Three Cs for Better Business Writing
Good writing for business matters–it’s our good old brown M&M rule. Business writing is all about presentation, but for a lot of people it’s an afterthought. You take care with your behavior and your appearance when you’re at work, right? Well, your writing should be treated with the same attention to detail. You don’t roll into a meeting twenty minutes late, wearing ripped jeans and a stained shirt (we hope). You show up ten minutes early, looking like the class act that you are. Businesses that know how to package themselves know that sometimes it’s important to put on a tie, shine your shoes and mind your Ps and Qs. Here are three essential rules to get you started on the road to better business writing.
1. Be Consistent
We tend to think of grammar, spelling and style as having hard-and-fast rules, but there is actually quite a bit of leeway in English, especially when you’re writing branded pieces for your business. For example, when we write the eblasts for our friends at the 100 Club, they like to have the word “member” capitalized. That’s not standard style, but it’s how they’ve branded themselves. The important thing is that you capitalize Member every time you mention it. The same thing goes for spelling–when it comes to words with more than one possible spelling (theater and theatre, for example) just pick one and stick with it. If you’re going to use Oxford commas (also known as the serial comma), use them throughout the piece of writing. Just as you keep your branding consistent graphically, you should keep it consistent verbally.
2. Be Concise
So much business writing is muddied by overly descriptive language. Don’t use three adjectives where one will work, and don’t use a ten-dollar word where you can use a nickel one. It’s better to carefully select strong, specific action words than to pile on extras in an attempt to make your point. People have short attention spans, and respond better to clear, concise writing. Remember your high school English teacher writing “WC” for “word choice” on your essays? She did that because word choice matters. Precise language is one of the most important qualities of good business writing. Wondering if that new proposal you wrote is overly wordy? Here’s what to do: Give your piece to a friend or co-worker and have him or her read it out loud (yeah, it’s embarrassing, but it works). If your writing is blather, you’ll be able to tell. All those places where your friend trips up, has to read the sentence twice to figure out what it means, or can’t even pronounce the words are places you need to fix.
3. Be Cooperative
Back to that awkward thing about having a colleague read your work out loud–it really works. So does getting another person to proofread your important pieces of writing before you send them off to current or prospective clients. This should be part of your workflow especially when you’re working on projects for clients: a second (or third) pair of eyes is always important. The longer you work on a piece of writing, the harder it becomes to spot mistakes in your own work, so recruit an eagle-eyed friend to take a peek at it before you send it off.
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