A Crash Course in Strong Business Writing

Business writing doesn’t have to be taxing, but it does take some effort.

19 Feb A Crash Course in Strong Business Writing

Starting, operating, or working for an organization often comes with the inconvenience of having to communicate with others. In many instances, it’s via written words. But all the business education, training, grooming, experience, passion, and savvy in the world don’t guarantee strong writing skills.

Like any skill, though, writing can be improved with resolve, instruction, and practice. The ability to compose clear, compelling, intelligent, readable, effective business writing will serve you and your organization well time and time again, so it’s worth the effort.

As an important starting pointer, “professional” and “formal” aren’t synonyms. Unless you’re writing a legal contract, you probably shouldn’t sound like one. Remember, those are designed to obscure meaning, not convey it clearly. It’s usually acceptable to use language that sounds like one human addressing another, as long as the content is professional.

And, whatever you do, skip corny, contrived gimmicks like starting all your sections with the same letter and calling attention to it.

Now, the top 10 Cs of good business writing:

1. Clarity

Every piece of professional writing needs a well-defined purpose; know exactly what it is before you start clacking away at the keyboard. If you want to use writing to explore your ideas and innermost desires, try some stream of consciousness writing before bed.

2. Concision

Get to the point. Quickly. You’re not the only busy one with a short attention span.

3. Choose Simple Words

You don’t require polysyllabic, ostentatious verbiage to appear intelligent and preponderant. Uh, you don’t need big words to sound smart. Business writing isn’t a vocab showcase or evidence of thesaurus ownership. It isn’t poetry, either.

4. Choose the Right Words

You do need the right words to sound smart. Do you know when to use advice or advise? Affect or effect (or do you misuse “impact” to avoid having to know)? Continuously or continually? Then or than? That or which? If or whether? Do you know that “begs the question” doesn’t mean “raises the question?” If this isn’t one of your strong points, spend some quality time with a Google search for commonly misused words and phrases.

5. Cut Meaningless Words

Lots of useless words and phrases make writing mushy. For example: very, really, quite, absolutely, basically, actually, fundamentally, especially, particularly, honestly, frankly, can, may, in fact, kind of, sort of, I think, I hope, in my opinion, needless to say, it goes without saying, and plenty more. If you can remove it without changing the meaning of the sentence, do it.

6. Cut Passive Voice

Direct, active language works best. Any form of “to be” (is, am, are, was, were, being, been) often signals passive voice. For example, that last sentence could end, “…is often a signal of passive voice.” Seven words to say four equals weak writing.

7. Cut the Crap

Don’t use silly business jargon, phrases, and buzzwords. Nobody wants to read that (or hear it, by the way). It’s trite and obnoxious, and people pass right over it. Please, stop getting your ducks in a row, moving the needle, shifting paradigms, identifying core competencies and best practices, thinking outside the box, seeking strategic synergy, leveraging, making hay, drinking the Kool-Aid, picking low-hanging fruit, peeling onions, not reinventing the wheel, giving 110%, mentioning what matters at the end of the day, failing to see the brand alignment, reaching out, touching base, empowering, opening the kimono, burning platforms, and so on.

And, while we’re all riled up, stop calling yourself and others influencers, gurus, evangelists, thought leaders, and the like.

8. Correct Information

Spell names correctly, know the gender of anyone you refer to, use the right date, give the right time and location, cite stats accurately, and otherwise get your information right.

9. Check It

Editing isn’t just for editors. It’s for anyone writing anything anyone else will read. Proofread right after completion, but then let the writing sit for at least a few hours to get some distance from it. You’ll see it with new eyes, and typos, other errors, awkward phrasing, and lack of clarity tend to jump out at you. And, if you wrote in an emotional state (perhaps pissed off), you get the opportunity to spare yourself some regret.

10. Call to Action

All professional correspondence stems from a desire to get the recipients to do something. If yours doesn’t, you’re doing something wrong. Conclude with a clear call to action that spells out what you want them to do. Don’t leave readers guessing, don’t give them too many options for what to do next (this often prompts indecision or procrastination), and don’t wrap things up in a rambling or irrelevant way.