Business writing is not easy. It has to be direct and persuasive. If you use too many unusual words or craft a rambling sentence that doesn't make sense, you could lose more than a reader-you can lose a customer. These tips come directly from the Udemy, the startup that offers online courses in everything from Web development to photography. The company was kind enough to share a custom code with me ("Inc.com" without quotes) for their business writing course, which normally costs $299. Just click the option to redeem a code; it will only work for the first 50 people.
Note: All of the material below comes directly from Udemy. They will hate me for saying this, but it is one of my favorite company names because I always think it sounds like "you da man" and gets me a little fired up to take more courses.
1. Avoid reversing into sentences
Poorly structured sentences often lead with a weaker (subordinate or dependent) clause, and end on an "active" (independent) clause- blunting their impact. Take the example below:
"In order to aid victims of the earthquake, the organization donated $500,000″.
If this sentence is restructured to lead with the stronger "active" clause, it reads much more naturally:
"The organization donated $500,000 in order to aid victims of the earthquake."
Additionally, this new structure allows the writer to be more concise by removing an unnecessary phrase ("in order to"):
"The organization donated $500,000 to aid victims of the earthquake."
2. Use crisp distinctions to heighten contrasts between opposing ideas
Drawing effective comparisons is an essential element of any writer's toolbox. To maximize the impact of a comparison, make sure that distinctions are clearly structured, specific and as analogous as possible. This might mean making sure that your phrasing is very specific: don't compare Q1 2015 profits with those of "previous quarters", compare them with last quarter's profits, or Q1 2014 profits.
Sentence structure and appropriate punctuation also play an important role in heightening distinctions, and guiding users through complex comparisons that bring in multiple details. Take the following sentence as a negative example:
"Candidates for the position include A, a former startup CEO with technical and managerial skills; and a Colorado based contractor, B, who would need to relocate and has four years of industry experience."
Although all the information in the sentence is relevant to the hiring decision, the structure and punctuation confuses the comparison- since the information about Candidate B's relocation is not relevant to the comparison of the two candidates' experience. Using double dashes to frame that detail as an aside helps reinforce the comparison.
"Candidates for the position include A, a former startup CEO with technical and managerial skills, and B -- who is based on Colorado and would need to relocate -- a contractor with four years of industry experience."
3. Avoid over-stretching your thoughts
While great writers often use long and complex sentences elegantly, excessively long strings of sub-clauses can often burden the reader and obscure your point.
The sentence below attempts to squeeze in too many sub-clauses, and it is a challenge for the reader to follow it to conclusion.
"Michael recently moved from China, where he taught english to students in China's Solar Valley, a community which has enjoyed enormous investment from the Himin Solar Energy Group in solar technology, to New York, where he'll be utilizing some of his Chinese contacts to start his own solar energy business.
With so many clauses and sub-clauses, the meaning of this sentence is lost and the impact blunted. Tearing it up into two sentences allows the reader to digest the information in manageable pieces. Within the first sentence, the use of a colon instead of a third comma also serves to emphasize the final and most important clause of the sentence (which connects it to the next sentence).
"Michael recently returned from China, where he taught english in China's Solar Valley: a community which has enjoyed enormous investment from the Himin Solar Energy Group in solar technology. In New York, he'll be utilizing some of his Chinese contacts to start his own solar energy business."
4. Redundant word echoes make your writing fall flat
One of the biggest challenges in writing is the necessity of avoiding redundancy. The lines below illustrate the downside of redundancy:
"The submarine industry is on the upswing; but life in a submarine is notoriously cramped and unpleasant (with many submarine operators churning out of the industry on a regular basis). Nonetheless, submarine enthusiasts and investors in marine extraction industries continue to fill submarine order lists."
If you have to refer regularly to a noun for which there aren't many direct synonyms (for example, an article about submarines) you might have to get creative. Here are few options:
a non-direct synonym (vessel, craft)
a metaphor (refer to "life under water" rather than "life in a submarine")
a generic term (instead of "submarine operator" just "operator")
Send me your ideas for improving, okay?