While everything about the way we do business has changed in the last few years, most business writers tend to write the way they always have. They use the language, the style and the tone they believe sounds business-like. Or they use the language, the style and the tone their manager believes sounds business-like. The problem is, unless you are a new MBA grad, it is likely you are woefully out of date. Worse yet, writing the way you always have is bad for business.
Rule 1: Use simple language
Of course you’ve heard that before, but it’s very possible you don’t believe it. Not really. Yet it is a hard and fast rule, whether you are writing down, across or up. It is always true–even for a mega-million-dollar proposal.
Perhaps you think you need big words to show readers you are well educated. Or jargon to demonstrate your expertise. Or long words to sound impressive. You may be the most conversational person on the planet, but when it comes to clicking those keys, you become a whole other person–using self-conscious and condescending language–trying too hard to “make it sound good.”
Consider this. When President Kennedy spoke his immortal lines, he did not say: Eschew inquiry in regards to utilizing your country’s resources for personal assistance. He simply said: Ask not what your country can do for you. When Dr. King gave his most famous speech, he did not say: I possess a reverie. He said: I have a dream. When Churchill spoke to his countrymen in their hour of peril, he did not say: We intend to engage the enemy in battle on the shores and coastline. He said: We shall fight them on the beaches.
These were brilliant, articulate men who inspired generations and understood the value of simple, clear, conversational language. Learn from the greats. Be brilliant and do what brilliant orators do. Use the shortest, crispest word you can find to get your message across.
Just yesterday, a LinkedIn post began, “I desire to discover…” Nobody talks like that. Why write like that?
Rule 2: Start with the reader
If you want a positive response, start with your reader–not with you. Don’t open with, “Company XYZ is proud to announce…” Who cares? Do not begin with an “I” statement when a “you” statement will make your reader sit up and pay attention. The truth is, there is nothing more important to me than me. And if you start with me, I will read on.
Rule 3: Write with warmth
Your business letter or e-mail is a conversation. True, it is one way, but it is a conversation nonetheless.
Good written correspondence sounds like a friend talking. It is warm, friendly and enthusiastic. Eliminate the cold and trite phrases that get in the way of good conversation–phrases like “pursuant to the abovementioned matter” and “as per our conversation” or “enclosed please find.” Delete the jargon, the clichés and the market-speak that make you sound pretentious or distant. Cut the excess business verbiage. Write with warmth and your reader will respond warmly.
Rule 4: Keep it brief
Readers need to know only what they need to know. Nothing more. As far as your reader is concerned, everything extra is garbage.
If you think I might be interested in some additional detail, attach it–and tell me that’s what you have done. Do not compel me to plod through pages of “stuff” just because you couldn’t be bothered paying attention to my needs; I will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
Rule 5: Close with a call for action
A call for action tells the reader exactly what should happen next; it does not make the reader guess. “I hope the above has been helpful,” is not at all helpful. Will you call me? Should I call you? Tell me what to do and I will do it. Tell me when I can expect to hear from you and I will wait. Amazing but true.
Writing for today’s business reader is not difficult. It requires an understanding of the way people read and attention to the elements that trigger a positive response. And now you have it. Follow these five rules and write like a pro.