12 Tips for Strong, Credible Business Writing
In a world dominated by email and social media, your success is directly proportional to your ability to influence others through the written word.
Here are some business writing pointers with real-life examples:
1. State your conclusion first.
People today are simply too busy to ponder your thought processes. They need you to get to the point of the email within the first two sentences.
Wrong: "In this white paper, we will investigate the potential impact of remedial sales training in our buyer/seller relationships. First, let us discuss the initial conditions which precipitated our inquiry.
Right: "If we don't fund the ABC sales training program, our sales will plummet."
2. Be personal rather than impersonal.
Strong business writing strengthens relationships. But how can you have a relationship with somebody you don't know or who hides behind biz-blab?
Wrong: "The operational goals of this organization include an increase in morale as well as overall job satisfaction."
Right: "I want to enjoy working here. I'll bet you do, too."
3. Give concrete examples rather than abstract concepts.
While abstract concepts have value, they're difficult to understand when not anchored by an actual example.
Wrong: "The ability for sales and marketing to cooperate on sales opportunities is crucial to sustainable revenue growth."
Right: "The other day, we lost the Acme account because our sales message and our marketing message didn't jibe."
4. Appeal to emotion as well as intellect.
Human beings make decisions based on their emotions and then find intellectual reasons to defend the decision.
Wrong: "Our records indicate that 10% of our sales opportunities are lost without any sustained effort in the area of competitive analysis and comparison."
Right: "Everyone around here loves winning deals so much that we get skittish when it comes to finding out why we lost a deal."
5. Use vivid wording rather than cliches.
Using unimaginative biz-blab or tired old metaphors causes your writing to fade into the mental woodwork.
Wrong: "This action item calls for out-of-the-box thinking."
Right: "If you've got an idea that you're afraid might be half-baked or even half-**sed, let's consider it anyway."
6. Don't repeat yourself.
Repetition adds bulk to your writing without adding any content. It drags your writing down and blunts whatever point you're trying to make.
Wrong: "This training program teaches you to learn the best tricks, tips, techniques and skills for every stage of the market process."
Right: "This program teaches the best marketing tricks."
7. Be brief rather than long-winded.
Some business people seem to think they're being paid by the word, like the pulp fiction writers of the 1930s. (Note: the "wrong" example below is NOT from an automatic corporate jargon generator. It is from a real document.)
Wrong: "In order to focus externally, we must focus both externally and internally (customer's customer and internal alignment necessary to respond), with internal collaboration with common focus/goals by stakeholders accountable for ultimate business results oriented, optimized and coordinated outputs, aligned around the sales cycle and with a proactive approach to higher order competency investments and being unwilling to throw deliverables over the fence to sales teams and trust results will be achieved."
Right: "We need to measure how well this works."
8. Focus on the unique rather than the generic.
If what you're saying is exactly the same as what everybody else is saying, why bother?
Wrong: "Our B2B services increase sales and reduce costs."
Right: "Our customers often double their profit margins. No other vendor can do this."
9. Use nouns and verbs rather than adjectives or adverbs.
Adjectives and adverbs weaken your writing, especially when you try to use them to
perk up a dull sentence.
Wrong: "We have an exciting, brand new product that will easily and quickly solve your most difficult sales process problems."
Right: " This product will help you turn prospects into customers in less time."
10. Tell stories to emphasize key facts.
People relate to and then remember stories long after facts have slipped from memory.
Wrong: "Studies indicate that some office workers spend as much as 40% of their time writing and answering internal emails."
Right: "I sat down this morning and opened Outlook and you know what I discovered? 237 new messages! 237!! So I'm wondering how the heck can I get through all that junk and still get some real work done? "
11. Use simple words rather than fancy jargon.
Using unnecessary long words or jargon that's needless technical doesn't make you sound smart; it makes you sound like a smarty-pants.
Wrong: "The facility-wide 802.11 networking infrastructure has now been completely implemented and is currently available for workplace utilization."
Right: "You can now use wireless in this building."
12. Present evidence rather than opinion.
Unless somebody knows you personally and trusts your judgement, your opinions aren't convincing. On the contrary, they usually sound "as if you protesteth too much."
Wrong: "We have the best service, the most reliable product and the friendliest salespeople."
Right: "We won the XYZ best service award. Twice."
If you need help with your business writing, sign up for my free weekly newsletter, andI'll critique your sales message for free.
Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.