The first time I was responsible for developing a Marketing Plan, I remember feeling very nervous about how to write it. I knew how to structure the plan, but I was unsure of how to convey my message so that the content would be viewed as professional, easy to read and to the point. I reported to a Managing Director who would ‘bleed’ over everyone’s writing – well that’s what we called his copious comments and amendments in red pen. As much as it annoyed me, I have to admit that he was a very skilled writer.

Have you ever noticed that those who express themselves well in writing inspire a feeling of confidence in their abilities from employees, colleagues or management? Sharp writing conveys the impression that a sharp mind composed the words. Sloppy writing, on the other hand, can make others conclude that the creator is not intelligent. Some might even question their job-related competence.

Great writing may require a talent that few of us have, but effective writing is a learnable skill. Here are a few tips to improve your writing skills.

First, know your audience

Knowing the purpose a piece of writing serves gives you a sense of direction. Writing a business report should follow a specific format; for example, an in-office email could be short and informal, but a customer email or a PowerPoint presentation should follow guidelines of courtesy, clarity and conciseness. Your audience should be your compass; keeping in mind what the recipient seeks to learn narrows down the possible directions your writing should take.

Conciseness and brevity

Clarity in writing is one of the most difficult skills to master. Never use a long word where a short one will do. (No need to write ‘utilise’ when ‘use’ works just as well.) Be ruthless about self-editing; if you don’t need a word, cut it. Word choice comes more easily for some businesspeople than for others. Business writing has to be succinct. Your audience doesn’t have the luxury to browse through multiple report pages to get the information they seek. Respect your recipients’ time; they should be able to access important information easily.

Call to action

The content of documents that are simply informative is rarely retained very well. Most business communication is meant to achieve some purpose, so make sure you include a Call to Action – something that the reader is expected to do. Even better, something the reader should do right now. Not only is the presence of a Call to Action critical in your content, but the way that you present the Call to Action and how effective you are at enticing the reader to connect further with you and your business will ultimately lead to greater success for your business.

Distinguishing opinion from facts

These two aspects of communication should be clearly separated in business writing. Ensure the reader can tell with certainty when something is a fact or merely your viewpoint. This way you’ll avoid misunderstandings and you’ll keep your writing ambiguity-free.

Avoid jargon

Jargon should be used only between people thoroughly familiar with the jargon. If you choose to use much jargon, be sure your audience is comfortable with it. Think about your secondary as well as your primary audience, the level of technical language your communications can bear, and the tone you want to project. If your primary audience is non-technical, it’s best to avoid jargon as much as possible.

Be professional, not necessarily formal

There’s a tendency to think of all business communication as formal, which isn’t necessary or even very productive. Formal language is fine for legal documents and job applications, but like jargon often becomes invisible, obscuring rather than revealing its meaning. At the same time, remember that informal shouldn’t mean unprofessional – keep the personal comments, off-colour jokes, and snarky gossip out of your business communications.

Write once, check twice

This doesn’t only apply to checking for typos and correct spelling. Putting some time between writing and re-reading your work can help you catch errors of tone that might otherwise escape you and cause trouble. For instance, when we’re upset or angry, we often write things we don’t actually want anyone else to read. Make sure your work says what you want it to say, how you want it to say it, before letting it reach its audience.

Consider a business writing course

Sales and marketing professionals are particularly skilled at using the written word to persuade customers to purchase the company’s products and services – or at least pay attention to its advertisements. But everyone in the business world finds it necessary at times to persuade someone else to take an action based on written material they have sent. Learning and honing business writing skills can have a positive impact on an individual’s career advancement. Get this wrong, and you risk destroying your brand’s reputation with your customers, staff, internal suppliers and shareholders.

Maurice Kerrigan Africa offers an Effective Business Writing – Programme 1 course, which will give you the practical training you need to improve your English business writing skills. From writing memos and letters to composing emails and writing simple reports, our blended learning approach within a small group environment delivers measured improvement to help you create the right impression with your written communication.

You might be interested in their upcoming 2-day course scheduled for 03 – 04 December, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Click here to look at Maurice Kerrigan Africa’s training schedule or to make a booking.

To find out more about the training courses offered by Maurice Kerrigan Africa or to arrange an appointment, simply call +27 11 794 1251 or email info@mauricekerrigan.com.

Author's Bio: 

Cheryl has an MBA degree completed in 2004 and consults to companies on a project basis. She has broad experience in strategic marketing, sales management, direct response marketing, call centre management, advertising and communications, social media content creation, brand management, customer research, balanced scorecard, customer retention, business process management and the development of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.