Reading and writing are the first things that we are taught in school. They are the basis for understanding and learning all other subjects. Also, they are essential for navigating day-to-day life.
However, a common complaint emerges: school does not teach usable skills. We’ve all heard about the fact that we learn interesting yet niche subjects such as ancient history, chemistry, or Latin.
Meanwhile, most people have no idea how their government works, how to do their taxes, or how banks lend money. These last examples are exceptionally relevant, yet little effort is spent teaching them.
Although to a lesser extent, writing falls into the same trap. Students are taught poetry, prose, fictional writing, and are made to read novels. Meanwhile, a small percentage of students will pursue work in these fields.
Business writing is another story. While an article about interpretive writing may be of little use, knowing how to write for a client will be essential. The vast economy of the internet demands people who have mastered business writing.
Even those who are working in the corporate world have business writing as a requirement.
That being said, let’s take a look at how you can improve your business writing skills.
Be clear and concise
When faced with a large volume of information, people tend to “skim-read” content. We dart our eyes across the page or screen, scanning for information that stands out.
You will notice that online content tends to have very short paragraphs. This is because skimming a non-distinct block of text will yield poor results. By spacing the content, you are breaking it into bite-sized chunks.
In addition, keywords or concepts can be bolded or written in italics for extra emphasis. While online writing doesn’t necessarily lend itself perfectly to business writing, certain concepts do carry over.
This brings us to another point: start strong. Although you can go overboard with this intention, try to grab attention with your title and opening lines. This is especially relevant for those pitching via email.
If your content fails to get noticed in a few seconds, it will be ignored. The first few lines must summarize everything in broad strokes while being written in an interesting manner. As a general rule of thumb, the first 150-200 words of your paper should contact most of what is needed to know.
The rest of the text should be spent explaining and breaking down these points.
Thoughts can be very scattered if you fail to organize them. Before you set pen to paper or finger to keyboard, you must establish how the letter/mail/presentation will look.
First, ask yourself two basic questions: Who is the target audience, and what am I aiming to accomplish? By answering these two questions, it will be much easier to work towards a goal instead of wandering aimlessly.
Another way to organize your thoughts is to not type while thinking. The default, instinctual way of writing is to think while typing, basically streaming your thoughts to the screen. However, this is not the occasion for such a practice, even if you are paid by the word.
Take the time to form an idea in your head, and then work out a way to argue it. Only then, can you write it down.
You will seem more intelligent and thoughtful. Also, when writing, this will allow you to focus on the writing itself, instead of multitasking. Typos will be much easier to avoid.
Remember the Genre
If you ever take a creative writing class, you will be told to be as descriptive as possible. Writers are encouraged to use many adjectives and flowery language. Your goal in business writing is different: be clear and concise.
It is true that corporate-speak often lacks bluntness. Everything is hidden behind specialized language and euphemisms. However, these can be learned with time.
Until then, just use plain, direct, and easy to understand language. Ambiguity is for legislators and lawyers, and being ambiguous will make you seem like you are trying to hide something.
A person taken off the street has to be able to understand what you have written.
Triple Check Before Sending
So, you’ve written your pitch and you hit send on the email. Then, a cold chill runs up your spine as you realize that there are 2-3 typos in the text.
Now, imagine that you are the person receiving that email. It will seem that it was written by someone who is sloppy. This impression will not inspire trust. It will also speak poorly of your attention to detail, and willingness to prioritize quality.
The “I was in a hurry” excuse will not fly. This is the business world; everyone is in a hurry.
Or, the other conclusion may be that you just didn’t care enough about the client to pay attention and that pitching him/her was an afterthought.
Either way, writing mistakes, and typos should be avoided like the plague.
Business jargon is often wooden, and that outcome is intentional. No jargon, slang, outside acronyms, or slogans should be included.
It is true that certain businesses have adopted a more casual global communication, but even that is severely limited. While companies might include emoticons and generation Z slang like “lit”, it is usually employed for marketing, and not intra-business communication.
Everything you say can and will be used against you. While business writing rarely involves anything legally binding like a contract, you have to pay attention to what you say.
You cannot imply something untrue, nor can you underplay or exaggerate. Be blunt, concise, and truthful. Your job will be to make this form of writing seem catchy and interesting.
The goal is achieved via formatting and ordering your thoughts. The document should be informative even from a glance.