From time to time, all professionals have to interact with others via the written word. And while today’s mobile-oriented existence has made abbreviations, acronyms, sentence fragments, emojis, and other rushed communication seem normal, such informality doesn’t usually fly in business.
When you’re writing to an existing or potential customer or client, business partner, employee, investor, contractor, or other professional connection, you need your message to be read, understood, and be well received. But not everyone who runs or represents a brand is a great writer.
Fortunately, writing is a skill anyone can build with some good information and practice. So here are some pointers to keep in mind when composing any business communication:
Know your purpose before writing. Don’t use the message to think your way through a matter.
Keep messages concise. Many experts recommend capping professional emails at five sentences.
Remove meaningless words and phrases like “in fact,” “very,” “actually,” “basically,” “especially,” “honestly,” “it goes without saying,” “I think,” and all their synonyms and similar terms. When you see them, read the sentence again without them and notice that the meaning doesn’t change.
Remove frequently useless words like “that,” “can,” and “may.” Often, like the above, they add nothing but extra words to a sentence.
Use simple words, not show-off SAT vocab words.
There’s rarely a good reason to use adverbs in business writing.
And there’s almost never a good reason to use an exclamation point.
Skip the business jargon. Stuff like “solutioneering,” “get your ducks in a row,” “paradigm shifts,” “giving 110%,” and “strategic synergy” are annoying and meaningless.
Use the active, not passive, voice. “Our efforts are being hindered by red tape” is more direct as “Red tape is hindering our efforts.”
Highlight essential information with bullet points, a numbered list, or bold sub-headings if you have to send a complex message or one with multiple important elements. Let the reader easily locate and review key pieces of information with a quick scan.
Google commonly misused words and study. Don’t make yourself look bad by mixing up words like “affect” and “effect;” “advice” and “advise;” “continuous” and “continual;” “than” and “then;” “except” and “accept;” principle” and “principal;” “that,” “which,” and “who;” “who” and “whom,” and lots of others.
Double check everything, like your spelling of names, places, and businesses; gender and title references; dates, times, and addresses; and run your spell check, but don’t use it as a substitute for re-reading. Always re-read. If you have a hard time editing yourself, reading your work aloud helps identify awkward writing.
End with a call to action. Make sure the recipient knows the one thing you want them to do next in response to your message. For example:
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