Ten Tips For Better Business Writing

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  • 1. TEN TIPS FOR BETTER BUSINESS WRITING Where once Medieval monks toiled for a lifetime over handwritten manuscripts, today's electronic technology allows us to zap our words around the globe in seconds, but it hasn't made us better writers. Arguably, the opposite has occurred. In deference to speed, our writing has often become increasingly terse and sloppy as we sacrifice quality to communicate faster.Clear, effective business writing not only reads well, it's also good for one's business and career. Managers routinely turn down job candidates whose resumes and cover letters contain mistakes in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Likewise, supervisors can use such mistakes to weed out candidates for promotions.The best rationale for good writing falls under the heading of common sense. People won't respond to communications they don't understand. One of the master keys to success in any line of work is the ability to convey your ideas effectively to others, be they team members, superiors, or customers. You may have the greatest idea in the history of modern thought, but unless you can bring it beyond the confines of your own mind, it isn't worth much.In the interest of improving written communication, try the following tips next time you write a business letter, memo, proposal, or other document. You will be able to send it with confidence, knowing your message will be better understood, because good writing makes for good business. 1. Know your purpose - Before you put down the first word, you need to know what you are writing about. This is a twofold question in that you not only need to know your subject matter; you also need to understand why you are writing. Do you intend to inform the reader, persuade him or her to accept your point of view, elicit a desired action by the reader, or some combination thereof? Keeping in mind the reason you are writing helps keep you focused and concise while avoiding the temptation to wander off topic. Sherry Roberts, a Greensboro, N.C.-based writer who offers seminars on improvingbusiness writing, suggests beginning any written piece with a one-line synopsis ofthe main point you wish to convey, not unlike the one-line descriptions of moviesfound in TV Guide. Use the synopsis as a focus point as you write. quot;Your one-line synopsis is a grain of sand; it will help you begin. Large projectscan be built from it, but the grain of sand itself is neither overwhelming norintimidating,quot; Roberts writes in the companion booklet to her seminar. quot;As youwrite, reread your one-line reminder. It will keep you grounded, focused, and ontarget. Know what you want before you begin to write, and the writing will comemore easily.quot;

2. 2. Know your audience - Understanding your readers' needs and expectations willhelp you craft your written work to better meet those needs and expectations. If youare writing a report to insiders with whom you share detailed knowledge of thebusiness task at hand, you can safely skip lengthy background information and usespecialized jargon without having to stop and define it. On the other hand, if you are writing a proposal for outside investors, who may notunderstand all the nuances of your industry, use patience in explaining potentiallyunfamiliar terms and processes.3. Be a reporter - The old news reporters' style of telling the who, what, where, andwhy makes good sense for business writing. quot;The chief financial officer (who)reports sales of widgets are up 20 percent (what) in the North American market(where), thanks in part to several large orders from defense contractor GeneralDoohickey Corp.(why). Make sure you cover these basics to ensure you haven't leftout anything important. 4. Keep it concise - Regardless of what you may have been taught in school, writingmore doesn't necessarily equate to writing better- especially in a businessenvironment, where time is precious. When you send someone a writtencommunication-be it a memo, a proposal, or an annual report-you are asking themto invest time reading the document and mentally digesting its contents. Becausethe reader usually has many other pressing matters, make things easy byminimizing excess verbiage and organizing information in an accessible manner.Following the list below can help keep your writing concise.o Avoid long, convoluted sentences - keep it simple and direct.o Provide a summary for long documents.o Use bullet lists to express multiple ideas with minimal verbiage.o Avoid redundancy.o Be direct-don't wander off topic or bury your most important points underunnecessary verbiage. 5. Keep it simple - The importance of simplicity cannot be overstated. We learn inschool to make our writing sound sophisticated by using complex sentencestructures and big, fancy words, but in business writing, these characteristics onlymake writing harder to understand. For best results, use simple, direct sentencestructures and plain, unambiguous words. 6. Use active voice - Passive voice, telling what happened, but not who did it, is oneof the most easily overcome pitfalls to good writing. By using active voice, tellingnot only the action but also the actor, you provide more information for your readerand give your message a more authoritative tone. Writing quot;Our team closed the deal Thursdayquot; makes a stronger statement than quot;Thedeal was closed Thursdayquot; because it places the emphasis on who closed the deal,instead of that the deal was closed.7. Don't offend - Political correctness may seem a nuisance, but a major part ofknowing the needs and expectations of your readers is being aware of their 3. sensibilities. Avoid language that could be interpreted as a slight against a particular gender, ethnic group, or other segment of the population.Some of the most difficult bad habits to break involve gender, as many devices commonly used in business writing show an outdated gender bias. Many women in the workplace, for instance, take offense at receiving a business letter that opens with the salutation quot;Dear Gentlemen.quot; Likewise, many of us learned in school to use masculine personal pronouns (he, him, his) in situations where a gender is not specified. Today, this practice receives an almost universal thumbs down. Although some writers move to the opposite extreme by using the feminine pronouns (she, her, hers) in an inclusive manner, the more acceptable practice is to be truly inclusive by using both (he or she, him or her) or circumvent the issue by using a plural. Instead of saying quot;each employee must wear his or her ID badge,quot; it is better to say quot;all employees must wear their ID badges.quot;8. Be consistent - There is more than one way to construct a grammatically correctsentence. Take, for instance, the issue of serial commas. The Chicago Manual ofStyle suggests using them (Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young), while the AssociatedPress Stylebook recommends avoiding them (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young).Likewise, whether you write a phone number as (123) 456-7890 or 123-456-7890 islargely a matter of taste.Unless your organization uses a specific style manual for its written communications, the most important thing is to remain consistent, both within a particular document, and from document to document.9. Don't depend on spell check alone - Sure, your word processor's spell checker is good for finding misspelled words, but we all know it's not perfect, especially if your typo happens to be a word in its own right, such as typing quot;froquot; instead of quot;for.quot; Always supplement an electronic spell check with good old-fashioned eyeballing. Even better, find a co-worker who is willing to give it a once over before you turn it in. It may even be to your mutual advantage to agree to check each other's work as a matter of course. 10. Don't just write - rewrite! - Revision is a necessity in good writing. Written work seldom, if ever, reaches its complete, final, and polished form in a single draft. Revising a document-usually more than once-allows an opportunity for making major and minor fixes to improve the message. Fortunately, modern word processors make the task of revision quick and painless.A three-draft method works well for creating well-polished documents. When working on each draft, focus on a specific set of tasks. The first (rough) draft is for setting the ideas in place, more or less as you need them to appear in the final version. The second (content review) draft is for refining those ideas, adding missing points, deleting superfluous items, and sequencing the result for a logical and comprehensible flow. The third and final (proofreading) draft is for addressing mechanical issues such as spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. While it is fine to fix a misspelled word or misplaced punctuation mark 4. on the first or second draft, or shift a couple of sentences around in the third draft, it is best to focus on editing tasks specific to that draft.