I see the same business writing errors again and again, so I’ve written 8 tips to help you improve your writing.
- Think about the headline
- Tell the reader everything at the beginning
- Use subheadings
- Use bold for important points
- Use lists
- One sentence, one idea
- Keep it short
- Use simple words
Before you hire a professional editor, save yourself some money by getting these basics done. It’s just the same as checking your tyre pressure and oil level before taking the car to a garage. Doing so lets the mechanic focus on the more involved tasks you might not be able to do, like changing brake pads or fitting new spark plugs.
1. Think about the headline
A strong, interesting headline should encourage the reader to read the rest of the text.
This point is especially important if people outside your organisation are going to read your writing. But even if you’re just preparing a document for your employees, think about giving them something of interest. Workers who find the headline boring probably won’t engage with the content, and that means your briefings and other documents aren’t going to achieve their purpose.
When it comes to online reading behaviour, some reports on the web suggest that 80% of those who read your headline won’t read the rest of the article.
Test the strength of your headline by using the free CoSchedule Headline Analyzer to rate your headlines out of 100. I use it when thinking of titles for my blog articles, but you could use it for almost any sort of article writing.
2. Tell the reader everything at the beginning
Executive summaries at the beginning of many Word documents are all that many people will bother with.
Assume your reader has a short attention span and front-load your text with the key points. If the reader doesn’t get through the whole thing, at least they’ll have got the gist.
A set of high-level bullets points at the start of the document is a great way to deliver the crucial info.
3. Use subheadings
Break up the walls of text with subheadings. Small chunks of content are good for reducing the cognitive load on your reader.
I find subheadings particularly useful in emails.
4. Use bold for important points
Be sparing with your use of bold, saving it for the most important points only.
I use bold for action points in emails:
We’ve run out of sprockets and need some more urgently. Unless they arrive by Tuesday, we’ll be in trouble with the Nielsen contract.
Gordon: order 1000 sprockets today.
5. Use lists
Even short sentences can be boring. Add a visual break in the text by using bullet lists. They help to make your writing
For consistency, each item in the list should start with the same sort of word. For example:
We need someone with skills in these areas:
- writing – to get our message across
- editing – to keep it short and tight
- screencasting – to add some video.
6. One sentence, one idea
Stick to no more than one idea per sentence.
7. Keep it short
Don’t write more than you need to. Get your message across quickly and clearly. A good approach is to write everything you can think of, then leave the text alone for a while. When you review it, remove everything that isn’t essential to the meaning.
Occasionally, very short statements can be highly effective:
It's OK if a paragraph contains just one sentence.
And if that sentence contains just one word, that's OK, too.
— John Espirian ☕️ (@espirian) March 6, 2017
8. Use simple words
Consider the reading level of the audience. Don’t write anything that might confuse the reader. If you’re trying to sound intelligent by using fancy terms, you’ll put people off.
Here’s one of the guiding principles of all good writing:
Simple writing doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of jargon. All businesses tend to use some sort of jargon, but that’s fine if your audience understands it.
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Who wrote this?
John Espirian – the relentlessly helpful technical copywriter
I write B2B web content, blogs, user guides and case studies – all aimed at explaining how your products, services and processes work. I also offer LinkedIn profile critiquing and rewriting.
I work from home in Newport, South Wales and support the (formerly) mighty Liverpool FC 🔴⚽️