Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Write Way: Effective Business Writing

It’s hard to overstate the importance of effective writing to the success of a business endeavour. The words you choose to describe your idea, product, or service can make or break a prospective transaction, and attract or repel clients. Furthermore, proficiency in writing can make the difference between being perceived as a consummate professional, or an overweening amateur.

The basics always matter

In the era of spell-check, it’s easier to avoid egregious spelling errors than it was in the past. But there is a pitfall: when we rely on technology to correct our mistakes for us, we risk indulging in complacency—which can yield errors of a different kind. Nowadays, “correct” misspellings crop up frequently, like the following:

Delivery service is available in over one hundred countries, on six contents.

...a conveniently located house with an ensuite bathroom and specious kitchen.

Some misspellings/grammar mistakes are distressingly common, even among highly educated people:

The French Revolution lead to the ascendancy of Napoleon Bonaparte.

It is always important to chose one’s words wisely.

For more on grammatical faux pas, see this page at Copyblogger, and this (more advanced) one at Lit Reactor. Where spelling is concerned, this comic strip at The Oatmeal is both humorous and instructive.

Proofread your work, twice

As an entrepreneur, you are certainly conversant with time pressure and tight deadlines. But there is no substitute for carefully proofreading your work. Pay particular attention to your company website and social media, the foundations of your brand. Don’t underestimate the value of a disinterested second pair of eyes; ask someone you trust, with strong spelling and grammar skills, to peruse your work before you publish it. A credible reputation for attention to detail is a priceless asset in the business world—sloppy writing, on the other hand, is a red flag.

Aim for clarity and economy of words

If there is a rule of thumb for effective writing, it is that clarity and economy of words nearly always yield a superior final product. Whenever you write something, ask yourself: “Could I convey this concept more clearly, or in fewer words?” You may be surprised at how often the answer is “Yes.”

Think of yourself as a journalist who is attempting to shoehorn information into a limited word-count, highlighting the most salient details.

Show, don’t tell

Adjectives can be useful and illustrative in proper measure, but many prospective customers are wary of being “over-sold.” Accordingly, err on the side of too few adjectives rather than too many; emphasize the tangible properties and past successes of the product or service you offer. Testimonials from satisfied customers can be useful in this regard. What particular want or need does your product fill? How, exactly?

Know, and cater to, your readership

Understand the level of familiarity of your prospective clients with your product. Avoid jargon wherever feasible, and use your discretion in clarifying ideas and defining terms.

Clients will invariably ask questions, and some queries may arise repeatedly. Keep a list of those that recur, and set up a FAQ page on your website.

Read in your spare time

One of the surest ways to enhance any skill is to learn from others who excel at it. Read widely—news, press releases, literature, magazine articles. Reading will help you expand your vocabulary, learn new figures of speech, build linguistic precision, and gain general knowledge. Staying abreast of current events and the latest advancements in your industry is useful for networking purposes, too. The more you can impress people with your expertise, and your ability to articulate it, the more your prospective client base will grow.

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