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Do You Make These Five Common Mistakes in Business Writing?
This article outlines five common mistakes in business writing, with tips on how to avoid them: (1) burying the point, (2) boring the reader, (3) saying in twenty words what you could say in five, (4) using unfamiliar words, and (5) relying on outdated language.
With today’s business moving at the speed of broadband, everyone expects better results in record time. Every day, we deal with hundreds of business communications in the form of e-mails, letters, phone calls, chats, and meetings—and that’s before we tackle the “to do” list. It’s no wonder that many business messages often reads as if they were written between floors on an elevator, coming across as sloppy and careless. This article outlines five common mistakes in business writing, with tips on how to avoid them. 1. Burying the point. Time is short—get to the meat of the message as soon as possible. Think like a journalist: put the crucial information at the top, where people are sure to read it. If you leave the golden nugget for the final sentence, your reader might never get there. Make sure your message is labeled clearly in the title or subject line, so your reader can decide quickly how to organize it. 2. Inviting a yawn. Advertising expert Hal Stebbins notes, “If you’re bored with what you write, don’t blame the reader for yawning.” The best way to generate interest in your writing is to be interested yourself—in your subject, your reader, your company, and your communication. Seek out and emphasize the most significant reasons to cause the reader to act or react as you want. When in doubt as to what to emphasize, remember that the person you’re writing to is still a human being—someone who is subject to the same things that motivate all people. If you wouldn’t want to read it, chances are, neither will your reader. 3. Saying in twenty words what you could say in five. Charles Dickens may have been a great novelist, but he was being paid by the word. In business writing, the longer the phrase, the better your chances of losing the reader halfway through. Keep it short and straightforward, and you’ll keep your reader’s attention. A quick way of figuring out where your writing needs editing is to ask yourself: “Would I say this the same way if I were talking with this person face to face?” Why businesspeople write “We will ascertain the facts and advice accordingly” when in conversation they would say, “We’ll find out and let you know” is a mystery. If you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it. 4. Using unfamiliar words. Your goal in writing should not be to impress the reader with your writing ability but to express ideas so that the reader can understand them. Some business writers thrive on using long words and unfamiliar technical, trade, or legal phraseology. These vocabulary exhibitionists use difficult words to give their writing an air of authority—but they end up sending the reader to the dictionary more often than not. Write to express, not impress, and you’ll save yourself and your reader a lot of trouble. 5. Relying on outdated language. Using obsolete expressions and clichés is the lazy way to write. Like anything else that comes too easily, the result is nothing to brag about. Filling your writing with phrases that belong in your grandfather’s legal documents will only alienate your reader, and using canned phrases will have your readers snoring. It’s much better to keep your writing up-to-date and fresh. Hasty business writing is a one-way ticket to the “delete” button. It doesn’t take long to put a little care in your writing—a minute to spell check and another to check for common mistakes like the ones described--but the result will be a message that lasts much longer in your reader’s mind and is more effective in getting the results you want.