5 Tips for Effective Business Writing
The purpose of business writing is to distribute information in the most clear, concise and easy-to-follow way possible. In the workplace, people do not have time to sift through long sentences or extravagant vocabulary. They want to quickly find and comprehend the information they need to quickly make decisions or take action. Whenever possible and when appropriate, use the KISS rule—Keep it Short and Simple. Use the following tips to compose clean, clear, understandable business documents.
1. Use plain English. Write complete, grammatically correct sentences that are logical and easy to understand. Unless you are an accomplished writer with a flair for sentence variety, use a clear, straightforward subject-verb-object-(complement) sentence structure.
Example: • (Unclear): A decision was reached to postpone the luncheon. • (Clear): The committee decided to postpone the luncheon.
2. Keep your sentences and paragraphs as short and direct as possible. Sentences of a reasonable length consist of 15-20 words maximum. A paragraph containing 3 or 4 sentences is fairly short and works well with memos, emails, letters or shorter writings. A mid-length paragraph equals 5-7 sentences, and a paragraph with more than 8-10 sentences is long.
Long Sentence (21 words):
• Paul Rogers is a marketing manager in the state of Tennessee who spoke at the Chamber of Commerce mixer last week.
Shorter Sentence (16 words): • Paul Rogers, a marketing manager from Tennessee, spoke at the Chamber of Commerce mixer last week.
3. Delete excess words and phrases. Getting absolutely clear on what you want to say helps to eliminate unnecessary words. You might need to brainstorm or discuss the message you want to communicate before you start writing. Once you get your thoughts down on paper, you can easily see how to cut the fluff from your documents.
• It should be noted that the recommendations contained in this document are based on the results obtained from various focus groups.
(Concise Wording) • The following recommendations include feedback from various focus groups.
4. Include useful headlines and subheadings to guide the reader. Attention-grabbing headlines and subheadings should be short, relevant and interesting enough to lead readers to key information, especially in longer documents.
Example: • Task Force Report (Plain) • Recommendation to Freeze Retail Product Prices (Better)
• Also, see the Business Proposal and Report samples in Chapter One Types of Business Documents.
5. Avoid unfamiliar corporate jargon. Most business industries refer to specific acronyms, processes and vocabulary that are unfamiliar to most people on the outside. For the sake of clarity, define terms and use words that external readers can easily understand.
Example of Jargon: • render non-viable = kill people
More Examples of Jargon: • negative economic growth = recession • the economically marginalized = unemployed • environmental hygienist = janitor
Excerpt from the book Creative Business Writing in Chapter 2: Effective Business Writing.