Do you have an idea or message you need to communicate to your colleagues, bosses, or customers? Effective communication skills are key in a world overrun by social media. While social media can be a great marketing tool, it has done our writing skills no favours. Many of us have become sloppy writers through our constant use of email, Facebook, texting, and Twitter. Grammar, spelling, and syntax have all suffered in our time poor societies. This makes good business writing all the more essential if you want to come across as a professional.
Here are some tips to ensure your writing stands out.
Plan, draft, read, and re-read
Prepare an outline of your report or presentation, always bearing in mind your key message. This is equally valid when you are preparing an office memo or an email. If you want your audience to buy- in to your idea you need to think about the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Who are they, what do they need to know, when will it apply to them, where will it affect them, why is it important, how will they benefit? Preparing an outline before you begin the writing task will ensure you keep your writing focused on the key message. Once you have your outline, start your first draft. Read through it thoroughly and be ruthless. Put your writing aside and re-read it later, or the next day. If possible have a friend or colleague read it too. Don’t be too precious about your writing, be open to constructive criticism.
Keep things simple, clear, and concise
Do not fall into the trap of using complex words and jargon because you think they will impress. You do not want to come across as a pompous know-it-all. You want your message to be clear and to the point, so also be as concise as possible. When reading through your draft cut out anything that can be removed without taking away from your message. Modern day attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, so you do not want your audience to lose interest half way through. Think like a journalist and ensure you start with the most important information first, then drill down to the detail if necessary. Use sub-headings to guide your readers and keep sections short. Nobody enjoys reading something that waffles on and on without ever seemingly coming to the point. Longer definitely does not mean better.
Avoid over-used words, phrases, and colloquialisms
There are many words we tend to use too often. For example, the word ‘that’ can often be eliminated without any negative impact on the crux of your sentence. Adjectives and adverbs can add flavour, but can also make your writing sound run-of-the-mill. Words such as ‘very’, ‘nice’, ‘unique’, ‘a lot’, ‘totally’, ‘actually’, ‘really’ are not only too commonplace, they are also often unnecessary and will do nothing to help you shine as a writer.
Cliches are also best avoided, as we’ve heard them all before. Colloquialisms are also annoying and unprofessional. You want to engage with your audience, but you do not need to talk to them like you are best buddies out on a Saturday night, or as though you are tweeting them.
Use images, diagrams, and examples
You have heard the old adage a picture is a 1,000 words. Images and diagrams can help to illustrate your point and make your words come to life. Many people are also visual by nature and will be far more likely to absorb what the words are telling them, if they can also actually see what they mean in practice. Again, diagrams and charts do not need to be over complex. They should be easy to decipher and add meaning to your text, not detract from it. If you are downloading images and graphs from the Web and you plan to distribute your writing to a wide audience, ensure you are not infringing on any copyright laws. Use examples tailored to your specific audience to put your message into context. People are far more likely to believe in your idea if they can see how it applies directly to them.
Check your facts
There is nothing worse than painstakingly putting a report or presentation together only for someone in your audience to call into question your facts.
It is not only embarrassing, but could cost you that promotion if your bosses think you have been sloppy. It may also affect your work further down the line, as other fact-finding you do might be considered unreliable if your credibility has been damaged. In today’s world information is everywhere and everyone is an ‘expert’, so choose your sources wisely. Only use trustworthy sources, tell your audience where you got your facts from, and be prepared to defend them. It is easier to stand by your evidence if you believe in it whole-heartedly yourself. If possible back up your claims with more than one source.
If all else fails, then there are plenty of apps and websites out there to help you with your style, grammar, and syntax, so give it a go and get writing!
If you still need some help making sure that your business writing is on point, there are 12 Proofreaders listed on yellow.com.mt.
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