Business writing tips
In January 2019, Harvard linguist Steven Pinker wrote 13 tweets on writing. I decided to do the same for business writing.
- Why write? What do you want to achieve and is writing the best way? Would a phone call or meeting be better?
- Think of your audience. Imagine writing as a conversation. This will help you engage your readers’ interest and explain complex issues as simply and clearly as possible.
- What do you want to say? Think about what questions your readers could ask about your topic. Then work out what you want to say in one or two sentences.
- Manage your time. Some people plan thoroughly before writing, but many of us plan as we write. If you don’t plan first, be prepared to rewrite rigorously. Whatever your approach, allow time for reviewing.
- Get to the point upfront. Business readers want to know what they are reading about and why at the beginning of a document or email.
- Group your information. When information is grouped under headings, it is easier to read and remember. This applies to all types of business writing, including emails.
- Write clearly. Write clear, easy-to read, relevant sentences and use lists to back up information. Keep your lists short and make the first three words count.
- Write simply. Use words that your readers will relate to – they are often everyday words. In business writing, you probably can’t avoid some jargon and acronyms, but ask yourself if your readers will understand them.
- Use visuals well. Graphs, tables and images may help convey your messages. If the data is complex, add a statement explaining what the data means.
- Looking good? Documents and emails that look attractive are easy to read. Check for white space (lots), headings, visuals and the length of paragraphs (short) and lists.
- Check the tone of your emails. It’s easy to cause offence with the wrong tone. Is your email conversational, but not too informal? Direct, but not abrupt? Courteous, but not flowery?
- Review and rewrite. When you’ve finished writing, read what you have written from your readers’ point of view. After reviewing, you may need to do some rewriting.
- Edit. Check for grammar, punctuation and typos. You may find it helpful to read aloud or line-by-line, covering unread text with a piece of paper.
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