Most New Year’s resolutions have to do with more and less. I will exercise more. I will eat less. I will delegate more. I will spend less time working late. In the spirit of more and less, I offer these suggestions for improving your business writing in 2007.
1. Pick up the phone more. Talk with people. Share a laugh. Relate a story. Express interest in the other person. These things are very hard to do well in email, so use the phone.
2. Write less. Cut your documents by 10 percent. Get to the point at the beginning of your message rather than clearing your throat (metaphorically), and end when you finish your thoughts. Don’t make yourself write more just to fill the screen or page. When it comes to writing, less is more–more effective.
3. Be more understanding and empathetic, and communicate those feelings in your writing. Put yourself in the other person’s place. Rather than arguing for "me" and "us," think about the person and write "we," "you and I," and "you."
4. Plan more. Instead of just typing, think first. Plan what you need to communicate. Think about what your reader needs from you. Then write.
5. Be less reserved. Use people’s names, sign your own name, say "hi," and use an occasional exclamation point (Thanks! Terrific!) After all, you are writing to human beings who actually like to have fun and smile.
6. Be more generous. Give away an article, a tip, a strategy, a recipe, a quote, an idea. You will enrich the other person, yourself, and perhaps the world.
7. Use less jargon. If you do, more people will understand you.
8. Be more organized. Put that email in a folder–or delete it–as soon as you have handled it. Give documents precise names. Do it now.
9. Guess less. Double check spellings (especially of individuals’ and companies’ names), look up abbreviations, and get confirmation of numbers and other details. Learn to use punctuation correctly. Become known for accuracy.
10. Give yourself more help. Buy a style manual, pick up a recent book on writing, take a class. The time and money you spend will pay off many times.
11. Give people more than they expect. If you say the proposal will be ready on Friday, deliver it on Thursday. If you promise a refund, give a refund plus postage. Insert a free gift or certificate with your product. Delight people when they are not expecting it.
12. Allow more time to finish a piece of writing. Then if you finish early, you will have extra time to polish it, proofread, deliver it early, and get more exercise.
As with exercise, don’t overdo it. Pick just one of these suggestions and try it–today.