As business becomes more complex, people have more distractions and less time to thoroughly read documents. Therefore, the ability to communicate effectively in writing, especially email and on the web, becomes more critical than ever.
Write with a clear purpose in mind, and state that purpose at the very beginning of your written communication. Readers should know at a glance what your email, report, or letter is about, why you are sending it, and what action you want them to take.
Here are 10 tips to help you write more effectively:
- Keep it simple.
You may think complex sentences make you sound impressive, but they can prevent your ideas from getting across.Use “during” instead of “during the course of.”
Don’t say, “Is it possible to meet with you and your husband at your earliest possible convenience in order to discuss the matter of listing your home for sale with me and my company?” Instead, say “When may I talk with you and your husband about listing your home?”
- Avoid jargon and overuse of big words.
Sometimes you need a complex word or phrase to express your ideas clearly. But if a shorter word can do the job, use it instead.Use “speed up” instead of “expedite.”
Use “plan” instead of “strategize.”
Use “assume” instead of “postulate.”
Use “use” instead of “utilization.”
Use “try” instead of “endeavor.”
Use “sent” instead of “transmitted.”
- Use concrete, specific words rather than vague, general ones.
For example, say, “I have sold three houses in your neighborhood in the last year,” instead of “I’ve worked with several people in your neighborhood.”
- Write as you talk.
Ask yourself, how would I say it if the reader were sitting across the desk from me? Use contractions where appropriate; use the words “you,” “me,” “us,” and “I” to make your writing more people-oriented.TIP: Keep a file of the best-written letters, memos and reports that you have received and model your writing after them.
- Use active verbs to bring writing to life and make it sound conversational.
In talking we almost always use active verbs: “Jackson hit a line drive to center field.” But in business, we too often say: “A line drive to center field was hit by Jackson.”
- Vary sentence length, but avoid overly long sentences.
Try for an average sentence length of 17 words. Introduce no more than one or two ideas per sentence.
- Use short paragraphs to break up business letters and increase readability.
The average paragraph in a business letter is two sentences long. Long paragraphs often contain more than one idea and can be split so that each idea has its own paragraph.
- Be careful of gender usage.
Although it’s grammatically correct to use the male pronoun, “his,” when referring to both sexes, this may offend some people. Make sentences plural to eliminate this problem. “Associates should turn in their call reports weekly.”
- Always edit and proofread your communications before sending them.
Remember “Spell Check” doesn’t catch everything. And don’t forget to check all property name spellings; the computerized spell checker will miss them. Misspellings and incorrect grammar reflect poorly on you and your company.
- Tips for Writing With a Positive Tone
Establishing the right tone in written communications can make the difference between a positive response and a hostile one. To help create a positive tone:Avoid “I.” Instead use “you” as the subject of sentences to get the reader involved.
Use the reader’s name, if the correspondence is addressed to one person.
Replace negative words with positive ones. Instead of saying “Don’t hesitate to call me,” try “Feel free to call me.”
Words with negative connotations include: delay, doubt, difficult, fail, problem. Words with positive connotations include: glad, improvement, service, happy, contribution.
Present ideas as possibilities, not as difficulties to be overcome.
Give your written communications the human touch; imagine you’re writing to your best friend.
Adapted from Powerful Business Writing: Say What You Mean, Get What You Want, Tom McKeown, Writer’s Digest, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1992.
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