Whatever your career ambitions are, better writing skills will help get you there.
If you’re serious about improving your writing skills, we recommend you take a course and dedicate some time to it. It’s an investment in yourself that will pay big dividends.
But for those who are keen to get started right away, here are five ways to improve your business writing skills right now.
1. Plan what to say before you say it
“Who has time for that?” you may be thinking. Of all the steps you can take to improve your writing skills, planning makes the biggest difference. And yet it’s the most overlooked.
“Clear writing is clear thinking,” said Martin Swift of Harvard Business Review, and we couldn’t agree more. By taking a few seconds to think about your key message, what your recipient needs to know (and doesn’t need to know), and what you want the recipient to do, you’ll save hours of back-and-forth messages and misunderstandings.
You’ll save money, too. Researchers have estimated the cost of poor communication to be between US$4,000 and US$6,000 per employee a year. So believe us when we say taking a few seconds to plan before writing is 100% worth it.
2. Get straight to the point
Now that you’ve done your planning and you are clear about your key message, make sure you put it first!
A surprising number of workplace communications put the key message of a piece last. That’s because at school, we’re taught to put the conclusion at the end, and it’s a structure we’ve become very accustomed to. But to be effective in the workplace, we need to turn that on its head because many readers won’t maintain focus until the last word.
With emails, sure, you can start with a friendly opening before you dive in – but keep it brief. People are busy. They have 11 seconds maximum to read your email. So put the key information right at the top.
How was your weekend? What did you get up to? Hope you had fun!
I had a pretty chill weekend. Tried a new brunch place called ”Brunch Bros” – I highly recommend it!
Anyway, back to the Monday grind!
We are busy preparing for the conference this week, and are making great progress. The sound equipment is ready to go and we’ve got 20 attendees confirmed. We are still waiting to hear from 15 more people, but we’ll keep you posted!
How is the catering coming along? Have you managed to get all the ingredients you need within budget? I just want to check in to make sure your team is on track for deliver on the 11th. Do let me know if any problems come up!
Thanks so much,
Hope you had a good weekend!
Just checking in to ask how the catering is coming along. Are you still on track to deliver it on the 11th?
If you run into any problems, please let me know.
3. Always include a call to action
What do you need the recipient to do? Answer a question? Sign a document? Don’t beat around the bush, just ask for what you need directly.
A helpful tip is to answer the question “So what?” in your message before the recipient has a chance to ask it.
Say, you’re sending your boss a quotation to approve and you write,
“Here’s the updated quotation.”
What’s the first question your boss will ask when getting a vague message like this?
Answer that question before it’s asked with a more helpful message like this:
“Here’s the updated quotation for approval. Please let me know before Friday if you’d like anything changed, so we can send it to the client on time. Thanks!”
4. Check your message before you send it
Even if it’s ‘just’ a Slack message, it’s important to check for mistakes, missing information or incomplete thoughts. Because let’s face it, nobody has time to decode your messages. If it isn’t immediately clear, it will be ignored.
Here’s a quick checklist to benchmark your messages against:
- Is there a clearer way to say this?
- Is there a shorter way to say this?
- Are there any spelling mistakes or errors?
- Is there anything else the recipient needs to know?
Use this checklist for all your business communications. Your team will thank you for it!
5. Cut at least five words from every email before it goes out
Or ten, if you want more of a challenge! This will make a huge difference to your writing – and your effectiveness at work.
There’s simply no time to waste on unnecessary words. As Thomas Jefferson so famously said,
“The most valuable of all talents is never using two words when one will do.”
Once you commit to this practice, you’ll be amazed to find that there are always words you can cut. Always.
We’ve approved your
I’m writing to inform you that the quotation number 1111 you sent last Tuesday has now been approved and I have attached it here. I look Looking forward to our call tomorrow at 4pm!
There you have it! Try any of these writing tips today and you’ll see a marked improvement in your writing skills.
Let us know how it goes!