7 Tips for Clear and Effective Business Writing

7 Tips for Clear and Effective Business Writing

Business / Writing / Writers Support Group / Language & Editing

Chances are good that you will have to do some writing at some point in your business career. And regardless of your field, your writing will have to be clear, correct, and effective. For many of us, this can pose a big challenge. In this blog, we offer seven key tips to help you engage readers and promote your ideas clearly and effectively.

 

 

Consider Your Audience

 

Always write with your audience in mind. Focus on writing for someone who has a basic level of knowledge about the topic you are discussing. Use short sentences, specific terms, and clear language to convey your message. Once you have a draft, read your writing back out loud. Does it make sense to you? Is the information easily read and understood? Are you explaining details clearly and to the point? Remember to include only the information your audience needs to hear.

 

 

Lose the Jargon

 

If the audience that you’re writing for is one that lacks your expertise or is not in your field, it is even more important to use clear, simple words that they can understand. To avoid alienating your audience, do not use jargon, buzz words, acronyms, and clichés in your text.

 

Jargon: Jargon is a type of shorthand between members of a particular group of people who use words that are meaningless outside of a certain context. For example, bang for the buck, sweat equity, and internet jargon such as BTW, LOL, or TTYL.

 

Buzz words and phrases: These are words and phrases that become popular for a short period of time. Once they fall out of use and if they appear in your writing, chances are they won’t be understood. You might remember “pay it forward” that was in vogue for a few years. Other examples include drilling down, deep dive, and move the needle.

 

Acronyms: There are so many of these that you could compose an entire paragraph using them, but don’t, of course. Use one or two and be sure to introduce the full term at the first use of the acronym. For example: We need to respect the United Nations (UN) code of conduct.

 

Clichés: A cliché is a word or phrase that once had meaning but has been so overused that its meaning has been lost. While used in casual conversation, keep them out of your writing. Examples include “Read between the lines” and “The writing is on the wall.”

 

 

Don’t Overcrowd the Page

 

Avoid using small font sizes (such as 10-point) and writing in long blocks of text. Use 12-point font and avoid overuse of italics and bold.

 

Information that is presented without adequate paragraph breaks could be glanced over. Keep your paragraphs to three or four sentences, and build in segues and connecting words to help the reader move through the paragraphs.

 

Vary your sentence length to keep your writing vibrant—between 15 and 20 words at most; avoid 60-word sentences. To create variety, find places in longer sentences where you can divide them into separate sentences. But remember to retain the clarity in your meaning when doing so.

 

Use headers to separate topics. Set these in 14-point font and bold to stand out. Consider these guideposts that help your audience follow your discussion. Be sure that they reflect the topic that follows. Keep them short and clear.

 

 

Use Examples

 

One of the best ways to keep your readers engaged is to use tangible examples that they can relate to. Examples make your topic concrete and relatable and help your readers understand why your topic is relevant to them. These are most effective when integrated into the text. Avoid using e.g. to introduce the example. Instead, write out “for example” and follow it with a comma: For example, you will want to use proper punctuation at all times.

 

           

Watch for Bias

 

We all have biases. It’s impossible not to. But when writing for business, you are not just writing from your own point of view. You are writing on behalf of your business, and everything that you write develops your business’s brand.

 

Most of the time, your personal preferences or politics or beliefs have no place in business writing. You can still show personality—depending on the purpose of the piece of writing, you might want to have a more conversational tone instead of a formal one—but make sure that writing with personality does not cross the line into showing bias for or against something you’re writing about.

 

 

Use the Active Voice

 

Strong writing relies on the active voice. The active voice, as opposed to the passive voice, focuses on the action of the sentence rather than the reception of that action. Think of it as a call to action. The passive call to action reads, “Once you’ve called me I can book your appointment.” The active call to action reads, “Call me and I will gladly book you an appointment.”

 

When writing for business, use the active voice to make your writing stronger, clearer, and more effective.

 

 

Tidy Your Writing

 

In a strong sentence, every word is indispensable. Review your writing to remove unneccesary wording. Look for places where you have unneeded words. This includes places where you have phrases where a single word would suffice (“to be able to” can usually be replaced with “can”), places where you have empty adverbs like “tellingly” or “interestingly,” or places where words like “very,” “rather,” or “quite” weaken your point instead of strengthening it.

 

Find places where removing a word or a phrase doesn’t change your meaning. If a word doesn’t add anything, it doesn’t belong in your text.

 

For more on how to tidy your writing, read Molly’s blog “A Guide to Decluttering Your Writing, or The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” for tips on keeping your writing tidy and concise.

 

Keeping these tips in mind as you tackle your business writing will help you create a clear and meaningful piece of communication. Clear, professional, and accessible communications will speak to whoever it is you need to reach.

 

 

A Few Resources

 

Clear Language and Design Guideline” by Essential, THRSC, and the Government of Canada

 

The Ultimate List of Business Buzzwords and Their True Definition” by Baylor Cherry of Bluleadz

 

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice” by Catherine Traffis for Grammarly

 

Is It Possible to Be Unbiased When Writing?” by Kelly Creighton for ProofreadNOW.com

 

Molly Rookwood is a freelance editor and grammar-enthusiast based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She can be reached at mollyrookwood@gmail.com.

 

Beth is TEC’s senior editor and can be reached at editor@theeditingco.com.

If you have any questions about your writing project and need a bit more information, give us a call at 416-924-3856.