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By Chelsea Adams | Sunday, April 13, 2014

3 business writing tips for non-writers

3 business writing tips for non-writers

How many emails have you written to colleagues, clients, or customers this week? If the answer is one or more, you should consider business writing as part of your job—even if the word “writer” is not in your title.

Business writing is any written communication to teammates, stakeholders, and other people you work with. The good news: You don’t have to be a creative writing major to be an excellent business writer; in fact, you don’t even have to be creative. All you need is the desire to communicate in a way that leaves your reader feeling informed and prepared to take action.

To help you get there, here are three of my favorite tips from the Business Writing Fundamentals course on lynda.com. For simplicity, I’m focusing on email here, but these tips can also be applied to handwritten notes, memos, printed letters, and more.

1. Consider your audience

Before you start writing your email, visualize the people you’re writing to. Think about their personalities, their day-to-day routines, how much detail they want, how much detail they need, and the amount of time they’re likely to spend reading and responding to your email.

Ask yourself the following questions:

• Does this email need to be sent? Could this be covered in a regularly scheduled meeting or a phone call instead?

• Am I writing to a CEO who prefers bullet-list communication or an engineer who needs a lot of technical detail?

• How much background does my recipient need in order to understand the scope of the information I’m trying to relay?

• How will the information I’m communicating personally affect the recipient? Do I need to be sensitive about any subjects? Is there a way I can emphasize how this will specifically benefit the recipient?

• Does this person need to know any specific details that I normally wouldn’t include, like a meeting room location or another procedural detail?

• Will using jargon and acronyms help keep the email short, or will it cause confusion?

Your goal is to send emails that communicate clearly, concisely, and effectively. Since your reader’s needs won’t always be the same, the approach you take to communicate effectively shouldn’t always be the same either.

2. Organize your message so it’s easy to understand

It’s your job to guide readers through your message, not force them to wade through it.

Think of organized emails like walking into clean houses versus messy ones. In the messy house where there’s junk all over the place, it can be hard to find what you need. But in an organized house where everything has its own place, it’s easy to find what you need quickly.

To organize your emails so they’re easy on the eyes and quick to read, try these best practices:

• Place the most important information at the top of your paragraphs; don’t bury it in the middle or at the end.

• Whenever possible, use bullet lists to turn long paragraphs into lists.

• Consider putting critical information—like meeting times, questions, and calls to action—in bold text. (But don’t overuse it! Save bold for critical information.)

3. Be detail-oriented and clear

Every time you draft a memo, letter, or email, it’s your job to make your recipient feel informed and prepared to take action. You want your emails to lead to next steps, not to questions, concerns, or the need for a second message clarifying the first one.

To make sure your email communicates effectively the first time, be sure to

• Nail the small details, like the spelling of your recipient’s name

• Check for other spelling and grammar errors

• Cite references as appropriate

• Answer the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why

• Include clear calls to action: What do you need the recipient to do, how do you want it delivered, and when do you need it by?

Remember: The reason you’re writing the email, memo, or letter is to communicate information. Emails littered with vague calls to action, missing information, and typos waste everyone’s time, and they can make your recipient question your credibility.

Learn more about business writing at lynda.com

To learn more about business writing, and how you can improve your own written communication skills, check out our Business Writing Fundamentals course at lynda.com.

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