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A toolbox of tips for better writing at work

Not every business can afford the luxury of an in-house writer but businesses reputations can be won or lost based on the success and impact of business documents.

According to Frank Chamberlain from Action Words these tips can improve the written communication that business hangs their reputation on.

Whether you’ve got a website to rewrite, or you want your business reports and proposals to have more bite, these tips will help you create the impact you want.

  • Know your audience
    This is fundamental. Understanding who you are writing to affects everything you write. Even if you’re working with a list, segment that data as finely as you can to personalise your message.
  • We automatically focus on the listener when we speak (e.g. we use quite different words for a group of CEO’s compared with a group of teenagers) and it’s just the same with writing. You can never spend too much time getting to know your audience.

Allocate the time and space to write

  • Give your writing the deliberate purpose and preparation it deserves. It takes time to get your thoughts together, to plan and draft. If you are rushing you will ramble. If you are distracted you won’t engage with your reader.
  • George Bernard Shaw is famously quoted as saying “I’m sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”
    He’s right. Good writing that is to the point and compelling takes time. So allocate that time and find a quiet space to get cracking.

Live by the four pillars of writing
There are four vital guides to remember in any of the writing you do at work. I call them the four pillars of nonfiction writing. They are easy to remember and, I assure you, they will make you a better writer. Here are the pillars:

  • Clarity – If you are not conveying your message clearly, then don’t bother writing at all.
  • Simplicity – Use words that everyone will understand. Cut out awkward expressions and jargon.
  • Brevity – Keep your sentences and paragraphs short and your writing will be easier to read.
  • Humanity – Write as if you are speaking to someone face-to-face. You’ll sound natural and your writing will be more engaging.

Write short sentences – but vary the length

  • Sentence length directly links to how readable your writing is. Sentences with 10 to 15 words are easy to read. Sentences with more than 20 words become more difficult and more than 30 words is close to impossible to comprehend! But like everything in life, it’s good to have some variety so mix up the length a bit. Your writing is immediately more interesting when the length of your sentences varies.

Be specific

  • This is especially important in our most frequent writing – work emails. Get to the point of your email immediately and provide the specific details your reader requires. Don’t write the back story to War and Peace – cut to the chase and specify your call to action or next steps. Believe me, your colleagues will thank you.

Write for scanners not readers

  • Online copywriters understand that people don’t read every word on the page, they scan. So if you’re writing for a digital space, you need short punchy copy that allows your reader to quickly scan from top to bottom.
  • Another trick is to break up the copy – whether it is web copy or chunks of text in a report, it is better to break it up with subheadings and bullets. Charts or graphs might also be appropriate. Avoiding large blocks of text helps scanners and cuts text into digestible morsels.

Stamp out waffle and jargon

  • We’re all busy. So don’t waste your time – or your readers’ – with inflated waffle and jargon. That also includes acronyms and terminology that only the people inside your business understand.
  • Plain English should be your aim. Remember, people are not impressed by long words and pompous writing. They become alienated and switch off.

Allow time to re-read and rewrite

  • To write really well, you need to be critical of your own writing and be prepared to cut out sentences you’ve already written. Remember that that’s OK because rewriting is the essence of good writing.
  • Try reading what you’ve written aloud. Stale ore repetitive words will be identified, then, when you rewrite you’ll know where you need to add some impact.

If you remember nothing other than my four pillars, you’ll be a better writer. If you use all the tools from my copywriting toolbox, your business writing skills will improve out of sight!

The Business Enterprise Centre is a community based not-for-profit organisation established to foster the growth of business within the Central West of NSW. We are managing agents for the NSW government Small Biz connect Program, Australian Government ASBAS and NEIS program. To find out how we can assist your business contact the BEC on 63620448 or email info@becbiz.com.au