How many times have you read an email, only to feel confused, dismayed, or even, quite frankly, a little bit annoyed? There's no doubt that many people will at some point have received an email which they misread, a situation which is certainly not conducive to productive business. Whilst speaking to someone face to face, or even on the phone, gives us an idea of how that person feels, written communication gives us no such clues.
There is no verbal tone, no body language or inflection to accompany it, which means that getting our message across is much harder. Imagine talking to someone in a monotone voice, whilst wearing a paper bag and with your hands behind your back – this is how much harder it is to communicate in writing.
So, choosing the right words and structuring them in the right way is far more crucial in business writing than in verbal communication. Do you spend hours agonising over the written word? Read on to find out how you can improve your business writing skills.
Consider your reader
As in any other form of writing, trying to see things from the reader's point of view is essential. Rather than thinking about the situation which has happened to you, or the problem that you have come across, start your email by addressing your reader's role in the situation and what he or she may want. Yes, you do need to do a little bit of mind-reading. So, if you have a really great product that you want the reader to know about, bring out the crystal ball and illustrate the benefits of the product to them first.
Modifying the content and tone to your reader's level of knowledge about the subject will greatly help you to get a particular message across. For instance, if you are writing an informative piece about plumbing widgets for the general public, talking about the technical intricacies of widgets is going to win you neither sales nor friends. Instead, think of a softer, gentler way to gradually inform your readers about the subject.
If you have a great deal of complex information to get across to an unmotivated audience, think about breaking the content down into shorter sections. Use short paragraphs and instead of overwhelming your audience with pages and pages of writing, use bullet points and headings to make the content easier to digest. Think back to your school days – which teacher did you prefer: the one who gave you short and simple notes, or the one who spent the whole lesson writing an essay on the board for you to copy?
Plan, plan, plan
Fail to plan, plan to fail. Think carefully about what precisely you would like to say before you begin writing. This will help you to organize your thoughts and in turn to get the message across as simply as possible. It helps if someone else can check through your writing first before you send it. Or simply save the draft and come back to it in a few minutes when you have a clear head. Oh, and remember never to write in anger. You will only regret that furious email you sent to your boss / friend / partner / client and grovel for forgiveness at a later stage!
Don't try to impress
Using long words or over-complicated sentences just for the sake of it might make you feel like you went to Oxford University after all. However, it will put your reader off. Instead, choose words which they will understand and provide all the information in an accessible format.
Keep it short
Remember, you are potentially giving the reader a whole load of new information. Whilst it makes sense to you, especially if you are head over heels in love with the subject, the reader is probably going to need a little more time to take it in. Keep your sentences short so that the reader only needs to process one idea at a time.
Remember the active voice
The active voice gives a more vigorous and proactive air to a document, as it suggests that you or your company are keen to take action on a particular subject. It conjures up the idea of urgency and excitement. This is opposed to the passive voice, which offers less of a sense of control. Do bear in mind, though, that there may be some occasions where using the passive voice is more appropriate. For instance, you wouldn't want to try and sell renovation services to a run down shop and tell them in the process ‘You've let your shop fall into disrepair'.
Check what you have written
Unfortunately, spell checkers will only get you so far. It is better to read through your work carefully and to read it out loud to check if it sounds right. Remember that there is also much heady debate about the use of ‘s' or ‘z' in words such as ‘realise' and ‘organize', so watch out if your computer automatically corrects these words. Naturally, us humans automatically expect something we have written to make sense so it is a good idea to ask a colleague to check.
The problem is, if you fail to take appropriate care in your work, you may come across as careless, slapdash and even unprofessional. Hardly the impression you wish to create with an important client.
Cut the jargon
Clearly, if you are writing highly specialised content, you will need to use jargon related to your field of expertise. However, the general public will neither be impressed nor amused if you do the same when writing for them. If you are unsure over a word, check: will the reader understand this phrase or word? Is there a different, non-jargon word that could replace it?
Not everyone enjoys writing and sometimes even the most talented people out there find it pretty hard to get their ideas down on paper. Do not fear if you suffer from low confidence in your writing capabilities. Careful reflection and practise will help you to improve your skills over time. One way to take a proactive step forward is to attend a business writing skills course. Here you will be taught how exactly it is best to write for different business purposes and you will have the chance to raise any issues you have come across.
Writing takes time
Writing is a hard skill to learn – if you think about it, you are continually refining your writing skills throughout twelve years of compulsory schooling and beyond if you attend sixth form and university. It's no wonder that so many people find it tricky, even if they know their subjects well and can express themselves verbally with ease. There's no shame in asking for help when it comes to business writing and, in fact, it shows that you are dedicated to moving forward both as a writer and as a professional. So take the steps you need to improve your business writing today! Click here to find out how ZandaX can help you.
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