10 Ways to Improve your Business Writing

Communicating ideas to others is the goal of all written communications. Communicating quickly and clearly is especially important in business writing. Whether you are writing a one-page email memo or a 100-page sales report, take time to think about the content and structure of your document before starting.

The Handbook of Technical Communication lists three keys to good writing: Purpose, Audience, and Scope. Decide what you want your readers to know, believe, or be able to do when they have finished reading your document. That's the purpose. Consider your audience. Learn certain key facts about your readers, such as educational level, demographic position, cultural background, and needs relative to the subject. Scope is how much the document will contain; where it will begin and end. For longer documents, like the 100-page sales report, create a written outline before starting. But for shorter work, like the one-page email memo, simply create a brief mental outline.

Business Letters include acceptance letters, acknowledgement letters, adjustment letters, application letters, sales letters, and other correspondence. Business letters are usually written in a formal tone formal unless it\'s a letter to a well-known client.

1. Stick with tried and true rules. Always use the standard business letter format. Use company letterhead. Put the "To" address in the upper left right under the letterhead.  Make sure the salutation is correct. Don't be embarrassed by addressing someone as Ms. when he's really a Mr.  Make the body text short, direct and to the point. Conclude with your name. Don't forget to sign and date your letter.

2. In sales/marketing letters write to sell and to motivate.  Use the formula A.I.D.A.: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Get the reader's attention with an interesting first sentence.  Arouse the reader's interest in the product by describing the benefits and features. Create desire for the product by describing how the benefits will make the reader's life easier.  Finally, make a call to action by providing a phone number, web site or some other way for the reader to take the next step in the sales process. You will find yourself writing two types of memorandums in business: memos that inform, and memos that persuade.  The tone and structure of memos can be less formal than letters but should still follow certain rules.  Paper memos are almost non-existent. Most of today's memos are circulated via email.

3. If you're writing a memo to inform, stick to the key facts.  Write in a "newspaper" style where you put the most important information in the first two sentences.  Maybe youe trying to describe a business meeting, a business trip or other conference.  Describe what happened and who you met in a chronological order. If youe describing an upcoming event, give your reader the Who, What, Why, When and How.

 4. For persuasive memos, you can make your case by using logic coupled with emotion. Maybe you are trying to convince your boss to buy lunch for the office once a week. Use facts about how inexpensive it is and how easy it is to deliver, coupled with the emotion of how well liked the boss will be and how good it will make him feel to do something nice for the office.  Reports can include feasibility reports, investigative reports, progress reports, trip reports, and trouble reports. Reports tend to be longer than memos or letters and written in a more formal style. They don't need to be frightening. If you have all the data gathered together, reports can be easy.

5. Present your data in a logical order: chronological, geographical, or by division/department. Stick with the order throughout the report.

6. Reports are mostly filled with boring statistics. Graphs, charts, numbers, and short paragraphs explaining the data. Make the report easier to read by breaking up the data into small bites. Use short sentences.  Spice up the report with color graphs and charts. People enjoy looking at other people so drop in color photographs of people whenever possible. You can't make numbers sexy but a new format can make your boring report bearable. You may be called upon to write articles at some point in your career. Articles can include literature reviews, newsletter articles, or trade journal articles.

7. When writing for professional journals check with the specific journal editor for style rules. Some professional journals, like the journal of American Psychological Association, maintain entire style manuals with rules on spelling, grammar, use of jargon and other style considerations. Find out what the rules are and stick to them. Professional journals require a formal writing style.\n\n8. Newsletter writing is a much more informal, light writing style. Write the way you talk. Include quotes from a number of co-workers. Everyone enjoys seeing his or her name in print.Use an objective tone when writing instructions or procedures. The focus is on helping the reader accomplish some task or understand a concept. The writing style is pragmatic or "useful".

9. For greatest clarity when writing a technical procedure, perform the procedure yourself if possible. You will be able to describe the most efficient methods, pitfalls and shortcuts. If you are not able to perform the procedure, interview someone who has.

10. Don't bother writing to impress. Use plain English. Some procedures cover dangerous machinery or methods and need to be conveyed in the most simple, concise terms possible. Use the word investigate instead of the phrase conduct an investigation. Use evaluate instead of perform an evaluation. This is no time to impress or to be unclear.  After you have written a document, save it and put it aside for a while if possible.  For short memos or letters, put them aside for a few hours. For longer documents let them sit overnight. Read your documents later to see if they still communicate effectively. You will find small errors and ways to make your writing better if you put it aside and visit it again later. Don't forget to run your grammar and spell checker. Be sure to re-write at least once or twice. I re-wrote parts of this article four times. Very few writers (maybe none!) can produce a masterpiece on the first attempt.