Everything you do as an independent consultant reflects on your personal brand and that includes how you communicate in writing. Effective business writing is even more important in this digital age. The proliferation of texting and short form communications has contributed to a decline in business writing skills. However, the ability to effectively communicate in writing remains a valuable skill.
Business professionals spend a great deal of time writing, regardless of profession. One study reveals that, according to conservative estimates, U.S. workers spend at least 20 percent of their time writing in a technical or business occupation. Professionals in engineering and technology careers spend as much as 40 percent of their time writing.
With so much information exchanged via the written word, the ability to write well can set you apart. Conversely, grammatical errors, misspelled words and sloppy writing can be a turn-off to potential clients and diminish your credibility as a professional. The 10 tips below will help you to avoid common mistakes and improve your business writing.
A common mistake in business writing is to use long words when a short one will do. For example, "use" works just as well as "utilize."
Industry buzzwords may sound important, but can be painful to read, especially when they have been overused. A good example is "core competency," commonly used to refer to an individual or organization's fundamental strength. In reality, the phrase makes no sense, considering that "competent" is sufficient or adequate.
You may be accustomed to using industry jargon in your day-to-day conversations, but it is best to avoid it in writing. Industry jargon can come across as pretentious in writing. It can also be confusing, as the terms may not be universally understood (even within your own industry). Always opt for a clear English equivalent over jargon.
In general, it is better to use active voice in your business writing. Active voice is more direct and concise. Passive voice can overcomplicate your sentences and make them unnecessarily wordy.
Example: The entrance exam was failed by over one-third of the applicants to the school. (Passive voice)
Over one-third of the applicants to the school failed the entrance exam. (Active voice)
Strive to keep your business writing clear and concise. Wordy sentences distract your reader from the point you are trying to convey.
Example: I am writing this email because I want to thank you very much for moderating last week's discussion on business writing.
Better: Thank you very much for moderating last week's discussion on business writing.
One of the most common grammatical mistakes in business writing is misusing "me," "myself" and" I." Use the word "I" when talking about yourself.
Example: I wrote the email.
Mistakes most commonly occur when writing about yourself and another person. An easy way to ensure that you are using the proper pronoun is to remove one person from the sentence.
Example: Jane and I went to the meeting.
If you take out "Jane," I went to the meeting is grammatically correct. If you take out "I," Jane went to the meeting is also correct.
Use the pronoun "me" when someone else will perform the action to, or for, you.
Example: If you have questions please call Jane or me.
As in the previous example, removing one person can help you determine if you are using the correct pronoun. "If you have questions please call me" and "If you have questions please call Jane" are both grammatically correct sentences.
Effective business writing requires that you consider the audience when composing communication. For example, it may be appropriate to use technical terms in an industry whitepaper or case study, but better to use plain English in a blog post or article. Know and respect your audience. This one tip can improve the way you compose and deliver written communications. What is the information your audience most wants to hear? What questions do they have? With the audience in mind, deliver in the most clear and concise way possible.
Whether writing an email, press release or report, don't bury your big idea in the third paragraph. In creative writing you may build to a climax, but in business writing, get to the point immediately. Your reader should immediately know what the communication is about and not be forced to hunt for it. Remember that today's business professional is busy and may scan rather than read. This is why using bullets, bold text or paragraph breaks can be effective way to deliver a bigger message in a scannable format.
Marketers are keenly aware of the value of a call to action, but it is often overlooked in business writing. All business communication has a purpose, so make it clear what you want the reader to do. If you want the intended reader to call you today, say so. Be clear and direct about the next step you want the reader to take.
Be sure to write once and edit twice. The age of texting has hopefully taught us not to rely on spell check and auto-correct in writing. When writing lengthier pieces such as reports, articles or case studies, print them out and review with a red pen. It is easy to miss typographical errors when reviewing on screen.
The following books are great resources to improve your writing even more:
Anderson, Technical Communication, Wadsworth Publishing., Florence, Ky, USA, 7th edition, 2010.http://www.isrn.com/journals/education/2012/617137/ref/
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