Find the Concrete and Limit the Abstract to Improve Your Business Writing
If you want to improve your business writing, you need to figure out how to effectively focus on a single individual and simultaneously deliver a powerful, far-reaching message. One concrete example is almost always more effective than reams of high-flown prose and empty adjectives.
Make things real for your readers with these techniques:
- Tell stories and anecdotes. They must embody the idea you want to communicate, the nature of your organization, or your own value. An early television show about New York City used a slogan along the lines, “Eight million people, eight million stories.” A good story is always there, lurking, even in what may seem everyday or ordinary. But finding it can take some thinking and active looking.
- Use examples — and make them specific. Tell customers how your product was used or how your service helped solve a problem. Give them strong case studies of implementations that worked. Inside a company, tell change-resistant staff members how another department saved three hours by using the new ordering process, or how a shift in benefits can cut their out-of-pocket healthcare costs by 14 percent. And if you want people to use a new system, give them clear guidelines, perhaps a step-by-step process to follow.
- Use visuals to explain and break up the words. Readers who need to be captured and engaged generally shy away from uninterrupted type. Plenty of studies show that people remember visual lessons better, too. Look for ways to graphically present a trend, a change, a plan, a concept, or an example. In a way that suits your purpose and medium, incorporate photographs, illustrations, charts, graphs, and video. When you must deliver your message primarily in words, use graphic techniques such as headlines, subheads, bullets, typeface variations, and icons.
- Give readers a vision. Good leaders know that a vision is essential, whether they’re running companies or running for public office. You’re usually best off framing your message in big-picture terms that make people believe the future will be better in some way. Don’t make empty promises; instead, look for the broadest implications of an important communication and use details to back up that central concept and make it more real. Focusing a complicated document this way also makes it more organized and more memorable — both big advantages.
- Eliminate meaningless hyperbole. What’s the point of saying something like, “This is the most far-reaching, innovative, ground-breaking piece of industrial design ever conceived”? Yet business writing is jam-packed with empty, boring claims.
Today’s audiences come to everything you write already jaded, skeptical, and impatient. If you’re a service provider and describe what you do in words that can belong to anyone, in any profession, you fail. If you depend on a website and it takes viewers 20 seconds to figure out what you’re selling or how to make a purchase, you lose. If you’re sending out a press release that buries what’s interesting or important, you’re invisible. The solution: Know your point and make it fast!
Go for the evidence! Tell your audience in real terms what your idea, plan, or product accomplishes in ways they care about. Show them how
- The product improves people’s lives.
- The non-profit knows its money is helping people.
- The service solves problems.
- You personally helped your employer make more money or become more efficient.
Proof comes in many forms: statistics, data, images, testimonials, surveys, case histories, biographies, and video and audio clips. Figure out how to track your success and prove it. You end up with first-rate material to use in all your communication.