Wherever you are in the corporate ladder—whether you’re a fresh graduate looking for your first job, a mid-level manager depending on emails to communicate with the team, or an entrepreneur seeking for funding—having strong business writing skills is an integral aptitude to make an impact in your career. However, it’s not that easy.
Even seasoned professionals struggle with unclear, confusing, and long-winded writing. But according to Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Lauren Brodsky, there’s a simple way to improve your professional writing skills: focus on what your audience needs.
Writing in college was about showcasing your smarts and how well-versed you are with the material. So, putting your readers first takes a little practice. Here are four tips on how you can improve your business writing.
Go Straight to the Point
First things first. You have to make it easy for your audience to identify and understand your main point.
Write your bottom line higher up in sentences, paragraphs, or even the whole document. It may be a bit awkward to write this way, but this is important in professional spaces where your intended audience may be too busy to read your entire write-up.
Keep it Brief
You may have to cut down your four-line sentences. Aside from getting straight to the point, learn how to be clear and concise when you’re writing. Also, use an active voice. Contrary to the usually passive academic writing, empathetic professional writing is active. But, how can you assess it?
Notice the mis-hits you frequently use in your sentences like being, not, and has been. Once you find it, rewrite your statements and make it present tense with an active voice.
Although this doesn’t work every single time, it usually does. Rewriting it will effectively shorten your piece.
Write Inclusively (Not Exclusively)
Your co-workers, boss, or colleagues in the field may be able to understand your acronyms and terms, but other people outside your circle may find themselves clueless about your industry jargon. This might end up with a miscommunication that could affect your end result.
To avoid communication blunders, make sure to write for a “smart novice audience”. You should keep in mind that you are talking to people who are generally smart but have no idea what you are specifically referring to.
Define all the terms and keep away from acronyms. You wouldn’t want to make your potential investor feel dumb if they don’t understand your industry terms. Your audience may have to leave your email to look it up only to decide not to go back.
Know Your Audience
It’s important that you know who you’re talking to. It’s like you’re making a sales pitch for a specific person. If you already know them, then your writing will turn out better. If you don’t, make an effort to learn about them, what they know, what they care about, and their fears. Customize your writing according to this information.
Shifting to this “audience-centric writing”, as what Brodsky calls it, can take time and effort. Professionals need to learn how to simplify, cut down on words, and write in an active voice. More than a writing style, it’s a shift in one’s mindset. For Brodsky, being a good professional writer means that you’re empathetic to your readers.