When was the last time you thought about how you come across in your writing? Communication is key, but much of the time, you’re probably talking to colleagues face-to-face or over the phone. However, that doesn’t mean that written communication isn’t important, particularly since many teams now use chat applications like slack or HipChat for day-to-day communications. If you’re not a gifted writer, don’t worry: you don’t have to be the next Hemingway to successfully send a quality email or memo. With that said, most people could stand to be better business writers. Here are 5 easy tips for brushing up your skills and becoming a better written communicator.
1. Be clear, and get to the point
If you’ve ever opened an email and struggled to figure out the point of the message, you’re not alone. Many people try to use jargon and big words to sound more authoritative. Don’t be tempted to try this yourself—you’ll only confuse people. Be specific about what you want or what you’re addressing in your message, and use the simplest words possible to get your point across. Be brief—your colleagues probably have a short attention span, and aren’t interested in reading a novel. Simplifying your writing is a win-win. You’ll finish writing your email or memo more quickly, and your recipient won’t have to struggle through a swamp of confusing language to uncover your true meaning.
2. Use contractions
There’s nothing more awkward or boring to read than overly formal or stiff language. In the past, contractions were seen as a very casual way of using language, but things have changed. As language has evolved, contractions have become a big part of how we communicate, and they can help make your writing more relatable and easy to read. Think about it. How often do you say things like “I should not” or “You cannot” in conversation? Probably not often—most of us only skip contractions when we’re trying to place special emphasis on our words. However, a surprising number of people still write using very few contractions, making their professional written communications seem outdated. Be conscious of contractions when you’re writing—you’ll find your messages flow better.
3. Try a tool
If you struggle with grammar, fluidity, or other common business writing gaffes, consider using one of the many free or paid writing tools available online. Whether you’re just sending quick chats or writing company-wide memos, these tools can help ensure that your message comes across with elegance and professionalism. It’s not an exam, so feel free to “cheat”! A couple of good choices are Ginger, which checks your messages for mistakes and awkward sentences, and Hemingway, which ensures the readability of your text.
4. Read it aloud
You may not have perfect grammar, but you may not realize just how many mistakes are lurking in your emails. It’s much easier to notice these mistakes when you hear yourself speak the words. Don’t be afraid to read your correspondence aloud before you send it—but you might want to wait until your office mate takes a bathroom break!
5. Tone down punctuation
We all love a good exclamation point—but leave most of them for Facebook comments. Business writing is very different from other types of communication, and it’s best to keep unnecessary punctuation to a minimum. It’s okay to use a few exclamation points and other emphasis-driven punctuation—just use them sparingly. You don’t want to come off as trying too hard or unprofessional!
You Don’t Have to Be Creative—Just Clear!
Remember, you’re not in school anymore. The most important aspects of business writing are ensuring that it is brief, gets the point across, and stays professional. Proper grammar and punctuation are important, because they signal to others that you are professional, put together, and care about the details. Don’t worry if you weren’t the most creative kid in school. As long as you put a little thought and time into your writing, you’ll do fine—and it will get easier the more practice you get.
Author: Andrew Deen has been a consultant for startups in almost every industry from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He implements lean methodology and currently writing a book about scaling. Contact him by email or Twitter @AndrewDeen14