Blog: business writing

This blog first appeared in online business news site Away from the Norm:

In any walk of life, first impressions count, and this is nowhere no more true than in the world of business. We’re talking here about business writing.

You’ll know that if you go to a networking event, you should dress to suit your type of work, whether that’s suited and booted or smart casual. When you meet the other networkers, you’ll greet them in a polite, professional manner.

So why is it that so many businesses, when it comes to written communications, let themselves down? Their website is badly spelled, grammar has gone to ground in their emails, and their newsletters are littered with grocers’ apostrophes.

Poor use of the written word is the equivalent of turning up at a networking event in sweaty gym kit, and greeting everyone with “Yo man!”

The key to being professional is to do so in every part of your business, including in everything you write: letters, emails, marketing material, internal communications, press releases and – of course – your website.

But why is it so important? Why do we – or, at least, why do most of us – put such store by good use of English?

Firstly, getting your wording right does much more than just make you look professional. It helps build trust between you and your clients, prospects, staff, stakeholders and suppliers.  They know you have paid attention to detail – you have, quite literally, dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s – and the inference they draw is that you will pay the same attention to detail when you are working with or for them.

Sloppy copy, rightly or wrongly, suggests sloppy business practices.

Secondly, getting your wording right brings clarity. The Plain English Campaign, since 1979, has “been campaigning against gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information” but nonsensical writing is still out there.

Thirdly, use of good English saves time. Explain what you mean succinctly and clearly the first time; cut the waffle and you’ll get a far more positive response from clients.

Finally, using plain English is inclusive. If you are wordy, if you resort to jargon, and if you try to look clever with big words you’ll simply alienate your audience. They switch off.

So here are my top business writing tips:

  1. Work out who your audience is and target your text accordingly
  2. Use active rather than passive sentences
  3. Keep sentences short
  4. Have one idea par paragraph
  5. Pose questions in your text, to help your audience interact
  6. Avoid jargon
  7. Avoid acronyms and initialisms unless you are completely sure they’ll be understood
  8. Read the copy aloud – does it sound like it makes sense?
  9. Proofread your text to check for typos and grammar
  10. Proofread it again!

Adopt this method when writing and you’ll not go far wrong. And one final tip, keep a good dictionary to hand – and use it!

For more help and advice on good business writing practice please get in touch.