by Lesley-Anne Longo
Published at 2020-06-30
Writing in a business environment can often be tricky, but throw in the uncertain times of a global pandemic and a rapidly changing market? Things just got a lot trickier.
However, there are simple tips you can remember to ensure your writing is always clear and concise and that can make your professional life easier. When your business communications are well-explained and easy to understand, your clients and your employees will benefit.
In this week’s blog, we’ll review four tips to help you improve your business writing.
This tip applies to all types of writing: who will be reading your writing? Remember: a message aimed at everyone often appeals to no one in particular. To communicate in an effective way, keep your readers (or audience) in mind. If you’re writing a press release, who will be reading it? What language might help them understand what you’re saying, or entice them to do something you want them to do? If you’re writing a memo to your employees, will they all be familiar with any concepts or news you’re mentioning, or will you need to add more explanation?
Jargon is a term that describes special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession, industry, or group, and that are difficult for others outside that profession to understand. Sometimes writers might use jargon inadvertently, especially if the term is so commonplace to them that they forget other readers might not have the same level of understanding. Or, writers may attempt to use jargon as a way to impress readers by using technical and complicated terms.
In some industries, it’s just not possible (or practical) to avoid using some jargon when writing, but if you’re writing for an audience who might not be familiar with the ins and outs of your industry or business, it’s important to keep that reality in mind.
The best way to avoid the use of jargon is to put yourself in the reader’s shoes — or, as you might otherwise say…know your audience! When in doubt, add a definition or use a more common alternative for a term that might be confusing.
For more on how to avoid jargon and choose words that influence and aspire, check out Bart Egnal’s advice on Huffpost.
First, you may remember that a noun is a word that names a person, place, or thing. However, sometimes nouns can also be used to describe other nouns, for example, “television remote” or “car manual.” In this usage, the first noun gives us more information about the second noun — the remote for the television, or the manual for the car.
Noun strings can occur in business writing when writers use several nouns in a row as modifiers for each other. This excellent example is from Error-Free Writing: “My assistant borrowed the invoice payment system software modification manual.”
In this example, there are five modifiers that are piled on top of each other before the final noun, manual. When this type of pile-up happens, it makes it very difficult to tease out which nouns are modifying what.
The good news is that noun strings can easily be avoided simply by rearranging the sentence: “My assistant borrowed the software modification manual for the invoice payment system.”
Getting rid of noun strings can mean longer sentences, but if choosing between a longer sentence and clarity, or a shorter sentence and confusion, go for clarity.
Short sentences and paragraphs have a better chance of keeping your reader’s attention. This is especially important when writing emails and other on-screen communications. Keeping your prose tight and concise will help you say what you need to say effectively and quickly.
Some ways you can help achieve this is to keep your text active, not passive: say “we decided to” and not “we made the decision to.” Similarly, avoid using longer phrases like “we are in the process of upgrading” when you could simply say “we are upgrading.”
Keep out unnecessary adjectives as well — examples include “brand new innovation” or “serious crisis.” If you think about it, you’ll realize that by definition, all innovations are new, and all crises are serious.
To get the major points across, bold certain information (such as deadlines), use bullet lists to make comprehension easy for your readers, and use subheads to help them map out what you’re saying.
Keep the most important information at the top of the page, then add details or expand on the topic once the most important information has been clearly stated.
Clear communication is always important in business and professional writing. So, remember to keep it simple and think of the end user: your readers. Tell them what they need to know, use language that is free of jargon, write in short and clear sentences, and keep it tight and focused. In this way, your message will be understood and your writing will stand out in the crowd.
For more business writing tips, check out these other TEC blogs:
Editing Business Writing for Precision and Clarity
How to Improve Informal Writing in Business Emails
And remember to give us a call if you need assistance in finalizing your documents — 416-924-3856.