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Remember the old days when people wrote to impress others rather than to communicate with them? Many writers used formal language and multi-syllable words that no one ever said out loud (like “notwithstanding” and “heretofore”). Lawyers still do this so you’ll have to hire them to translate legal stuff.
But most of us have evolved! Today’s business writing style is less formal and far better. Clarity and brevity must take priority in our fast-paced, information-overloaded world.
Here are five tips for better business writing:
- Write below the 8th-grade level. Some writers worry that this may insult the intelligence of their readers. But in reality, no one ever complains that something is too easy to understand! Studies show that writing below the 8th-grade level achieves the best results. It’s not that your readers are dumb; they just don’t have time to process complicated messages.
Note– Here’s how to check the readability of your writing when using MS Word: Under “Tools” click “Options” and then “Spelling & Grammar.” Select the “Check grammar with spelling” box and the “Show readability statistics” box then click “OK.” The next time you complete a spell check, it will display information about the reading level. If the “Flesch-Kincaid grade level” is above 8, edit your document to make it easier to understand.
- Get to the point immediately. As a general rule, state the reason for your correspondence in the first sentence.
Good:“We’ve already filled the position for which you applied.”
Bad: “We wish to thank you for inquiring about employment opportunities at Joe’s Networking, Inc. We are an equal-opportunity employer and are always looking for talented individuals to join our team. Your experience and educational background are truly impressive. Unfortunately, the position for which you applied has already been filled and we are therefore no longer accepting applications.”
- Get active (use active voice, not passive). It not only burns more calories, it clarifies your writing and gives it more impact!
Good:“We like your ideas and will implement them by the end of the year.”
Bad: “The ideas you proposed have been reviewed and found to be acceptable and appropriate. An implementation schedule has been developed with the goal of being completed by the end of the year.”
- Use fewer words. People are busy; be brief!
Good:“We will not tolerate sexual harassment. Please read the attached policy. Call Mr. Write if you have questions.”
Bad: “This is to inform all employees that sexual harassment of any kind will not be tolerated under any circumstances by this organization. Be advised that, in order to clarify the company position on this subject, the attached policy has been developed and provided for your reference. Your cooperation in this important matter is appreciated. Please do not hesitate to contact Mr. Wright if he can be of further assistance or provide you with additional information about this issue.”
- Include a clear call to action. If you are writing for a purpose other than to inform, tell your readers exactly what you want them to do.
Good: “Please sign the attached form in Block 10 and return it to me by May 1st.”
Bad: “It is our desire to receive an indication of your concurrence as soon as possible.”
Here’s a bonus tip:
- Do not repeat numbers. Spelling out numbers and then repeating them as digits within parentheses is redundant and unnecessary. Use this basic rule: less than 10 or beginning a sentence, spell it out; more than 10, use digits. Do NOT do both!
Good: “We collected 13 samples.”
Bad: “Thirteen (13) samples were collected.”
In summary, it is recommended that individuals who prepare written business correspondence follow a format and style similar to that of their verbal communications.
My name is David Lieberman. I work as the president of Bestforacar.com. As one of the founding members of Bestforacar.com, I have helped the company from its initial concept into the leading digital automotive marketplace. Also, I am a technology investor and advisor, helping companies and entrepreneurs with their projects and sites.