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Clearer Business Writing

Posted by Matt Nagler, Managing Partner  

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Whether or not you think of yourself as a writer, you probably do a lot of writing at work: emails to co-workers, memos to your boss, reports for the office. Being a good writer not only helps you communicate more clearly and effectively, but can help you stand out as an employee.


While effective business writing is a critical skill to have, it’s something that we rarely get guidance on. As Kara Blackburn from the MIT School of Management has said, “You can have all the great ideas in the world and if you can’t communicate, nobody will hear them.” So what do all good business writers have in common? They’re clear, they don’t write a paragraph when a word will suffice and they always keep the audience in mind.


Before you sit down and put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – know what you’re trying to communicate. If you aren’t sure, your audience won’t be either. When you start, think of the one sentence that sums up the whole project and start with that. It doesn’t matter if you like how the sentence sounds (we’ll get back to that,) having it be the first thing on the page will remind you of your goal while you’re writing and let your reader focus on the point as soon as they start.


And speaking of your audience, as you’re writing, keep in mind who you are writing for and the purpose of what you’re trying to say. Are you trying to promote a product for customers? Keep the product front and center in each paragraph and let the reader know how it will benefit her.


When you’re trying to persuade someone to a point of view, focus on a strong structure with clear signposts. Using the words, “”first, second and third” may feel like you’re back in high school, but they will let you reader see where new points are being delineated and keep them (and you) on track. If you’re trying to inform and educate someone, keep in mind what the audience already knows and what they need to know rather than writing everything you can think of about the topic. 


Are you trying to convey information to co-workers? Make sure your point is clear and prominent. In a case like this an introductory paragraph and some bullet points might do the trick.


Write the first draft fast. Messy is okay. Scattered is okay. Starting at a blank page is hard, but editing something is much easier. So once you’ve written it, re-write it. Take a look at the first sentence. Did you stick to the theme throughout? Who were you writing it to; are they the audience you actually wrote for? Take out all the jargon and repetitive statements, trim the parts that have a lot of words where one would do. Tighten your opening sentence. Did you say what needed to be said both persuasively and quickly? Your reader, like you, has limited time.


Writing can seem like a slog, it gets easier with practice. Keep in mind the basics: clarity, brevity and audience and they’ll come faster each time.