8/28/16 • Five Tips For Better Business Writing

As published by The Gaston Gazette:

(8/28/16) BELMONT, N.C. – As technology zooms full-speed ahead, the ability to write well is quickly becoming a lost art. Thoughtful letter-writing in both our business and personal lives is benched in favor of speedy texts and emails. Our vocabulary and writing skills are replaced by acronyms, memes, emoticons and “chatspeak.” That’s fine for your personal communications, but not for business. Truth is, the ability to write clear, concise and error-free communications is critical in nearly every industry. Ignore this vital skill to your detriment. Sure, your recipient may not know the difference between “effect” and “affect,” but rest assured she’ll notice when you make a mistake in your correspondence. And, unfortunately, she’ll form a negative perception about it.

Kara Blackburn, a senior lecturer in managerial communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management, says, “You can have all the great ideas in the world and if you can’t communicate, nobody will hear them.” In light of this truth, here are five tips to help you communicate effectively and be heard by all:

  • Just say “no” to jargon. Using trendy buzzwords and jargon make some people feel like they’re in the cool club. “We’ll incentivize the team to move the needle forward and circle back mañana.” Our eyes tend to glaze right over jargon because it so rarely makes sense. It’s always better to use real, meaningful words to make your point intelligently. “We’ll inspire the team to be successful and have a follow-up meeting tomorrow.” There’s no need to sound hip and up-to-date on all the new buzzwords; your reader will appreciate and better comprehend the straightforward approach.
  • Mind your tone. How many times have you received a text or email that could be construed as abrupt or rude in tone? The message may have been something as simple as “No” or “Why did you do that?” But depending on the thread of the conversation, the personalities involved or the context of the correspondence, an innocuous phrase can be easily misinterpreted into “Why did you do that (you idiot)?” Put yourself in the shoes of your recipient. Would you find your message abrasive? To soften your tone, especially when it really is bad news, try using words like “situation” instead of “problem,” or “we prefer” instead of “you must.” We spend so much time today reading and replying to texts and emails that it’s easy to sound brief and brusque. Mind your tone to achieve more effective communication and greater collaboration.
  • Get the grammar right. We realize not everyone got an “A” in English. However, if you’re the department manager who doesn’t understand subject-verb agreement – whereas most of your employees do – you run the risk of sounding … well … dumb. In the Harvard Business Review, Kyle Wiens (Co-Founder and CEO of iFixit) has an article titled, “I Won’t Hire Anyone Who Uses Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.” He sums up the importance of proper grammar best: “Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in emails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re.” If grammar isn’t your best attribute, hire a freelance proofreader or have a grammatically reliable employee review your work. And don’t feel bad, even Einstein had trouble with grammar.
  • Less is more. Business writing isn’t a romance or Michener novel. To make your message more effective, eliminate excessive wording and flowery language. Instead of saying, “The tenuous situation at hand requires….,” try instead, “The reorganization requires….” The less-is-more rule also applies to the use of big words, sometimes called $10-words, designed to make you sound more educated. Why say “utilize” when “use” means the same thing? “Allocution” versus “speech”? Your objective is to get your message across in a clear and concise way to your target audience. Be brief, direct and polite … and keep it simple. Extra tip: Use exclamation points sparingly.
  • Get to the point. Quickly. If your main point isn’t in the first paragraph of your correspondence – or first line if it’s a text message – it should be. If it’s not there, rewrite it. Blackburn points out, “Simplicity doesn’t mean simplicity of thought. Start by asking yourself what you want the person to do as a result of this email. Just asking yourself that question can make your communication much clearer.” Instant information and gratification are hallmarks of our high-tech times, and they apply to your business writing, too. As more and more employees are strapped for time and bombarded with messages, it’s more important than ever to get to the point quickly.

As you stare at a blank page on your computer screen and try to incorporate the right tone, no jargon, good grammar, clarity and brevity all at once, remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. Writing is a skill, and like most skills, it takes practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll become. In an era when truly effective communication abilities are beginning to wane, your well-tuned writing could distinguish you from the pack. Grow that talent and grow equally in value.

Lyerly Agency’s President and CEO Elaine Lyerly and Executive Vice President and COO Melia Lyerly share their 35+ years of marketing, advertising, public relations and brand strategy experience with readers each month in a column published by The Gaston Gazette.