Cheat Sheet

Business Writing For Dummies (UK Edition)

From Business Writing For Dummies by Natalie Canavor

Whether you’re a manager, an entrepreneur, or a recent graduate, the ability to write well is a skill you can’t afford to be without - particularly in the world of business. This handy Cheat Sheet helps ensure your business writing is fit for purpose, and gives you tips on international communication and online content creation for your business.

Bringing Your Business Writing into the 21st Century

In business you succeed by achieving your goals. Tailor your business writing so it works in the same way and achieves what you want it to. In order to create successful business communication, be sure your writing is:

  • Clear and simple. Except for technical material directed at specialists, no subject matter or idea is so complex that you cannot express it in clear, simple language. You automatically move forward a step by accepting this basic premise and practicing it.

  • Conversational. Business writing is reader-friendly and accessible, far closer to spoken language than the more formal and traditional style. It may even come across as casual or spontaneous. This quality, however, doesn’t give you a free pass on grammar, punctuation, and the other technicalities.

  • Correct. Noticeable mistakes interfere with your reader’s ability to understand you. Further, in today’s competitive world, careless writing deducts points you can’t afford to lose. People judge you by every piece of writing you create, and you need to live up to your best self. However, good contemporary writing allows substantial leeway in observing grammatical niceties.

  • Persuasive. When you dig beneath the surface, most messages and documents ask something of the reader. This request may be minor (‘Meet me at Restaurant X at 4’to major (‘Please fund this proposal; a million will do’). Even when you’re just asking for or providing information, frame your message to suit your reader’s viewpoint.

Business Writing to Reach Your Audience

Reaching business people in their own terms is not rocket science. It’s often about dollars and cents. Use this knowledge to make your core message more powerful and look for ways in your writing to show that you can:

  • Increase revenue and profitability: Grow market share, retain customers, find new markets and reach a wider audience.

  • Cut costs and streamline: Reduce expenses, increase efficiency, cut redundancies, reduce mistakes, redeploy staff, reduce turnover and minimize returns.

  • Improve positioning: Build the client’s or product’s cachet, improve public or customer perception, raise company profile, minimize complaints and increase customer satisfaction.

  • Change behavior: Train staff to work, team, or communicate better, promote adoption of organization’s core mission and values and shift unproductive systems and behavior to productive ones.

Writing for Your Business Online: Communicating Credibility

If you use the Internet to promote yourself or a business, the way you use the media must convey that you’re authoritative, knowledgeable, trustworthy, reliable, responsive and open to input. Your audience will look for clues to your credibility. Here are some tips for establishing their trust:

  • Write your best, and meticulously edit and proofread.

  • Deliver everything you promise - or better, over-deliver.

  • Include only verified information and keep links updated.

  • Use technical language sparingly and only as audience-appropriate.

  • Maintain a positive upbeat tone.

  • Provide clear easily found contact information and briefly identify your credentials.

  • Invite input in specific ways, and respond to it.

And never:

  • Criticize anyone on a personal level.

  • Conduct personal arguments online.

  • Reveal anything about yourself you don’t want the world to know.

  • Use offensive language or tone.

  • Use Internet venues for blatant self-promotion unless it’s clearly appropriate to the specific medium. A website, for example, can and should include product information and a purchasing pathway. A Facebook business page can focus on a business. But promotional material is not what readers look for in blogs, tweets, and most social media.

Adapting Your Business Writing for Global English

Most readers who speak English as a second (or third or fourth) language do so in the same basic way. Here are some guidelines to use when creating your message to ensure it is understood by your international audience:

  • Use short, simple, basic sentences. Avoid multi-clause structures.

  • Keep paragraphs short so there is plenty of breathing space between them. Dense pages look difficult to read.

  • Avoid contractions. For example, write do not rather than don’t.

  • Keep to short basic words, but bear in mind that many short words in English have multiple meanings and may be used as nouns as well as verbs. Run, for example, can be either. Look has a number of meanings.

  • Omit idioms, slang and colloquialisms that overseas readers are unlikely to understand. These words and phrases are rampant in written and spoken English, so develop an awareness of those you tend to use and find substitute wording.

  • Avoid most metaphors, especially those based on sports that other countries don’t understand and don’t find interesting - for example, baseball and cricket.

  • Avoid passive tense and indirect phrasing as much as possible. ‘Our legal office prepared the contract’ is better than ‘The contract has been prepared by our legal office.’

  • Minimize ‘stately’ words such as those that end in ‘ion and ‘ment, which produce awkward wordy constructions. For example, ‘The accomplishment of the building’s construction is planned for June’ is better said as, ‘We plan to finish the building in June.’

  • Don’t abbreviate words, including abbreviations borrowed from texting. Readers may not understand or like them.

  • Don’t use buzzwords and intra-company or industry insider acronyms and language.

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