Simple ways to instantly improve your business writing

Your job might not involve writing tender responses or updating your organisation's website. But it's still important to know the basics of good business communication.

Everyone should know how to write clear, persuasive content. It comes in handy when negotiating pay rises, communicating your vision to others or making the case for extra project resources.  

Even if you consider yourself a great writer, the truth is that most people can benefit from making a few simple tweaks to their every day business writing. 

Here are five tips to keep in mind when composing your next email, presentation or grant proposal.

1. Keep it simple

The first lesson I learned in law school is that language evolved for a reason. When I read over cases from 50 years ago, it's obvious that judges today have learned to express the same ideas in fewer words.

As a result, cases are much easier to understand. They are accessible to a wider audience and key points don't get lost among paragraphs of legal jargon.

This principle doesn’t just apply to law, but to every profession and industry. Everyday language gets your message across more effectively. It also makes the writing process easier and faster.

Here is an example of what happens when you overcomplicate your writing:

“Utilise the power on/off interface, located on the forward-face of the Advanced Digital Data Storage System (ADDSS) when installed in the standard configuration (see Appendix A), to impact the operational status of the ADDSS System.”

In plain English, this translates to… "Turn the computer on".

2. Get to the point

Whether you’re sending an email or presenting an idea to your team, you should provide a summary in the first two to three sentences to grab your audience’s attention. Tell them what to expect and why they should keep reading. 

Most people's interest wanes after a few paragraphs, or sooner if the subject matter is dull. Get to the point quickly and elaborate on your key ideas towards the end.

Also, if you can say it in fewer words, less is best.

3. Use an active voice

An active voice is a simple way to make your writing more concise, direct and authoritative. Instead of saying, “The project proposal is being planned by Harry,” for example, try, "Harry is planning the project proposal.” It sounds better, doesn't it?  

Using the word 'by,' is a good indicator that you're using the passive voice. Move the subject in front of the verb to switch to an active voice.

4. Find fresh words to express your ideas

Business writing is full of tired phrases. We've all received correspondence like this:

"Dear Emma

Please be advised that your leave request is under review. Sign the enclosed approval form and return to Perpetua in HR at your earliest convenience.

As per our conversation regarding the matter of your negative leave balance, the director has acknowledged receipt of your email and will contact you soon.

Regards
Simon"

Poor Emma is probably half asleep after reading that email. Let's help Simon get to the point by reworking the bolded sections:

"Dear Emma

Your leave request is under review. I've attached an approval form for you to sign and return to Perpetua in HR by Friday.

As discussed, the director has received your email about your negative leave balance and will contact you soon.

Regards
Simon"

5. Use templates

I keep a file of templates for documents and correspondence that I might be able to reuse in the future. For example, I store annual reports that I can amend with new information, and I save common responses to emails or letters so that I don't have to start from scratch every time.

Best of all, you can check back over your writing and see how you improve over time. Practice makes perfect!