Business writing nowadays means first of all being straightforward and clear. The old saying comes to mind: simple is best and best is always simple!
This is even more important if English is your second language.
For international professionals, be aware that even though you might have been taught in your home country that sophisticated English is long and complex, this is not true.
The problem with long complicated sentences and structures is it creates more opportunities for mistakes. And for confusing the reader. We might all love and admire the beauty and subtlety of lengthy and complex English writing. But nowadays it’s a no-go!
Keep in mind how busy your reader is. They don’t have time to figure out what you’re trying to say. The burden is on you to communicate as clearly and precisely as possible.
So here are some golden rules based on many years of coaching international people in their English writing skills:
1. Put the “conclusion” first. Let the reader know what the main takeaway or ‘executive summary’ is at the beginning. Don’t put it at the end of the document. In many other cultures, the main point comes at the end after we give the context and background.
There’s elegance and beauty in this approach. However, if you do it in English, you may cause confusion and frustration in the reader.
Many PM’s and supervisors have told me: “I had to dig through the report to understand what it was about. It’s a pain in the *** and it wastes my time!”
So please start with the “conclusion and then give them the supporting detail and context. Think of it like a headline on a newspaper….
2.Be concise and clear. Use short sentences and structures. This goes back to my first point. With long sentences come more grammatical tangles and mistakes.
3.Avoid a casual, conversational tone. Use business appropriate language. This can vary from industry to industry. But in general try not to sound like you’re talking to your buddy or your favorite pet.
3.Figure out what your message is BEFORE you write. This seems obvious, but it’s critical that you hone in on specificity. Think of your audience. What it their agenda? What do they need to know? More importantly, what do they NOT need to know?
This simple consideration can show your empathy and understanding of their position and make them more open to your message!
4.Be concrete. Do not repeat the same ideas over and over. Add increasing levels of detail as you dive deeper into the topic. Use details as support and make them as specific as you can.
5.Eliminate vague or unnecessary words. Anything that doesn’t contribute to the clear understanding of your message should be tossed. Look for the simplest expression without sacrificing the meaning.
One way to think of this is to try:
Converting sentences into clauses.
Clauses into phrases.
Phrases into words.
6.Avoid passive voice if you can. Again this depends on the industry, but in general everyone considers it to be the best approach!
7.Use parallel structure for lists and bullets. Gerunds, infinitive phrases, nouns, noun clauses. Don’t mix and match structures in your bullet points.
9.And one more time. Keep the reader’s perspective, agenda, priorities, and knowledge in mind! What do they need to know? What do they not need to know?