Writing skills are an important part of success in any industry. From business proposals and project descriptions to emails and reports, the ability to write properly is an essential part of almost any job.
Good writing ensures your message is appropriately transmitted and increase the probability of achieving a desired outcome. The flip side is that poor business writing creates a barrier between your objectives and results.
Writing skills don’t come naturally to all, but can be cultivated and improved with practice and the right tools.
5 Steps to Successful Business Writing
Here are 5 helpful steps to focus on for building and developing better business writing skills.
1. Establish Your Purpose (What Do You Want?)
“To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform.” – Warren Buffet.
Before starting a draft or outline of any written work, figure out what it is you’re trying to accomplish. What’s the purpose or the idea you want to convey? What’s the specific desired contribution of the content to your ideal outcome?
2. Know Your Audience (What Do They Want?)
Take the time to carefully consider your readers. Whether it’s a colleague, client, or potential client, think about their specific persona. Identifying the purpose or outcome that your audience is looking for will help you establish the proper tone for your writing.
Knowing your specific audience informs what information should be front and center in your writing. A letter to executives, for example, should respect their time by concisely emphasizing key points. Or, if you’re creating sales content, think about where your customer is along their buying journey.
3. Take Your Time With the Outline
After considering your goals and audience, begin to outline the main points of your writing. The goal is to identify a structural focus, so your final draft clearly addresses all points.
Think of the outline as a map for your writing.
Psychology and English Professor David Galbraith praises outlines as essential for helping writers see how ideas work together and when their ideas have little to no supporting evidence.
A helpful practice is to think of the focused ideas you wish to get across and write them down in complete sentences. These sentences should be fully formed ideas. Order these points into logical chronology. This is your foundation.
4. Draft Quickly
Based on your detailed outline, quickly draft out the body of your content.
Adding a time limit for your first draft is a practical strategy to avoid overthinking or getting stuck on any one section. Try working with a timer to speed-write the draft. The goal is not to edit until it’s done.
You may be prone to perfectionism – but resist the urge to make your first draft “perfect”. That comes later.
The first draft should put the main ideas into writing. Depending on the size of your project, you may want to take a second pass on your draft to ensure you’ve met your objectives. Finally, the third (or more) draft should refine the writing.
“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.” – Dr. Seuss
As you may have guessed, the final step is often the longest part of the process. During the refining stage, ask yourself if everything necessary is being said and if everything being said is necessary.
A key to good business writing is respectful concision without offensive brevity. As you polish your writing, ask yourself if each sentence, paragraph, and word is helping to make your point.
The time spent on editing can mean the difference between a failed project and a successful one.
A Few More Tips for Better Business Writing
Beyond these practices, the following tips for better business writing are meant to help you dig a bit deeper into your writing skills.
Abandon The Business Jargon
While it’s perpetually important to speak to a specific audience, terms like “mission-critical”, “circle back,” and “synergy” should really be left in the past.
Use approachable language. While we may be facing a future of amanuensis AI, your writing should still sound like a human penned it.
Trending buzzwords and keywords can be helpful in communication, but corporate jargon can put people off when overused.
We live in the age of TL;DR. It’s probably not that your writing isn’t Pulitzer-worthy, but that your reader has a short attention span.
- Make sure your content is scannable, or start and end with critical takeaways.
- Master the art of email subject lines.
- You might use bold or bullet points in really long emails or messages, when appropriate.
Be Clear and Direct
In addition to avoiding unnecessary jargon or filler words, keep your writing clear. Rather than explaining an idea or concept with circular language, directly address the points you wish to make.
Avoid general statements and “show” what you want to say instead of simply “telling”. Giving concrete examples in your writing makes readers more likely to engage and respond positively.
Whether you’re going solo or working within a team, it’s always helpful (and sometimes necessary) to enlist the help of a colleague.
At various points throughout the writing and editing process, have a colleague provide feedback. From brainstorming to refining, working collaboratively is also great for sparking creativity and delivering stronger work.
Collaboration workflow tools can help keep project authors and reviewers on track with text markup, comments, and tasks.
Don’t Forget to Read
As essential as practicing writing is, regularly reading the work of others can be just as – if not more – important. Reading will help you naturally integrate idioms and structures into your writing.
Pick up one of these business-writing books to help you develop your tone and vocabulary to express your points.
Effective Writing Comes With Practice
Relevant writing skills are essential to positive interactions and collaborations. These ideas for better business writing can hopefully help you reduce hurdles caused by ineffective writing.
Good business writing takes time, but it’s a skill that can grow with practice and dedication.