Three Steps to Effective Business Writing

How many emails do you get each day? How many pieces of paper pass through your hands in a week? 

Written communication is the #1 form of communication used in the workplace. Whether it’s communicating with supervisors, co-workers, clients, or vendors, we are constantly sending written communication back and forth. 

The top issue I hear from clients is a lack of effective communication in their organizations. And usually, that includes inadequate written communication. Effective business writing can have a huge impact on an organization’s ability to grow. Look at any job description and you’re likely to find the requirement of “excellent communication skills, both written and oral”. But while it’s extremely important and in most cases required, there are few resources on how to be effective in business writing. 

Industry in the US is becoming more remote and more global, which means that effective writing is even more critical now. So how can you be a more effective writer and how can you train your employees to draft effective written communication?

There are three key steps to effective business writing: 

  1. Prewriting: Before you put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard, think about why you’re writing, who your audience is, and what you need to convey. This is best done by creating an outline and there are three common outline formats. Just remember, there is no right or wrong way to create an outline. Use the method that works best for you. (I’m a classic outliner, cluster outlines stress me out!)
    1. Classic outline: uses roman numerals to outline sections and sub-sections (headings & sub-headings)
    2. Full-Sentence outline: Uses full sentences to outline each paragraph/topic (estimate total paragraphs/sections)
    3. Cluster outline: Similar to brainstorming, jot down ideas and cluster similar ideas together to create main topics and sub-topics. 
  2. Drafting: Once you’ve created an outline, now you’re ready to put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. Keep in mind, a first draft is a rough draft, it’s not meant to be perfect. A few rules to keep in mind as you sit down to write:
    1. Know yourself. Where do you do your best writing, what helps you to concentrate? Are you in the right mind to write or do you need to come back to it at a later time when you’re in a better mental state? 
    2. Once you start, don’t stop. Let your thoughts flow without hesitation. Don’t stop in the middle and take a break, you might break your train of thought or lose your stamina. And don’t try to edit as you go, just write. 
    3. Once you stop, walk away. Don’t immediately start editing your first draft. Take a break, whether that’s 15 minutes or two days. Give your mind time to settle back down and absorb what you put on paper. 
  3. Editing: Now that you gave yourself that break, come back to it. Read it and start analyzing it. Did you get your points across, is it in a logical order, does it speak to your audience? Once you think you’re done, have someone else take a peek. Ask them to read it both for understanding and for grammar. Here at Horizon Point, we always have someone proofread what we write, from blog posts to proposals, to reports for clients (and yes, sometimes even emails before we hit send). 

Once you have the three keys to business writing down, start to consider how you can measure the effectiveness of your writing. This will vary depending on the type of communication and what your goal was. You may find that you need to measure quality, quantity, or both. 

Could your organization benefit from more effective business writing? 

Lorrie Coffey

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