Good business writing has clarity, rhythm and an economy of words. Meaning flows from paragraph to paragraph; the content is interesting and the writing concise. Here is how you can achieve this:
1. Know what you want to say
This may be a statement of the obvious, but we have all read emails, papers and blogs which are ambiguous or seem to have lost their way. For instance: “For the second time in six months, a patient has died because of defective equipment.” The writer is unlikely to have meant that the patient has died twice. If the sentence had started with the key point “A second patient has died…” the remaining words would have fallen into the right place.
2. Write simply
This is not to suggest that you should write like a five-year old, but rather to write short words and sentences that are easy to read. Rarely does a long sentence convey information more effectively than several short sentences. In the words of Mark Twain: “Use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.”
3. Be concise
This means that you need to select the right words for the job and to ensure that each word contributes towards meaning. For example:
“There is no telling how far this problem will go” is better expressed as: “The extent of the problem is unclear.”
4. Be clear
Ensure that you do not hide your key messages in the body of your text. At the same time, take care that your information is conveyed in the right order. For example:
“There has been a paradigm shift in the way that analysts go about their processes which has led to an improvement in output.” The key point is output. Paradigm shift is irrelevant in this context and so the sentence should be rewritten: “Output has increased owing to analysts’ new processes.”
5. Write correctly
Grammar gives the writer a framework within which to work. Spelling is helpful to everyone and punctuation gives readers signposts. For instance, does this signpost indicate one or more scholars?
6. Write in the active voice
Both active and passive sentences convey action, but active sentences are more persuasive, decisive and confident. “Market research information is obtained via researchers’ telephone surveys”, is written in the passive. Alternatively, you could write in the active:
“Researchers obtain market information by telephone.”
Sometimes the passive voice is more appropriate.
For instance: “Caroline sent the document to the wrong office” is written in the active voice and reveals Caroline’s mistake. It is diplomatic to miss out Caroline’s name and write in the passive: “The document was inadvertently sent to the wrong office.”
7. Lead with benefits
Benefits are advantages of relevance to the buyer. Customers buy benefits. They do not buy features. For example: A feature may be a powerful microprocessor on your computer. The benefit is that your applications – Word, PowerPoint and Excel – run quickly.
Whether you are proposing a concept, idea, service or product, always lead with benefits and support those benefits with features.
8. Use attractive words
Words that evoke interest and excitement can turn dull sentences into appealing ones. These words work well in advertising:
9. Link to your heading
Ensure that you fulfil the promise of your heading from the first sentence of your first paragraph. If your heading is “Answer to the Problem” your first sentence needs to provide the answer or to explain how you are going to provide the answer to the problem. Your first few words must have a direct relationship with your heading.
10. Create impact
An appealing heading motivates people to read the rest of your writing. Where you have the opportunity to choose a title, try for something which will grab attention. “Strategy to Boost Growth” is more interesting than “This Year’s Plan.”