Widgets Company, a top performer in the widget-making industry space, recently was pleased to announce that widget sales have risen as more consumers show a desire for new widgets as they become cautiously optimistic about the economic recovery.
Did that sentence make your eyes glaze over? Sadly, such writing is all too common in business. Many professionals (though well-intentioned) become verbose, assuming that using 10-cent words and long sentences convey sophistication. The truth is, the best business writing has a dose of simplicity.
Here are five best practices to make your writing shine, whether you’re drafting a new-business proposal or announcing your company’s latest management hire.
- Know for whom and why you’re writing. This seems like a “no duh,” but taking a minute to consider for whom you’re writing and the purpose of the piece will help set the tone. What is your audience’s base knowledge? What do you need them to know? Determining the who and why will provide a roadmap for how to best communicate your information or news.
- Avoid jargon and clichés. Jargon and overused, nonsensical phrases are story killers. They convolute a piece quicker than you can think “outside the box,” and create confusion. Instead of a “leading provider of profit-and-loss margin services,” say “accounting firm”; don’t insist you can “take it to the next level,” but “increase sales”; summarize your position now rather than offer a point “at the end of the day.”
- Use simple language for clear meaning. Your audience has limited time for your piece, and placing language barriers in their way can discourage their attention. Why describe a dress as “cerulean ocean blue with soft round white dots” when “deep blue with polka dots” will suffice? Clarity, however, doesn’t have to crush creativity. Let your creativity shine with attention-grabbing headlines, storytelling and even interesting visuals to accompany the piece.
- Strong verbs move writing. Your high school English teacher was right: action verbs propel your writing and engage the reader. Passive verbs (will be arriving, has been achieved) weaken your point and can infuse an unintentional sense of uncertainty. Whenever possible, push forward with active phrases: We mailed the package; Widget Co. produced its first prototype; government officials toured the new factory.
- When in doubt, cut it out. Review your writing and let go of the dead weight. Be ruthless. Just say no to 50-word sentences and five-sentence paragraphs. Consumers – your audience – have become conditioned to 15-secondsound bites and 140-character messages. Long-winded prose is more likely to turn off a time-stretched customer than impress.
Martha A. Gaston, APR, is an account executive with CBR.