Have you ever wondered why some people can make millions writing books, and others (maybe you) can’t even complete a simple business letter worth reading? Sure, natural talent probably accounts for some of their writing success. But really the best-selling authors achieved that level of success by devoting serious time and effort to perfecting their craft. Plus, they love to write.
As a busy professional, you’re probably more interested in finishing that letter than reaching the best sellers list. And while your job likely requires some writing, such as proposals, brochure copy, or even correspondence, you probably don’t have time to practice and perfect your writing skills. But that doesn’t mean you can’t improve. Whether you enjoy writing or not, you can make your writing more effective and better by using the following five easy methods:
1. Keep it Simple To make your business proposals, sales letters, and promotional copy more reader-friendly, you must organize your ideas in a simple, logical format. While you don’t have to outline every point you want to make, you should spend a few minutes jotting down your ideas and planning the most effective order to present them. Some people like mind maps, and others prefer lists. Whatever format, or lack thereof, you choose for your pre-writing, make sure it is effective and easy to use. Once you have your ideas down, you can start organizing them. You’ll want to open your piece by capturing your readers’ attention. Answer their question, “What is this about?” If you’re introducing prospects to a new product, then tell them. And if you’re changing a company policy, get to the point right away. Focus on your readers’ perspective and avoid long narrative beginnings, otherwise you risk losing their interest. Then use the middle or body of your piece to identify your main points. Depending on the purpose of your piece, order your points by priority or chronologically. Finally, end your piece on a positive note.
2. Stop Thinking So Much Taking your time and planning every word won’t actually improve your writing. In fact, quickening your pace has a number of benefits, especially in the first draft. First, writing fast captures your natural voice and personality in every sentence. That means your words will sound like you, which is important in making your messages effective. Speeding it up will also help alleviate your fears of making mistakes. If you continuously second guess your sentence structures, word choices, and grammar, you’ll never finish your first paragraph. And that’s what editing and revising are for anyways. That’s right. Get used to the idea of a first draft. Every writer knows the importance of going back over their work to eliminate errors and revise their words. And with business writing, you risk losing credibility and professionalism if you make mistakes. Essentially, if you want your readers to understand the message you’ve put on paper, you must make sure you can understand it yourself. Even the best, most experienced writers know that the editing phase is crucial to creating decent work.
3. Write Less Before your excitement takes hold, write less doesn’t mean write less frequently. In this case, it means write fewer words. Shakespeare once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” And if he didn’t know what he was talking about, then you wouldn’t have read his work in high school English class. So what exactly did he mean? Simple; tighten up your language and leave out every word that doesn’t add meaning to your message. If you want your message to come across on paper the same way it sounds in your head, then you must eliminate all the awkward, wordy phrases that don’t make your message any more meaningful. For example, replace “due to the fact that” with “because.” And substitute a simple “if” for wordy “in the event that.” These simple changes will make your message clear, less verbose, and more professional.
4. Don’t Hold Back If you’re writing something, whatever it is, you obviously have a reason for doing it. Maybe you want to inform your employees of a new policy, or maybe you want to share the benefits of your latest product with prospective clients. Regardless of the reason, you must make it clear to your readers. Otherwise, they won’t read past your first sentence. Be direct, use strong verbs, and make powerful points. If you’re trying to sell your services, tell your readers how you’re different from the competition. Or if you need support for an upcoming project, tell your readers how they can help. Don’t make them figure out what you want. Tell your readers why they need to read your piece, what’s in it for them, and what action you want them to take.
5. Take a Break Depending on your project, and your propensity to procrastinate, try to give yourself a break from every piece you write. For example, try writing your rough draft in the morning, and then reread and revise after lunch. For shorter pieces, the best time to take a break is after your first draft is completed. When you’re writing longer pieces, like books or business plans, break after completing a section or chapter. You certainly don’t want to stop mid-sentence, or even mid-paragraph because you may forget where you were headed. Taking some time off from every project will allow you to return to it with new perspective and increased objectivity. You’ll see your own errors, gaps in your information, and organizational challenges more readily when you’ve taken some time away. Even if you’re on a deadline and can only spare ten minutes, go take a walk or do something else. Your writing will be better for it.
Better Writing in the Future Even if you love writing, you can’t deny it takes work. But you can make major improvements to your written work without serious effort. Start by organizing your message into a simple, logical format. Then stop stressing over every word, and write freely and quickly through your first draft. Eliminate wordy phrases to keep your message concise, and tell your readers exactly what you want them to gain from every piece you write. Finally, take a break from your work so you can come back to it with a fresh, objective perspective. Improving your business writing doesn’t have to be difficult. When you use these five easy methods for better writing, your work will be more effective and you’ll see big results from little effort.
Melinda is an Editorial Specialist for Cameo Publications, the leading editorial and publishing services and consulting firm for professional speakers and business leaders. With her writing expertise, she helps clients communicate their knowledge to the marketplace with clarity and confidence. For more information, e-mail her at Melinda@CameoPublications.com or call (843) 785-3770.