8 Harvard Tips for Better Business Writing

Declan Mulkeen

10 Aug 2016

The tangible and intangible costs of poor writing are all too apparent to most organisations. Bad writing negatively impacts not only on your company’s image but also on its bottom line.

What can organisations do about the poor state of writing among their employees?  Discover some top tips for better business writing.

Better business writing

Bad writing negatively impacts not only on your company’s image but also on its bottom line.

We, as managers, often have to deal with employees whose writing contains basic spelling and grammatical errors. We have to review and edit sentences that make little to no sense and weed out slang or other language that is inappropriate in a business environment.

We have to contend with the intrusion of ‘biz-speak’ and other jargon that sounds pretentious at best for native speakers and can sound like a foreign language to others

Worse yet, we have to contend with the intrusion of ‘biz-speak’ and other jargon that sounds pretentious at best for native speakers and can sound like a foreign language to others.

Then there is TXT SPK and other unprofessional writing styles courtesy of social media such as emoticons.

Top Tips for Better Business Writing

Harvard Business Review published a guide that addressed many of these issues. Forbes magazine also references the HBR Guide to Better Business Writing. Here is a summary of some of the most important points that can assist writers to improve their business writing skills.

1. Know Why You Are Writing

Writers should be clear about their objectives. Why are they writing the article? Who is their audience? What is the goal they are expecting to achieve by writing the article? Without knowing or reflecting on the basics, the article may have no impact, even if it targets the correct audience.

2. Understand Your Readers

Most audiences want to be engaged straight away. Getting to the point quickly accomplishes this. It is also important to address your audience in the appropriate tone.

Most audiences want to be engaged straight away

Forbes gives an excellent example of Warren Buffet’s method of writing an annual report, where he addresses the audience in an intelligent tone yet also assumes the audience may not have the expertise he has. Buffet famously writes with his sisters in mind.

3. Write the First Draft Quickly

Many experts advise an author to write a first draft without emphasising spelling, grammar, or correct sentence structure. First drafts should set the tone of the article and capture the main important themes. By doing so, the first draft’s broad structure has also been created.

Many experts advise an author to write a first draft without emphasising spelling, grammar, or correct sentence structure

Then, the author can return to the draft and make the necessary grammatical edits. These edits should ensure that the article reads smoothly and that the content is complete and makes sense to the target audience. Edits should also include correcting spelling and other writing errors as well.

4. Revise and Edit

Many authors put aside a draft article for a short period. When it is reviewed afterwards, many edits can be seen more easily than if the author tried to make these edits immediately after writing the draft.

By finding a different time to make additional edits, the writer is usually in a better position to see the whole article more clearly as well as any detailed changes that need to be made.

5. Be Clear

Being clear is more than simply correcting grammatical errors or adding something that was forgotten. Well written business writing often backs up a statement with a specific, detailed example that explains the point in an unmistakable way, such as the Warren Buffet example found above.

Well written business writing often backs up a statement with a specific, detailed example that explains the point in an unmistakable way

6. Don’t Waste Words

The English language is flexible. Word choices are wide ranging. Choosing words that put across a point directly is often the most effective way to write.

7. Business Speak

Business-speak and other jargon come across as lazy. A lazy writer is not often taken seriously to the point where their competence might even be questioned.

Using clear language that is void of jargon will also make your writing more intelligible for people who are reading it in a language that is not their own.

Business speak and other jargon come across as lazy

8. Relax

Avoid sarcasm and other communication styles that can be easily misinterpreted

Overly formal, stiff language does not have a place in the business world, at least in the English language and outside a formal courtroom setting. Be polite. Avoid sarcasm and other communication styles that can be easily misinterpreted. Many of the best business writers imagine they are speaking to their audience face-to-face.

Add your own touch to achieve a better business writing style

Finally, be yourself. Authors have their own personalities and styles. Find an interesting way to incorporate your own personality into your business writing whilst following these simple steps should engage your audience and ensure your writing is read, understood and acted upon. Don’t be afraid equally to ask for training. There are lots of great online and instructor-led options out there.

Overly formal, stiff language does not have a place in the business world



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