Every morning at around 7.30 AM, I’m greeted by the friendly – although somewhat anxiety-inducing – ping of my Outlook inbox. As I struggle to keep my eyes open, around 35 new emails demand my attention with their little blue unread bubbles. While sifting through my inbox, I notice how different each piece is. From long, detailed notes to agency stakeholders to internal newsletters to large corporate announcements, each communication has a particular style. Some have a very stuffy and detailed voice while others are more conversational. Although all of these pieces have a different purpose and voice, they all are forms of business writing.
When most people hear the words “business writing” they recoil and make a face. Business, or professional, writing is often painted as a dry, thankless task. Contrary to this belief, business writing can be a stimulating puzzle and an invaluable skill. If you think about it, most of us create some form of business communication every day. Budget proposals, sales decks, metric reports – and even that pesky onslaught of daily emails – fall underneath this umbrella term. When exposed to mass amounts of business content, it becomes very apparent when pieces are crafted with meticulous care and when they are not. So what’s the magic formula?
Pitch & Persuade
More often than not, when you are writing for business purposes you are often asking for something, trying to make an audience aware of something, or adding your perspective to something. In order to be successful, you must first be persuasive or utilize rhetorical awareness. According to Purdue OWL, you must take the following aspects into account to make a truly stimulating piece:
– Purpose: Why is the document is being written? What are its goals?
– Audience: Who will read the document?
– Stakeholders: Who may be affected by the document or project?
– Context: What is the background of the situation?
Combined, these aspects provide the perfect foundation for your piece. Because you are providing readers with an environment and context that is relevant to them, you have a higher chance of being understood and meeting your goals. Increase the effectiveness of your persuasive writing by utilizing techniques like incorporating data, grabby hooks, and rhetorical questions.
Make It User-Friendly
Being a great persuasive writer means nothing if your audience can’t easily find what they need or don’t understand what you are talking about. To make reading your piece effortless and effective, consider a user-centered approach:
– Document Design: When formatting a long document, make sure that it is easy to navigate. Include a table of contents, defined headers, and page numbers to help readers locate information that is important to them. These devices are crucial if the document is to be shared with a large group of people. Just like with a book cover, the appearance of a piece of business writing is important to truly sell it to your audience. People will not want to read a document that looks unorganized or is poorly designed. Make sure your document utilizes a proper amount of white space and incorporates graphics to create interest.
– Information Design: Oftentimes, people will not have the time to read your document beginning to end. To be respectful of your reader’s time, format your document to include an executive summary or abstract. As a rule of thumb, user-centered documents move from general ideas to specific details. To help with this flow, make sure that introductions and conclusions are informative and include key messaging. This will allow readers to understand what is included in the following paragraphs.
Tone and Tact
In a professional setting, you may conduct yourself differently than you would with friends. The same should happen with your writing. Tone and tact are extremely important when conveying a written ask or idea at work. Be confident and sincere, use appropriate language, and be respectful.
It is also crucial that you take your audience’s reading level into consideration. In a global business setting, you may be writing to non-native English speakers. While their proficiency is high enough to conduct work, try to avoid complicated vocabulary. This allows them to comprehend your document and saves you from the potentially embarrassing situation of alienating them. Also, avoid using company or department-specific acronyms. Although it might take a few extra seconds to write out the full words, this action will provide an extra layer of clarity for your audience.
Good Writing Practices
To truly be considered a master of business writing, you must employ good writing practices. These nuanced elements bring a document together and do a lot to establish you as an expert in your field. People are innately attracted to things that have order. Parallelism or Parallel Structure provides balance, consistency, and rhythm to a paper. To complement devices like parallelism, strategically organize your sentences for easier reading. Good sentence design simplifies complex structures and emphasizes the main points of interest.
When applicable, experiment with verbiage, tone, and delivery of your message. Business writing does not always need to be predictable or templated. If you are writing for internal audiences and want to stir up excitement for a community event, use exclamation points and active language. If you’re writing for social media, throw in emoji to see how your audience reacts. A good writer knows when to experiment.
Don’t Be Intimidated
If there is anything that you take away from this blog post, it is not to be intimidated when you hear “business writing.” Use it as an opportunity to sharpen your communication skills and broaden your professional arsenal. Take on one project at a time and utilize your management and communications specialists as resources. With practice and patience, you can become a passionate and professional writer.