Have we forgotten how to write? Do we care that our written communication is spelled correctly? Does it even matter in this day of tweeting and texting, and (imperfect) voice to text solutions? We see our politicians misspelling words all the time on social media. And then there’s clever advertising which breaks all the rules to get our attention. Who cares, right?
Two recent events made me think more deeply about the need to clean up our act when it comes to written communication, especially in business.
The first event involved a new videography company I am working with to produce videos for my YouTube channel. I noticed several misspellings in headlines in the draft production of the video, including the sentence, “SO WHATS THE SOLUTION”. When I pointed out that the word “whats” should be spelled “what’s” and that this sentence is a question and as such should have a question mark at the end of it, the videographer asked me in a mildly mocking tone, “Let me guess, you were a school teacher at some point in your career.” I told him “No, but I am a published author and writer, and I feel it’s important to spell things correctly.”
The second event was an email from a client inquiring if I knew anyone who she could hire as a business writing coach to work with one of their young professionals. The employee was very well educated but was struggling when it came to writing internal memos, client communications, and briefs. In an effort to help him be more successful in his current role and to help him in his career progression, the company felt it was essential to help him shore up the risks in his business writing ability. It’s a lucky employee who works for a company that cares about their future and is willing to invest in their skill set.
I immediately thought of my colleague and friend, Chris Amorosino. He has helped me numerous times over the past fifteen years in developing marketing copy for my business. It’s hard to write about yourself. Sometimes when you are too close to something you can get all tangled up in the details and forget what the reader is really looking for.
When I reconnected with Chris so I could brief him on the client referral, he shared more insights with me on ways to overcome the most common business writing problems. He referred to them as “communication sinkholes.” I invited Chris to contribute a guest article on my blog. I know that by reading it you will walk away with one or two great insights that you can put into business writing practice. Afterall, it’s no fun to have your clients question your ability to communicate effectively. Just ask my videographer.
Preventing Common Communication Sinkholes
by Chris Amorosino
If you’re in business you text, you email, you write reports, you post on social media—you are a writer now more than any time in your past. Fewer and fewer business meetings happen face to face. Our use of the phone (as a phone) is probably 20% what it used to be. We meet less and talk less but we write more. And often our business and ourselves are represented not by our presence but by our written communications. So, what’s your writing say about you?
When I make another writing error (I’m the error king) it takes the focus off my message and places it on the poor grammar, the misspelling, or whatever communication sinkhole I’ve fallen into again. Errors in writing make people think, “Geez, was Chris raised by wolves?” or “English must be Chris’s second language after his native language of grunting.”
Avoid The Cat’s Hairball
Sending out a good written message with errors, especially in business, is like spending $25,000 on a sparkling new kitchen and showing it off by having guests walk through the dingy and cluttered hallway that showcases the cat’s latest hairball. Somehow your audience remembers disgusting hairballs more than gleaming quartz counter tops.
Fortunately, we can all follow a few simple guidelines to make sure our writing’s clear, effective, and worthwhile. Good business writing leaves the audience thinking you’re closer to a statesman than a caveman.
Know Your Purpose
The first guideline is to know your audience and your purpose. If you’re speaking to truck drivers, you must write differently than if you’re addressing the Girl Scouts. Use language your audience members can relate to. Avoid jargon they’re not familiar with. Speak about what interests them, not to just what you want to say.
The first goal in writing is to get read. If you don’t speak my language and say something that benefits me, entertains me, or interests me, I ain’t reading one dang word.
You can’t be Shakespeare and wait until the fourth act to deliver the climax. This opening sentence in an independent school’s view book drew people in: “A third baseman completes a double play in the afternoon and in the evening silences the room as the menacing Bill Sykes in Oliver.” A well written hospital fundraising brochure began, “Your gratitude is much more powerful than you think.” An internal memo about a new C-level officer opened strongly: “A woman who helped indirect revenues grow 110% in five years, Jane Doe, will join our management team May 10th.” Do make sure your opening relates well to your message.
Hard Writing Makes Easy Reading
The harder you work at writing, the easier your writing will be to read. You want to produce easy reading. Even if you’re writing to women and men with Harvard MBAs, you don’t want to force them to use all their education to understand your message. Franklin Delano Roosevelt could have said, “The potential for fearing the future is actually the greatest deterrent to conquering our apprehension about the economy.” Instead, FDR wrote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Be Good Looking
Before your audience reads a single word, your business message has already made an impression by the way it looks. Small dense content immediately communicates your message will be hard to read. Larger type with visuals or lots of white space communicates your message will take less effort to read. Give your message eye appeal by not packing too much into a limited space and by dividing up the content with breaks like charts, pictures, subheads, and white space.
One Strong Point Beats Ten Weak Ones
One of the most common mistakes in business writing is trying to fill the message with every conceivable point. You can persuade, convince, and educate your audience better when you focus on a presenting a few strong points rather than a longer list of information—some of which isn’t as convincing. Less is often more.
Strong Verbs Are Your Friends
Limit adjectives and adverbs. Use strong verbs. Be careful that people know who your pronouns refer to. The pronoun they in this sentence confuses the reader: The supervisors told the workers they would receive a bonus. (Who’s getting the bonus? The supervisors or the workers?) Edit wordiness like “determined the truth of” to “verified.” Back up general statements (we excel at customer service) with specific proof (91% of 10,000 customers surveyed rated our customer service very good or excellent.”)
Business writing author and journalist Natalie Canavor say that with all the rapid change in our world today one skillset remains constant: Good communication. She adds that writing is the heart of communication. To that I say, “Amen.”
Chris Amorosino delivers the power of words to educate, persuade, sell, entertain, and inform. With extensive experience in corporate marketing communications and 23 years of freelance business writing, Chris creates compelling messages in all media. You’ve got a story to tell. Tell it well and it will sell.Connect with Chris on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisamorosino/