Ten Tips for Powerful Business Writing

September usually brings back memories of starting school; another grade, a new year, new challenges, and new or reviewed tools to help us with our future. This Top Ten Tips for Exceptional Business Writing article contains ten tools to help you gather, recognize and implement good writing techniques. As summer ebbs use these tools to refresh some of your grade school writing tools:

1. Write for the reader. Before you start an e-mail, report, proposal, memo, ask yourself about the readers’ language, vocabulary and knowledge. Is it the same as yours? If not, then be more explicit about your information: leave out acronyms, euphuisms and internal slang. Give the reader concrete, complete and comprehensive information; you want them to know exactly what they need to do as a result of your communication.

2. Write in complete sentences. An average sentence in business writing is 10-12 words; in technical writing it’s 16-21 or more. Most of us are used to shorter sentences; the shorter and more succinct, the better for the reader. Sentence fragments – a written thought that doesn’t have a subject, verb and object – only confuse and frustrate the reader.

3. Use active voice. In active voice the subject acts, in passive voice the subject is acted upon. Active voice: Marlene wrote the memo. Marlene is the subject, Marlene acted. Passive voice: The memo was written by Marlene. The subject is still Marlene, not the memo. The object begins the sentence. The files were tossed by the janitor? Active or passive? How would you make it active?

Active voice is more powerful, shorter and more to the point than passive voice.

4. Use correct grammar – it is imperative. Understand that the subject must agree in gender and number with the verb. Identify indefinite pronouns and use a singular verb with them. E.g.: Each, every, everyone, either, neither, someone, somebody are always singular.

Everyone of the employees is getting new software.

Each of the players is ready for the play-offs.

Neither Jim nor Sarah is available for the meeting.

These may sound awkward, and they are correct. Follow the rule.

If you aren’t certain of what to write, then use “all” instead of each, every, everyone.

All of the employees are…. All of the players are….

5. Follow correct punctuation rules.

  • Periods and commas stay inside quotation marks – always.
  • Semi-colons and colons stay outside quotation marks – always.
  • Singular possessives have an “apostrophe s”:

a. My car’s engine
b. The computer’s mouse
c. Our client’s report

  • Plural possessives have “s apostrophe.”

d. Our cousins’ vacation
e. The lawyers’ advice
f. The Joneses’ invitation

  • It’s and its. It’s is a contraction for it is. Its is the possessive.

g. It’s going to rain.
h. The box and its contents

6. Mind word usage.

  • The biggest victim I see: Your instead of you’re.

“Your” is the possessive pronoun: Your book, your car, your health, your job.

“You’re” is a contraction for “you are.” I hope you’re going with me. They understand you’re going to be late. It’s never: I hope your going with me. They understand your going to be late.

7. Express with strong verbs. Use your 50,000-word vocabulary to write with strong verbs. Re-read some of your reports to see how many auxiliary verbs – is, was, were, has, have, will, were, etc. you used and change them to a strong verb, or a verb that the reader can “see.”

8. Edit. Make your writings more pleasing to the eye.

• Use bullets – even in e-mails – to help the reader along.
• Write in paragraphs instead of one long missive.

• Pare down longer sentences.
• Tell the reader exactly what you want him/her to do.
• When answering, cut/paste the sentence or question in an e-mail you refer to.
• Are your points clear?
• Did you give them all the information?

9. Proof:

• Spelling of small words as well as proper names
• Both the subject line in an e-mail and the re: in a memo.
• Your grammar and punctuation
• Dates and times
• Information in all written communication

10. Use concrete wording.

Ask yourself if you can “see” what you’re writing? If you can’t “see” it – put a picture of the information in your mind –nor can the reader. Paint a picture for your readers. Use descriptive words, analogies, similes, and/or examples. The easier it is for the reader the better response for you.

Keep language, vocabulary and knowledge intact.

Here’s to more powerful and exceptional writings.

Dee Dukehart runs Sandbox Communications, an international communications consulting business. She helps individuals, teams and companies improve their business strategies and bottom line with more powerful presentations, business writing and communication. To have her help your bottom line and you, contact: Dee@DeeDukehart.com * http://www.DeeDukehart.com * 303-753-1111

© Copyright 2012 Dee Dukehart


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