10 TIPS: Improve Your Business Writing Skills
Updated: Mar 23
What is business writing?
Simply put, business writing is the art of communicating with your work colleagues in an appropriate style, tone and language. The basics are obvious. One doesn’t invite a group of vice presidents for lunch by sending a text message asking: “Hey, wanna grab a sandwich?” On the other hand, it’s completed overwrought to email: “Good morning. May I request the immense pleasure of your esteemed company in the corporate dining room just before the clock strikes noon?” Yikes.
No one is a perfect writer. We all have bad habits. Some people bemoan their tendencies to overwrite, whereas others know they use flowery language ... the list continues. How does one avoid that instant regret after clicking ‘send’? Here are 10 basic tips to help you produce clear, efficient, written business communication.
1) Use Active Voice
Writing in passive voice adds unnecessary words to your business writing. It also removes a sense of urgency from the text.
Do: He saw the cat run.
Don’t: He has been seeing the cat run.
The first sentence reads well and is to the point. The second? Well, it sounds like someone’s stuffing in words simply to boost word count. It also reads like the writer lacks confidence.
2) Avoid Verbosity
No one wants to wade through a never-ending sea of words. There’s nothing wrong with a long, rambling first draft; many people write that way simply to get ideas onto screen or paper. However, what elevates good business writing is a well-edited final draft. Polished writing likely undergoes five or six drafts (yes, that many) before it’s ready to send.
Do: Can we please meet tomorrow afternoon to discuss this project’s budget?
Don’t: I’m not quite clear on the figures in Tables 1, 4 and 9. Perhaps there are some errors. On the other hand, maybe we need to get other departments involved. I’m not sure how to proceed. Can we discuss sometime over the next little while?
3) Remember Business Writing isn’t Texting
It’s hard to justify a business email packed with more emojis than words. Emojis are best used sparingly, if at all, in formal business communications. Also, ensure you spell words in full. For example, it’s ‘great’ not ‘GR8’.
4) Check for Typos
Try your best to produce error-free work. Also, know that everyone’s human and everyone makes mistakes. If you make a mistake, own it. Correct published materials using the protocol required by your business guidelines and regulations. Move on and do a better job next time.
5) Avoid Total Reliance on Software Grammar Checkers
Ever seen mistakes with your/you’re? How about its/it’s? Understand these basic grammatical concepts instead of exclusively relying on software. How do you learn? Take a writing course. Read extensively in a wide array of genres, focusing on books written by authors with a wonderful command of the language. Software can assist, but don’t make it the only editing tool at your disposal; computers make mistakes and some are cringeworthy.
6) Avoid TYPING IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE YOU ARE SHOUTING
I once received a three-paragraph email entirely written in capital letters. It was brutal to read. Writing in all capitals also looks super aggressive. While capital letters are strong when used for occasional emphasis, they rapidly turn annoying when overused.
On a somewhat related note, avoid excessive exclamation marks. Here’s why:
I have great news! Our new product launches today! It’s going to be fantastic! Can’t wait to share more news with our team later!
Remember, overuse leads to exhaustion.
7) Assume Forwarding Happens (without your knowledge)
An excellent business writing rule involves assuming your strict parent, supervisor, best friend, and strongest competitor will all (accidentally) read what you’ve written. It’s a great editing motivator … and encourages that last final proofing before hitting ‘send’.
8) Don’t Overshare
Business writing means succinct communication. You are writing to share helpful business information and it’s your turn to shine. Don’t waste the opportunity by turning it into a personal soapbox or unnecessary diatribe.
9) Say Please and Thank You
This is easy to do, yet so often forgotten. It’s amazing how many people ignore these common courtesies. Be that business writer who cares enough to use both ‘please’ and ‘thank you’; it says a lot about a writer’s authenticity. Do you tend to forget? At least add ‘thank you’ into your automated signature block.
10) Polish Your Draft
You’re busy and have a thousand things on your to do list. Whipping off a fast email to an important client is … stop. Think about this. Do you really want your clients to think you give them a rush effort without much thought? Think again. Granted, no writer is perfect. Even famous authors publish books with typos and awkward phrases once in a while. Drafts are supposed to be messy, and that’s why they’re called drafts. Finished pieces, however, should reflect a number of rewrites, aiming to make them the most concise, accurate and easy-to-read communication possible. Perform a final proofread. If you catch that one last mistake, your business writing benefits and you give a much better impression to the reader.
The Bottom Line
Practice will make business writing easier, but it’s not a skill acquired overnight. Avoid editing out your personal style and tone; business writing gains an edge when you share a unique voice with readers. Many people enjoy a particular writer’s unique combination of words or perhaps even their rare ability to translate Subject Matter Experts' complex jargon into customer-facing documents. Keep in mind, however, that there are some basic principles of politeness, quality and focus that business writing should reflect. Implement these 10 tips.
Need help with a business writing project? Email email@example.com for assistance.