It has been said that when you compliment someone for being "intelligent," what you really mean is that person communicates well. After all, it's difficult to learn about or comprehend someone's great idea if they can't make themselves understood.
And being easily understood is exactly what you want for your business communications. After all, the better you write online copy, blog posts, print ads and press releases, the better your business will appear to your potential customers.
Though you can't gain professional-level writing skills from reading a blog post, you can learn to apply these seven tips to improve the quality of your business writing:
1. Write both forward and in reverse. For any writing task that deserves multiple drafts, write your second draft in reverse order, paragraph by paragraph. Most of us are fatigued by the time we get to the end of any substantial writing. By working backward, the last paragraphs—the ones readers remember—get as much mental energy as the first.
2. Ditch the adverbs. Adverbs are words used to describe verbs, such as, "She ran quickly to the finish line" or "He spoke angrily to her." In almost every case, using an adverb will make your writing weaker. Instead of adding words, go through your writing, identify the adverbs, then remove them and try to replace the verb with something more descriptive and powerful. For instance, use "sprinted" instead of "ran quickly" and "reprimanded" or "scolded" instead of "spoke angrily to."
3. Write like you talk. Read your first draft out loud, and eliminate any wording that sounds as if it was written instead of spoken. Written communication will almost always be more formal than a verbal conversation, but you can use this process to eliminate overly formal word choices and convoluted sentence structures.
4. Use more verbs and fewer nouns. Nouns are static objects. Verbs are active, moving, living words. One is dull; the other is not. This extends beyond the words you use and into the subject of your writing. Whenever possible, tell a story instead of giving a description. It's like the old sales adage recommends: Do not say what the product is; say why it matters.
5. Break things up. Be wary of any block of text that's more than four sentences long. Use subject headings, bulleted or numbered lists, and other similar techniques to break up your writing. This makes it easier for readers to locate key information and makes your writing feel crisper and more energetic.
6. Use an editor. And not just the spell-check tool in Word. Have somebody besides yourself read the document out loud for typos, grammatical errors and word choice. You don't have to use a professional editor—though a pro will do a better job than an amateur—but it should be somebody who is at least as good at proofreading as you are.
7. Hire a professional. For some people, writing is a time-consuming, stressful chore that eats up too much of their time. If you're one of those people, it's almost always worth it to pay a professional writer to handle this task for you. The good news is, most writing pros are freelancers, so you can hire them as you need them on a job-by-job basis.
What's the worst example of poor business writing you've seen? What are some examples of great writing, and why are they so memorable? Share with us in the comments below.
Jason Brick has contributed more than 2,000 blog and magazine articles to local, regional and national publications and speaks regularly at writing and business conferences. You can find out more about Jason at www.brickcommajason.com.
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