at times.
N. James (2007) says about language development that one generation’s “barbarism becomes the next generation’s common usage”. How true it is. So, you might as well get with the times and ditch the overly-formal language if you really want to connect with your readers.
2. Shorter is sweeter
The move away from history’s very formal, stifling and overdressed language (which perhaps is still used to bewilder and sometimes bully readers) to the concise writing of plain English, where we say what we mean (persuasive though it may be), can be confronting to some of us. But the fact is, plain English is more powerful than flowery prose.
There is a relationship in business communication between shorter words, clear sentences, document presentation and an improved response and efficiency. Why? Because the message is clear and people understand the content without having to think too hard. It makes sense.
3. Creative design in business documentation
Creative design is now available to us in the preparation of our everyday documents, and it does impact on our communication strategies in business writing. Good design is very influential in written messages and a wise writer uses it to full advantage.
Typefaces, spacing, white space, layout, headings, formatting, bulleted lists, hyperlinks, graphics and images are all part of document design and we have them at our fingertips.
For more tips on document and webpage presentation, check out these seven layout and formatting traps to avoid.
4. Reduce clutter
Some writers use clutter to impress readers. Clutter relates to unnecessary detail or words in your document and serves to hide or diffuse the impact of a message.
Have you seen the words ‘advance planning’ in promotional documentation? What planning is retrospective? What is ‘alternative choice’? Is choice not about an alternative? Overdressing words is a false economy and merely adds to the heaviness of the document’s tone by introducing clutter.
Instead of saying ‘The purpose of this report is to outline’, try ‘This report outlines’. Similarly, ‘John manages the department’ reads better than ‘John is responsible for managing the department’.
A useful tip to separate contributing words from clutter words is to get that red pen and read your document quickly, intuitively underlining words you think are important or central to your argument. This should give you an outline on which to develop an improved document or article with no clutter.
5. Be honest but respectful
Promote integrity and trust in your business communications. Say what you mean, but be respectful and above all, be authentic and honest.
People read between the lines and honest communication rings very true, whereas spurious or hard-to-prove claims are a surefire way to turn any reader or potential customer away.
6. The power of punctuation
Personally, I like punctuation. It is so powerful. How would you punctuate this unassuming sentence?
‘A woman without her man is nothing.’
Insert a couple of commas, and it takes on one meaning: ‘A woman, without her man, is nothing.’
Replace one of those commas with a colon, and the meaning changes again: ‘A woman: without her, man is nothing.‘
I like the second one, personally. The unassuming sentence is now powerful. But then I have motive, agenda and am being a little bit of a bully.
Written communications that are filled with punctuation or spelling errors present a sloppy image of your brand, especially in the age of spelling and grammar-checking. It just seems lazy not to use spell-check functionality when it is so readily available. Furthermore, multiple spelling or punctuation errors are distracting to the reader, diluting the power and effectiveness of your message.
So, create a sense of trust in your business by getting your punctuation right.
This article was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for 2022.
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