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The he(art) of good business writing

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As a person who makes her living on being a good communicator, poor business writing frustrates me no end. On the flip side, however, nothing is more satisfying than clicking on the ‘track changes’ button and taking the digital red pen to a piece of text. Pure joy.

What I’ve experienced over the years is writing well doesn’t come naturally to everyone.  That’s why I thought I’d take the time this month to give you some tips on making your next bit of business writing better.

Audience First
Great writing starts with knowing your reader.  What’s their level of understanding of your topic?  What’s their reading level likely to be?  Is English even their first language?

Once you’ve got your audience in mind, write as if you are having a conversation with them.  This will help you keep your language simple and coherent.

Get to the point
Business writing should follow the inverted pyramid style of writing. That means your first paragraph is the most important and subsequent paragraphs are second most important, third, and so on.

Start with your conclusion first and subsequent paragraphs can help provide evidence to support your premise.  Business writing is not the place for long explanations and a slow build to the climax.

Cut the fluff
Next time you write something, review it to see where you can cut several words and substitute only one in their place.  If you set out to do a ruthless edit, you’ll surprise yourself how many extraneous words aren’t required to get your point across.

Common words you can almost always delete include: that, then, just, in order to.

Really forget the really
In business writing, adjectives and adverbs should be eliminated when possible. They make your writing weak and take away the power of important statements. Common adjectives and adverbs you should avoid using include: really, very, great, pretty, quite, many, truly, amazing, so, totally, probably, usually.

Cut the jargon
If you’re writing an internal memo for a project team, then jargon is okay.  But when you are writing for an external audience, make sure you use plain language. A common fault is to use acronyms that others don’t understand. If your mother wouldn’t get it, then find another way.

Add white space
White space is essential to aid readability. One way to get more white space into your writing is by keeping paragraphs short – two or three sentences tops.

Other ways to get more white space into your writing include adding headings to break up paragraphs and using bulleted or numbered lists.

Second pair of eyes
When you’re writing something important for work, take the time to get a colleague to review it.  Give them permission to edit and question not only the topic you’re writing about but the writing style and wording choices.  You’ll only get better over time when you’re willing to listen to advice that can make your writing better.

Write and write some more.

As they say, practice makes perfect. There’s no better way to improve your writing than by doing more of it.

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