Even if you rely on services of a professional freelance writer, you still have to write in some capacity, and probably on a daily basis.
Whether you have to put together a newsletter, business email or a press release, it can be frustrating thinking about sentence form, style and grammar, on top of all those other tasks that have to be done.
To learn how to strengthen your business narrative and improve results when communicating with stakeholders follow the tips outlined below.
- Don’t bury important bits
“So, I woke up, went to work, hit the gym, and when I got home, I received a phone call that I won the lottery.”
Said no lottery winner to his family – ever.
A more realistic scenario would be as follows:
“I won the lottery!!!”
If this were you, I am sure you wouldn’t recount the chronological order of the day’s events leading up to your win either. Writing up an effective email or a communications strategy is no different. In most cases, go with the inverted pyramid of importance and place the most important point or item right at the top.
Remember that this rule may not apply in blogs and editorials where you might opt for a slow and effective build-up. Still, for day-to-day communications the best approach is to open with key items from your narrative.
- Go for active language over passive
When you use a neutral subject such as “one,” you are making it difficult for readers to relate to the content of your text. Think about it, the topic you are writing about is not about them: instead, it is about some vague, neutral person. Sadly, this practice is rampant in technical documents. I cannot emphasize this enough – don’t be afraid to address the audience.
Wiping out the subject in your sentence is another example of a passive voice:
“The objective was reached on time.” This sentence lacks clarity because we are not told who reached the objective. A more appropriate approach would be as follows:
“Our team has reached the objective.” Notice that the active voice provides more focus and vigour.
- Less is more
Think of words as gold coins that you must use as sparingly as possible. Relying on convoluted, flowery language will deter readers from reading your text, especially in our climate of priority management and information overload. When you embellish your sentences for the sake of aesthetics alone, you are concealing the heartbeat of your story. In other words, you are cluttering your rhetoric and confusing the reader.
Always remember that the most compelling arguments are clear and concise.
- Think about what you want to say
When I find myself getting blocked over a sentence or a paragraph, it is more than likely that I haven’t mapped out what I am trying to say. Perhaps I haven’t conducted enough research, or dedicated sufficient time to thinking about what I really think about the topic.
Good news is that there are effective exercises to beat this type of writer’s block. My favourite exercise is to imagine describing the topic at hand to my 85-year-old grandmother. Adopting this tool will induce you to summarize it in as fewer words as possible. Once you have summed it up, you will find that what you have actually done is outlined your argument, minus all the irrelevant details. Then all you will have to do is type it up.
- Take a break
Putting together an effective business document that lures readers and makes an impact can be mentally taxing, especially working on a technical document that requires lots of surgical inspection and complex terminology. Now that I work from home, I take a break by going skating, doing strength-training exercises or cooking. But when I worked in the office I found that popping out for a coffee with coworkers or taking a walk around the building, even in cold weather, always cleared the traffic jam in my head.
Good writing is exhausting that only looks deceptively simple.
- Be authentic
Avoid using phrases routinely found in texts online and print. Cliché metaphors such as “Water off a duck’s back” and “Dead as a door knob,” have become so predictable that they evoke no emotional reaction from readers. And you don’t want to desensitize your readers. You want to engage and inspire them, and win them over to your side. I would sooner read a lean copy full of raw facts than one peppered with useless phrases and strained creativity. As you get used to writing without these verbal aids, it will become easier for you to put thoughts in a more original context.
- Simplify where possible
As my former news editor used to say, “You don’t extricate yourself from a web of sleep – you wake up.” Similar rules apply in business communication. Depending on your audience, it is generally considered a good idea to convert any technical, mechanical, industrial or scientific terminology into easy-to-understand language. For example, there is no point in saying “at that point in time,” when a simple “now” or “then” will do just fine. Figures of speech like this one add nothing to the quality of your argument, they merely take up real estate. This may be more challenging in technical documents but even that genre can be made to sound less complicated and more user-friendly.