Do you worry that your proposals fall flat? Do you dread writing quarterly reports or are you spending hours structuring an email only to find your readers coming back with lots of questions? Business writing can be a daunting task, but knowing how to write well can make all the difference when it comes to communicating with others at work.
Why is writing well so important?
According to studies from McKinsey Global Institute, International Data Corporation, and the Journal of Communication we spend around 70-80% of our time communicating with others each day. 28% of that day is spent on reading and responding to emails. This probably comes as no surprise. The first thing most of us do when we wake up is grab our phone to look at our emails.
If emails take up this much time without other written communication then it’s definitely something worth getting right.
Writing well at work gives you the confidence to write more effective submissions, reports, letters, presentations, and emails. You may want to make an impact in a proposal or strategy or get a certain result from an email you’ve sent. You may want to write an empathetic email to a customer or a difficult correspondence to a client.
So how can you learn to write better communications at work while being productive and getting the results you’re after?
Before you dive into the task at hand, you need to start with the most important part – the planning.
Without stopping to think and plan your writing you risk wasting even more time that you don’t have. Always think of the time you spend planning as getting one step closer to your goals and getting you the results you want.
If you want to feel confident every time you write at work, then take a look at my seven top tips below.
1. Know your audience
It can be all too easy to want to get the document finished and sent as soon as possible. However, diving in head first and not considering who you’re aiming your writing at will likely result in an unsuccessful piece of writing.
When considering your reader, it’s important to be clear about what you want them to do after they’ve read your work. Do you need something from them? Is it simply to inform them? Do you need them to sign off on it?
To know your audience, ask yourself the following:
- Why are you writing?
- What message are you trying to get across?
- To whom are you trying to say it?
- What’s your desired outcome?
By keeping the audience in mind from the very start, it will be far easier for you to tell them exactly what they need to know while getting what you need from them (i.e. reach your goals)
2. Know what you want to say
After you’ve established your audience, the next step is to figure out what you want to say. Think of this step like you did step 1 – this is the planning stage where you’re collecting your thoughts. It’s an important stage and not one to be rushed!
- Figure out what your most important messages are and put them at the start
- Test them out on yourself to see if they make sense to you. If they don’t the reader will probably struggle to understand
- Get your thoughts into a logical and transparent format. Use subheadings if you need to – these can help the reader to see your thought processes and make it easier to read.
By getting your thinking out in the planning stage this will make it easier when it comes to writing.
Now you’ve started planning you can move onto the writing element.
3. Be straightforward
By being direct with your audience it will make your writing much easier to follow. For example, using the word ‘you’ to refer to your audience and the words ‘we’ and ‘I’ to refer to yourself. It makes it sound more personal and open.
4. Be clear and concise
Writing in a short and simple way will get your message across to the reader. Use words that you use every day and find the best words for the job. Wherever possible use one word instead of several to get your point across. For example, instead of saying ‘give consideration to’, you could simply say ‘think about’ or ‘consider’. Try to be specific in your writing rather than vague and general, this will help you get the response you’re after.
5. Use the active voice
While you’re still in writing mode, make sure you use the active voice. Whereas the passive voice can feel a bit vague, dull and uses too many words, the active voice is easier to understand and lifts your writing.
6. Short sentences and paragraphs
Have you ever read an email before and had to go back to the start as you just don’t quite follow? If a sentence is too long, with many qualifying clauses (like this for example), then your reader will probably have to keep re-reading. Use short sentences instead.
This direct way of writing keeps everyone following the flow of what you’re saying and as a result, they will act on what you’ve asked/requested. An average of around 17 words per sentence is a good number to aim for, with a maximum of around 35. So that your writing flows well, try adding in some longer sentences in between these shorter ones. It will help keep the reader’s attention.
7. Double-check your work
Check. Double-check. And check again.
You’ll want to put some time aside to edit and proofread your work. Try to space the writing and proofing out so you’ve had a break. This way, you’ll spot any errors that you may have made. I always print out a copy to proofread as it can be difficult to pick up on everything when it’s on a screen. Do whatever works best for you. You can even get someone else to look at it before sending it to your audience to see how easy it is for them to follow.
Then, once you’ve made your edits you’re ready to send. And you know what the best part is? Next time, that proposal report or email won’t feel quite as daunting.
Want to share your business writing tips? Leave a message below.