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Business Writing Skills: How To Improve Written Communication At Work

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Follow this guide on how to improve your business writing skills in six easy steps. Business writing is all about influencing people. With this approach, you will achieve more at work. And you will certainly stand out as a leader among your peers.

Perfect English or a fancy vocabulary are optional for impactful professional writing. In today’s multicultural workplace, the lack of either will not hold you back. What you need is simplicity and persuasiveness. If you find that balance, your business writing skills will flourish and people will start to pay attention to you.

How To Improve Your Business Writing Skills

A common question that many young professionals ask related to their leadership development is, how can I improve my business writing? Well it is surprisingly easy. You don’t need to take an expensive course or spend much effort on it. All you must do is apply a few of the most effective business writing techniques. And that is enough to make your written communication persuasive and captivating to your readers.

Importance Of Business Writing Skills

There are two main objectives we look to achieve when we write business letters, emails or reports in a professional setting. The first is to convey information. Most of us don’t need any help here.

The second goal is almost always to influence someone on an important decision. Professional writing guides rarely focus on this second, but more critical goal. But without it, what you write may appear fancy but will not achieve the outcomes you desire with your employees and colleagues.

In this guide, you will learn how to make your business writing more persuasive. This is the main purpose for having good business writing skills.

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Important Elements And Techniques Of Effective Business Writing

Here are six of the most important elements and writing techniques that will make your formal business emails and letters clearly communicate your desired message. What you write will now become more convincing and easier to understand.

1. Short Sentences Make Your Business Writing Easy To Follow

Page in a dictionary showing words and their meanings to show that short sentences help to improve your business writing skills.

Use small, clear sentences. Present one point per sentence. Separate out broader topics in short paragraphs. Two to four sentences per paragraph.

Cognitive ease is provided to the reader through simple structuring. Your readers are not as familiar with your topic as you are.

Focused sentences will help them understand your message clearly. If they grasp the essence of your logic easily, they will be more influenced by what you are asking of them.

2. Avoid Complicated Language When You Write In A Business Setting

Person holding a chalk and writing equations on a blackboard to demonstrate that business writing skills can be improved with simplicity.

In business writing, there is a temptation to use heavy jargon to appear smart. But using complex language neither makes you come across as intelligent, nor does it make your writing persuasive. It makes you sound pompous and self-interested. It will also distract your audience from your main message. Avoid it unless you are an English major.

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Still not convinced of the need for simplicity in your language? Then read this article in the journal, Applied Cognitive Psychology, “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.” You will find a link to it at the end of this article.

3. Remove Extra Words And Phrases In What You Write At Work

Black writing on wall saying "Stubborn on vision, flexible on details," to demonstrate brevity in business writing skills.

Drop unnecessary words. “My efforts were very much appreciated by the team,” reads better as “My efforts were appreciated by the team.”

The extra words, “very much,” add nothing of significance. After you write something, go back and re-read it. If you find simple, everyday words that succinctly convey the same meaning, use them.

Always pick the simplest way to say something. For example, don’t say “all of us,” when you can just say “we.” The best business writers are able to be concise when making their points in written communication.

4. Grab Your Reader’s Attention At The Start

Carefully draft your first two or three sentences in your introduction. Spend extra time and effort here. That’s where you will anchor your readers. How you do this depends on what you are writing about.

If you are looking for ideas on persuasive techniques to use when writing your introduction, read Pre-Suasion by Robert Cialdini. In Chapter 7, he talks about influential words and phrases you can use to make your audience more prone to accepting your yet-to-be-delivered message.

“He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument but in the right word.”

Joseph Conrad
According to Wikipedia, though Conrad did not speak English fluently until his twenties, he was a master prose stylist who brought a non-English sensibility into English literature.
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Pre-suasion is a broader topic in the field of persuasion. It cannot be dealt with here in enough depth. But you can find our review of Cialdini’s book and a brief explanation of how pre-suasion works here. Using key words pre-suasively, will drastically improve your business writing skills.

5. Put The Object Before The Action (Use Active Voice In Your Business Writing)

Always put the object before the action in your business writing. Readers will find this form of sentence structuring easier to understand. For example, saying — Six customer support tickets were completed in a day — is preferred to — In a day, completed six customer support tickets.

The latter structuring (passive voice) makes your readers spend extra mental effort to fully understand what you are saying. It will make it hard on your readers if you have too much passive voice. Some passive voice is fine but keep it to less than 10% of your content.

6. Fifth Grader Language Will Actually Improve Your Business Writing Skills

Use plain talk that visually makes your points. Fifth grader language and imagination are all you need to play with. Don’t feel tempted to reach for fancy words. They actually blunt the effectiveness of your business writing skills. If you waste your reader’s adulation on your intelligent-sounding words, you will lose out on your main message.

Also, avoid heavy use of metaphors. There is no need to say, “We should kick the tires on this.” Simply say, “Let’s test this.” Too many people use this metaphoric form of writing and speaking in the workplace. Many people copy it thinking it makes their business writing better. Far from it.

Elements Of Effective Professional Writing In Business Emails and Presentations

There is a long list of tips experts suggest to us to improve our writing. Don’t spend your time on all of them. A few critical writing skills will give you a substantial boost. And they are easy to put in practice. Follow the six steps here and significantly improve your business writing skills. Then, sit back and watch your influence grow at work.

When you are making a case of something (in an email or a PowerPoint presentation), don’t provide a long list of justifications. Pick the top two or three points and make your case on them.

When you write an email to people at levels above you, you might notice yourself using the words “I” and “me” excessively. This is our natural tenancy to communicate to those up the chain. But it makes you come across as more of a follower than a person you they would look to be influenced by. When you check or proof-read your emails, remove these words and replace with something else.

Easy Ways To Make Improvements To Your Business Writing Skills

Businesswoman working on improving her business writing skills on her laptop while sipping coffee.

Your writing abilities at work play a bigger role than most people appreciate. It is worth spending some time understanding the basics of what constitutes good and effective business writing.

The steps above account for about 80% of what will make your business writing and language persuasive. The other techniques can be more difficult to learn and implement. For most of us, there is no point in taking the extra time to reach perfection. 80% of a skill level is a great place to be at.

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Instead of spending significant effort on the remaining 20%, work on developing other skills that will help you elsewhere. If you are thinking of compiling a talent stack of killer abilities, here are some suggestions to get you going and to introduce you to talent stacks.

Learn From Formal Business Letters And Emails That Come Your Way

Now you may be lucky enough to work alongside other talented writers in your office. Pay attention to business emails and letters you get from them. You will easily be able to recall people in your organization you compose effective emails. Read and pick up writing elements from these individuals.

You should also see in their composition examples of how they apply the principles of better business writing from this article. See how they are able to accomplish this within your industry and jargon. Learn and copy their writing styles to improve your own business communication.

Reading To Help Make Your Business Writing Skills More Persuasive

Reading lists which will improve your influencing and leadership skills in other areas of life can be found here:

Best Books To Improve Your Influencing And Persuasion Skills

Best Self-Help Books: Time-Tested Self-Improvement Classic Reads

References

Oppenheimer, D.M. “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly” Appl. Cognit. Psychol., 2006, 20, 139–156.


Shaun Mendonsa, PhD is an influencing expert and pharmaceutical development leader. He writes on the topics of influence and persuasion, and develops next generation drugs in human pharma by advising international pharmaceutical CROs and CMOs.


Keywords

Tips to improve your business writing skills, Personal development, Career advice, Formal business letters, Formal business emails, Effective written communication for management and leadership, Purpose of business writing.

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