Back to Menu
    The Vault lock icon
    Level 2
    Classified Full Access

    For the business owner ready to implement key strategies and concepts with the right guidance and support.

    Improve Your Business Writing in 6 Easy Steps
    The Vault

    Improve Your Business Writing in 6 Easy Steps

    October 2016

    Even if you don’t maintain a blog or publish articles regularly in professional journals, you write more than you think you do.  Proposals to clients, memos, a constant flow of emails: they all add up to a significant amount of writing. Are you doing it well?  Do you even care? (Hint: You should.)

    If you’re like most business owners, you’re stretched pretty thin.  Your time is limited and the thought of devoting what little bit you have to improving your writing just seems frivolous.  But good writing is a key part of making money.  Knowing how to create interesting and intelligent sentences sets you apart from colleagues and competition, establishing respect for your opinions and allowing you to win more business.  You simply must write well to be taken seriously.

    Good writers are not born.  They’re made.  Writing is a skill you cultivate, and practice makes perfect.  Here are a few simple tips to get you started:

    1. Make an outline.

    Before you put your fingers on the keyboard, consider what you want to say and organize your thoughts in a rough outline.  It’s nearly impossible to work out your thoughts as you’re writing your actual document, and trying do so often leaves your writing unstructured, repetitive, and lacking direction.  Take a step back to collect and organize your thoughts, and then get to work.

    1. Don’t start at the beginning.

    Finding the right first words can be difficult.  That’s why reporters don’t write their headlines while on assignment and novelists don’t sit and agonize over what first words will best capture their audience’s attention.  No, they just start writing, wherever they can.  The introduction is usually written last, because good writers know it’s actually the most important part.  Readers may not judge a book by its cover, but they do often judge it by the its title, its first paragraph, or even the summary on the back cover. So don’t be in a rush to get through the introduction.  When the entire document has taken shape, go back and write the beginning.  You’ll be in a better position to capture your audience.

    1. Get to the point -- fast.

    While we’re on the topic of introductions, keep them short.  In fact, forget everything (well, almost everything) your English teacher taught you about writing style and structure.  Lengthy, flowery introductions followed by paragraphs with your message buried deep within them is business writing suicide.  Your audience here is impatient.  They are typically reading your message on a computer screen while thinking of 3 three other things.  Present your main idea quickly and succinctly.  Acquire a knack for summarizing.

    1. Keep it concise.

    In The Elements of Style, one of the most definitive texts on all elements of English language style, usage, and composition, William Strunk Jr. explains that vigorous writing is concise.  A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, just as a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.  In other words, cut the fat.

    This doesn’t mean that the writer should make all of his sentences short!  Rather, it means that he should aim to make every word count.  Readers tune out the moment they feel a piece of writing is verbose. So don’t use three words when one would do.  For example, there’s no need to say “a general consensus of opinion” because “consensus” by itself does the job.  

    As you write, read your piece through critical eyes, and cut extraneous words.  Here are a few rules:

    • In general, avoid prepositional phrases.  Point of view should be rewritten as viewpoint.
    • Utilize action verbs instead of -ion words.  Provided compensation for should be rewritten as compensated.
    • Use contractions.  Again, forget your English teacher’s rules.  Write don’t instead of do not, we’re instead of we are.
    • Replace auxiliary verbs (is, am, are, was, were) with strong verbs.  Is indicative of should be replaced with indicates.
    • Watch your use of adverbs.  Words that end in -ly aim to intensify but tend to add little meaning.  “I was really shocked,” vs. “I was mortified.”  Which one packs more of a punch? The second sentence contains no adverbs, but paints a more vivid picture.
    • Skip there is and there are.  Those phrases are passive pairings which make your writing look lazy.  “There are many cockroaches in my home,” is better written, “Cockroaches have infiltrated every corner of my house.” And, “There are lots of kids who think Santa is real,” is better written, “Children worldwide believe in Santa.”

    Basically, if you can cut a word or phrase, cut it.

    1. Avoid buzzwords

    We’ve covered this before, but it’s worth mentioning again.  Business writing is full of industry-specific buzzwords and acronyms. Though occasionally helpful as shorthand, they more often indicate lazy or cluttered thinking. Throw in too many, and you’ll lose your reader completely.  Opt for clear, concise writing and avoid the fancy  words and catchphrases.

    1. Practice, practice, practice.

    Writing is a skill which only improves with practice.  Don’t argue that you can’t write.  You can as long as you devote the time to it.

    Immerse yourself in well-written material every day, paying particular attention to word choice, sentence structure, and flow. The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and Inc. Magazine are strong models to follow, among others.  Invest in a guide to style and grammar for reference, and build time into your schedule for editing and revising.  

    Becoming a better writer won’t happen quickly, but it’s time well spent.  Good writers rise to the top of any organization.  Get going!


    You may also be interested in

    Stay connected

    Sign up for our updates.

    We have a pretty great podcast & insights that dig into issues you really care about.