Whether you are heavily immersed in the business world or looking to land your first job through an effective cover letter, strong writing skills can benefit you. There are several important guidelines to consider when writing for business. In this post, we will address three keys to help you make a good impression on your reader.
I used to think that big words typically meant better writing. Then, I took a business writing course, and my perspective changed. Have you ever read a document (perhaps a lease) that used so many long words that it was hard to understand? This type of writing can sound intentionally misleading. Business writing is not about showing off the extent of your vocabulary, it’s about communicating effectively. You want to use words that clearly communicate your point and are easy for your reader to understand.
The business world is a fast-paced environment. Whether it be a memo, report, email, or cover letter, your writing should be effortless to read by your intended recipient. Bosses don’t want to read and re-read a document, attempting to decipher its true meaning. I’ve heard that in many cases, if a document is too long, people skim it or disregard it completely.
Along with effective word choices, concise sentences help bring clarity to your business writing. Avoid long, run-on sentences as they are difficult to understand. If you need to use the same conjunction more than once in a sentence, it’s probably too long. Some common conjunctions that apply to this rule are: and, but, for, yet, and so.
When your sentences get too long, they become confusing. After deciphering all of the commas, or lack thereof, it can take several reads to determine what the document is saying. Make it easy on your reader and be concise. If you find yourself writing an extra-long sentence, consider breaking it into two sentences. Not only will this help make your writing easier to understand, but it will be faster to read.
When you start a sentence, begin with something the reader already knows. Start with old information, then introduce something new at the end of the sentence. After you present new information, it becomes “old” for use in future sentences.
Let’s say I am writing a proposal for a singing postage stamp. My reader knows I am working on improving postage stamps to increase sales among young adults, but he doesn’t know my idea.
“The singing postage stamp will be a hit among young adults. Musical postage is popular and singing stamps will be part of that category.”
If you are my reader, you might be saying, “What in the world are you talking about? What singing postage stamps?” It’s a confusing start to my proposal.
“To improve the postage stamp, I have designed the first singing model. Singing postage stamps will be classified as musical postage. According to __________ study, musical postage is the most popular method of sending mail among young adults.”
Let’s break this down.
[To improve the postage stamp] = OLD, [I have designed the first singing model] = NEW.
[Singing postage stamps] = OLD [will be classified as musical postage] = NEW.
According to __________ study, [musical postage] = OLD is the [most popular method of sending mail among young adults] = NEW.
It might not always be appropriate in your writing to use old to new in every sentence. There may be times when you start with several sentences of old information before presenting new information in your document. To follow this guideline, remember to start with what your reader knows and move forward. If you present new information that is disconnected from your previous content, you may confuse your reader.
Before writing your first sentence, ask yourself: “What does my reader already know about this topic or assignment?” Start there and move forward.
Did one of your teachers ever give you essay questions? Perhaps that teacher, like many of mine, told you to repeat the question at the beginning of your response.
Question: “What is the most difficult challenge that Romeo faces in his quest for love?”
Response: “The most difficult challenge that Romeo faces in his quest for love is…”
This type of response is following the old-to-new guideline. It is going from a question that the teacher already knows (“old”) to my answer (“new”).
Next time you write an important document, remember these three keys: be clear, be concise, and go from old to new information. Business writing can be a challenge, but you can succeed!