7 Steps to Better Business Writing

leslie ayers by Leslie Ayers on November 7, 2013
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You probably wouldn’t be where you are today without a certain command of the English language and an ability to communicate well. Yet you should always strive to make your business writing as clear, as persuasive, and as memorable as it can be. Follow these seven steps to improve your prose.

1. Always include a call to action. Whether you’re drafting an email to customers or a company memo, you should always make it clear what you want recipients to do after reading it. Also be sure your audience can easily act — by clicking a link, replying to the email, submitting survey responses, etc.

2. Go for quality over quantity. When choosing between basic terms and $50 vocabulary words, opt for simple, active language every time. Your customers can benefit from “using” your products not “utilizing” them. Your employees should “show up to meetings on time” not “arrive at our next confab promptly.” On a related note, never write something you wouldn’t say on the phone or in person.

3. Ditch clichés and jargon. There is always a better way to say something than with a cliché or insider term. How rich would you be if you had a nickel for every time someone encouraged you to shift the paradigm, take it to the next level, or empower your customers? For tips on tired industry lingo to avoid — and for a chuckle — check out Forbes’ collection of the most annoying business jargon. If you’re not sure whether a phrase you want to use qualifies as a cliché, run it through the Cliché Finder or search for it on ClichéSite.com.

4. Don’t shout! We know you love your products, but infusing written communications with exclamation marks succeeds only in making you seem like a used-car salesman. The same goes for overenthusiastic language describing your products, services, or business. Steve Jobs could get away with describing every new Apple product as  “amazing,” but your audience will respond better if you avoid hyperbole. They’d much rather hear about how 25 percent of your customers experienced positive results with your product than hear you describe it as “super,” “amazing,” or “miraculous.”

5. Watch your tone. If you have not established a voice and tone guide for your marketing communications, you should. But if you have to draft your next email newsletter now without a guide for reference, imagine you’re speaking to your audience face-to-face. Does your tone accurately represent your business and how you want customers to perceive it? Are you expressing through your tone that you understand your customers’ wants, needs, and pain points? Is your tone approachable, trustworthy, and empathetic without coming off as sappy, overly familiar, or patronizing?

6. Check your grammar. We trust you would never communicate with customers or employees in writing without spell-checking your document. But ensuring correct grammar and usage is equally necessary. Start by memorizing these common grammar mistakes so you can avoid them. Beyond whatever tools are available in the app you’re using, you can check your copy on Grammarly, which reviews text for plagiarism, grammar, punctuation, and style and word choice. It also runs a contextual spell-check, which looks for commonly confused words that may be spelled correctly but used incorrectly. (Grammarly offers a free seven-day trial and subscription plans starting at $29.95 per month.)

7. When in doubt, consult the experts. Scores of online resources exist for writers, including the Merriam-Webster dictionary and the links provided above. We also trust Grammar Girl to quickly clarify the rules governing the use of who vs. whom, lay vs. lie, despite vs. in spite of, and many others. Check out these email newsletter tips and email marketing mistakes to avoid, too. Share these links with your team, and consider purchasing office copies of The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, The Associated Press Stylebook, and The Chicago Manual of Style.

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