Many of my students learn speedreading and speedwriting to boost their careers. Any careers. A large part of my career dealt with research, product design, and engineering. So my examples also come from my world. This is one of the reasons I like it so much to present you with guest posts. Here
Jessica Fender, a Forbes-featured writer, provided her tips inspired by her marketing communication career. I hope you will enjoy the article as much as I did.
Charles Dickens was a great novelist; Edgar Allen Poe was a great poet; the staff of The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism, and Dr. Seuss has won the hearts of us all.
Rarely do we hear about an amazing business writer who has won acclaim or awards.
And yet business writing is critical to all facets of a company’s operations – from reports to proposals, to internal communications, to marketing, to annual stockholders’ reports, to policies and manuals, and more.
Obviously, there are all types of business writing. So, when anyone speaks to improving their business writing skills, they have to speak of improving each of these types.
Let’s unpack the various types of business writing and figure out how you can work to improve your skills in each of them.
Emails have become probably the most common form of business communications, even more so now that there is a growing number of business professionals working remotely. Even within organizations, it is just easier to communicate via email than to arrange to meet face-to-face.
Because we are using email so much more, it is easy to get a bit casual, and, in many current business environments, things are just more casual than they have been in the past. The need for formal salutations and sign-offs are not necessary for internal communications but may be for external communications, especially with actual and potential clients or customers.
Learning the difference between informal and more formal emails is certainly important. But even more important is your sentence structure, your grammar, your punctuation, and your spelling. You are not messaging your personal friends, and colleagues can be turned off by poor grammar – they will think less of you.
If you know you struggle with grammar and composition, you should take some steps to remedy that. Lots of career pros have online writing accounts with reputable writing services and can get their business writing documents quickly reviewed and edited. The long-term solution, though, will be to take an English comp course – there are plenty of good ones online.
We all wrote reports in school. They were not “reviews,” which we also wrote as we got older. Reports were objective accounting of books, events, people, etc. Reviews were reports that were infused with our own analyses, thoughts, opinions, etc.
When you are tasked with writing a report in a business environment, you are to do just that. You might be reporting the progress being made on a project; you may be reporting on the budget breakdown of that project; you may be providing facts and figures on a safety record of a specific department, etc. The key is you must remain objective. The meat of the report is not where you should be inserting your opinion, your recommendations, or your analyses.
If you do determine that your own perspective/opinion/recommendations should be included, these must be provided in a separate section and indicated as such. Injecting these subjective comments throughout the report is unprofessional and can be confusing to your audience.
One last note: Reports are formal documents for the most part. Watch the use of casual language that you might use in other business writing.
Memos are short messages, usually targeted to one or a smaller group of people. They are less formal than a report, but you should still be professional in your language. Typical memos might be to introduce a new team member, to express appreciation to someone for a job well done, to give a brief progress report, and such.
The key to a memo is to stay brief, to convey only one message, and to find the right balance between being somewhat casual and yet professional. You don’t sacrifice good grammar and composition.
Anyone who has been employed by an organization will be provided a series of documents, at least from the HR department, covering such things as personnel policy, leave, retirement, benefits, etc. In manufacturing facilities, there will be additional handbooks and policies on safety, clocking in and out, etc. In short, for almost any employee behavior at work, there will be something in writing.
These are objective, factual documents that must provide easy, clear, and simple explanations so that employees at all levels of education and background can understand them. If you are tasked with writing one, then you must give great attention to detail and be able to organize the content in a logical flow. Get plenty of input from others and have the final document reviewed by several trusted individuals before it is published.
If you enjoy being a bit creative and casual, then working on the company newsletter may bring some relief from the more formal types of business writing you might have to otherwise engage in. Usually, this function is given to company marketers because they tend to create content for consumers and are less formal in their writing.
Company newsletters are important to keep employees updated on what is happening company-wide. They may highlight individual employees; they may publicize upcoming events. In short, they provide some cohesive “glue” that connects all employees. If you write for the company newsletter, you can put a bit of your own personality into the pieces.
This is writing that is usually assigned to marketing departments, or, in the case of a very small business, contracted out to a professional journalist. There is a very set format for press releases, but they do follow a journalistic style that is not too formal and dry. The goal is to pique the interest of a reader and engage them with compelling headlines, quotes, and enthusiasm for a new product, an event, etc.
The best way to improve writing press releases is to read as many as possible and to learn from those that have engaged you.
Written Responses to Customers
Customers have concerns, questions, and, yes, complaints. They express those directly to the company, but also on social media and consumer review sites. Responding to customers in writing requires some solid diplomatic skills – recognizing and honoring the complaint as real, looking at options for resolution, proposing those to the customer, and ultimately leaving that customer with warm, happy feelings about the company.
If you are new to a customer support department and must respond to customers, you will need training. To prepare yourself for such a position, there are a number of free online training programs and resources. And no doubt, your employer will have training as well.
Agendas for Meetings
There are all sorts of meetings within the business environment. These may range from a short team meeting, relative to progress on a specific project, to a full department meeting to discuss budget goals for the next fiscal period, all the way up to a board meeting. As these levels move up the ladder, the more formal the agenda writing must be.
But here’s the thing about all meetings. Participants appreciate when they are targeted to the matters at hand, avoid off-topic discussions, and have a definite start and end time. The best way to try to keep meetings on track is to create and publish an agenda in advance of the meeting. Even setting time frames for each item can help.
The good thing about meeting agendas is that you don’t have to worry about grammar and composition. Agenda items are usually written in short phrases. Be clear in your description of each item so that participants know exactly what is to be covered.
Some General Considerations on Commonalities of all Business Writing
We all learned how to write in school – some of us became better writers than others. As we progressed through our educations, we engaged in all types of writing – essays, research papers, reviews, and analyses, perhaps even a thesis or dissertation. Many of us, though, were not exposed to the types of writing often required in a business setting. We have to learn this through some self-training, perhaps, and with the help of colleagues. A few common basics are ever-present:
- Good grammar and composition are never out of style and are expected in business writing.
- All writing must have a purpose. All business writing, no matter how short or lengthy, must have a single goal, and every written word must relate directly to that goal.
- There are a variety of audiences within a business community. Messaging must be clear and appropriate in tone and style for each audience.
- There is no substitute for reviewing, editing, and proofreading before clicking “publish.”
As you continue to engage in business writing, you will continue to improve – count on it.
Author’s bio. Jessica Fender is a professional writer and educational blogger at GetGoodGrade, an aggregator for useful college resources and websites. Jessica enjoys sharing her ideas to make writing and learning fun.