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For many business people, writing is hard. In fact, some people hate to write. A person may know exactly what he wants and wants to say, but what he communicates in writing does not match what he has in mind. Or it does not sound right when written. For some, writing is a struggle. Part of the problem is that how we think and speak is different than how we communicate in writing. We use body language to fill in a lot of information that may not come across in writing.
Also, in our minds, information is fully formed and nuanced with detail. Information is peppered with prior learning that helps illuminate a concept or idea. But all the ancillary detail might not necessarily be communicated when it is converted from thought to writing.
For example, a marketing manager might want a graphic designer to create an ad. In an email, the marketing manager might indicate the medium, specifications, and concept for the ad and provide the messaging. But in the email, the marketing manager might fail to describe the desired tone (ie cheeky vs. authoritative), the target audience and the desired effect. The result is an ad that misses the mark. But it isn’t the graphic designer’s fault. While the marketing manager isn’t intentionally withholding information, he may not have realized that part of the information he had in mind was presumed as obvious or understood and wasn’t communicated.
On top of all that, business writing is often done in a rush using tools that are less than ideal for proofreading and editing. Typing an email using an iPhone affords a lot of opportunities for errors arising from auto-correct, accidentally omitted words, and the inability to see the entire message from top to bottom in order to catch changes in tense, repetition, etc.
And if that’s not enough reasons to struggle with writing, people in the business world are expected to write a multitude of different types of communications which they may not have mastered. Writing a memo to a direct report, an email to a customer, an internal report analyzing a problem, and a quarterly business plan all require different kinds of writing. Persuasive. Expository. Narrative. Descriptive. It can be daunting to be clear and concise in so many different formats.
But make no mistake, how a business person communicates in writing says a lot about him/her to the world. Even the most accomplished CEO will lose some respect if his emails are fraught with typos and spelling errors, or his messages are muddled. So how does someone who struggles with writing improve that skill?
The first and most obvious advice is to practice. Write. Write. Write. The more a person writes, the better he/she becomes at writing. The second advice is to read quality writing. The more we read quality writing, the more we can recognize and even imitate their ‘way with words’. But besides practice and reading, there are several other things that business people can do to help their writing.
1. Be as specific as possible to make the message resonate.
When writing an email or letter, use specific information and personalize the content. Write a rough draft of the key points. What are you trying to say? And, think about your audience. What is their perspective?
2. Keep sentences short.
Simple sentences are good, especially in emails, letters and memos. Long sentences become complex and can lose their impact. Each sentence should have one simple thought. Don’t worry about this too much in your first draft. But, when you go back to proofread or edit, make sure each sentence is easily understood. If you see one that can be broken up into three or four complete sentences, it probably ought to be divided.
3. Try to avoid repetition and redundancy.
Just write what first comes to mind, but then go back and look for other words to replace those that show up too often. For example: “The reason for changing the sales process is to ensure that salespeople are really focused on connecting with contacts and are really diligent to touch base regularly.” The thought has more impact if it reads, “The reason for changing the sales process is to ensure that salespeople are highly focused on connecting with contacts and diligent to touch base regularly.” Repetition is cut out and the word “really” is replaced with highly and is unnecessary when paired with a descriptive word such as diligent.
4. Don’t rush.
Most people hate when they have to write a message on the fly. They’re put on the spot to write something persuasive or powerful. It can be hard to think of the right words on the spur of the moment! So avoid that situation.
As soon as you know a project is on the horizon, it’s a good idea to start composing the message right away. Write down thoughts and key points, even if it’s just a rough draft. Then hold onto it for a little while. Review and make adjustments or add to the message to ensure it is both complete and clear.
5. Sleep on it, then have another look.
When you reread your writing with fresh eyes, you may pick up on mistakes or things you’d like to word differently. Even the best writers are known to have typos and mistakes in their first drafts! When your thoughts are fresh, your brain has a tendency to read what you meant to say/write, instead of what is actually there. If you come back to the message a day or two later, your fresh eyes will likely pick up on something that doesn’t quite work or is an obvious mistake. Giving yourself a little time away from what you wrote will let you see it in a whole new light.
6. Read your finished message out loud to make sure it flows well.
Reading silently is a way in which our brains can trick us if we’re not careful. But if you read the message out loud to yourself — or even better yet to someone else that you trust and will just be a passive listener — then you are more able to catch errors. By engaging your eyes AND ears, your mind has to think a little harder to make sure everything makes sense. This is a fantastic way to test your words and sentence structure to be positive the message you’ve written really does say what you want.
7. Ask someone else to read your message as a final check for typos and clear understanding.
It’s helpful to get a colleague to check your message before you submit it. While your brain might be reading what you meant to say, someone who has never read your message before will read what’s in front of them—without your brain’s “inside knowledge”. That person may pick up on something that you’d like to change before submitting the final message.
Regardless of whether you try one step or all seven, hopefully these tips will help you to communicate more clearly what you are trying to say. And, the more you write, the easier and better it will become.
Quote of the Week
“The desire to write grows with writing.” Desiderius Erasmus
© 2019, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.