“Better get it in writing” is among the most-spoken cautions in the world of business. It’s writing that makes one feel confident in the deal as if they’re protected because everything is clearly expressed. When conducting business, being able to explain yourself on the page can make a difference in negotiations and communications, not just with business colleagues but with clients and prospects.
What Are the Basic Elements of Communication?
Humans communicate three ways: verbally, nonverbally and through written word. Effective speaking and confident nonverbal language go a long way in hashing out a deal over a lunch or networking in a crowd, but it’s writing that leads the list on job skills sought by employers.
Not everyone can work a room, and not everyone can command a page, but if you can master both oral communication and effective writing, it’s a career one-two punch that few really land.
Whether communicating in person, over video, in email, on the phone or through social media, it’s critical the message be understood. But communication is a two-way street. Being able to express yourself is important, but listening is gold, especially in business. Listening well should be at the top of the guidelines for effective oral communication. Really hearing (or reading) what your colleagues, employers and customers say, absorbing that and replying in a way that addresses their needs and concerns is the greatest skill you’ll ever master – and one that will be equally rewarding in your private life.
What's Written Communication?
Writing is used more today than at any point in human history. From Facebook updates and email blasts to text messages and business reports, words are everywhere. Written communication is anything that uses words and language in print or written on the screen, wall or whiteboard to convey a message.
How you use your words can, and should, vary depending on the platform through which you’re expressing yourself. In business, it means being a little more formal. On Facebook business pages, it means being a little less formal. In emails, it means being clear but concise. The legendary communications writer Marshall McLuhan once said, “The medium is the message,” and today that’s still true, but the medium defines the messages.
Demystifying Written Communication
Every professional writer is often told by other that they're "so lucky" they can write well, because most people lament how something is lost between the brain at the page.
But writing is like any skill or talent: the more you do it, the better you get. Don't do it and you'll fail every time. When you begin writing more, do it slower and more thoughtfully, and soon you’ll get more confident and the words will come faster. Journal daily for a brain dump because this helps your mind be clearer, which in turn helps other writing attempts.
And always, always edit. The difference between someone who thinks they’re barely passable at writing and the professional writer isn’t just about skill or practice or that intangible gift of talent – it’s also all about editing. Most professional writers don’t edit once or twice, they edit multiple times. When editing, pretend you don’t have a clue what you’ve written about, and read it as if you’re someone reading it the first time. Read it so you hear the voice in your head, and if you stumble on anything while reading it, it’s likely because you’ve not expressed that thought clearly. Try rewriting the sentence, reordering it or finding more specific words. And then edit again.
What Are the Elements of Effective Writing?
Word choice, syntax, punctuation and style are all the obvious elements of effective writing. Without them, the rest isn’t seen as credible.
But all that doesn’t matter if there isn’t a good central idea or objective behind the writing. What's the communication for and what needs to be understood? Or, in today’s language, what’s the takeaway?
Then, it must be organized well. The idea must be introduced in broad strokes in the initial paragraph and explained or expounded upon in subsequent paragraphs. Assume the person reading it isn’t as familiar with the topic and explain clearly but without being patronizing. Support the idea with evidence or examples or use quotes that bolster the message you’re conveying.
Conclude by referring to the idea you expressed in the opening, but avoid using clichés like, “in conclusion.”
For instance, let’s say you open a work email with something like, “Lately, some discussion has occurred around the idea of creating more client-facing documentation in order to improve communication and boost trust. I support this suggestion because…” A great conclusion would refer back to this opening, such as, “Ultimately, more client-facing correspondence may seem like another burdensome responsibility, but I believe the payoff would come from eventually receiving fewer queries out of the blue and creating a better ongoing dialogue and greater trust. I look forward to discussing this in more detail.”
Helpful Writing Books and Apps
It’s unfortunate to get judged on things like punctuation since it doesn’t come easily to everyone, but the reality is people tend to be more respected and trusted when they express themselves well in writing.
If you’re frequently feeling at a loss for words because you’re insecure about your grammar, syntax or punctuation, you’re far from alone.
Today, software like Microsoft Word has basic editing for grammar and syntax, so use those for first drafts. But there are new players on the block like the Hemingway Editor app, which also has a desktop site, where you can copy and paste your writing to see clear highlighted sections indicating where you’re going wrong with suggestions for improving it. Even professional writers use this app.
A number of books are loved by writing pros, too, like William Strunk’s "Elements of Style" and Stephen King’s "On Writing_."_
Basic Business Writing Tips
- Stop and think. Writers think before they write, and it makes all the difference in being clear. Have a plan before you start. Don’t bury it. Keep your main idea front and center. Start there, don’t stick it three paragraphs down.
- Keep it cheap and simple. Stop using $5 words – get your money's worth by speaking simply and clearly. Say "use," not "utilize." Don’t use jargon, don’t try to sound smart, let your ideas be smart. Everyday language will express your ideas far better and you’ll feel more comfortable as you write – and it’ll show when others read it.
- Don’t waste words. Use as few words as possible and kill multi-word phrases. “End result” should just be “result,” and there are so many more examples. (Microsoft Word is great for pointing these word-wasting phrases out)
- Reduce adjectives and adverbs. Use specific words. A "four-door car" is a sedan. Running fast is "sprinting." Use a thesaurus to broaden your choices.
- Write more and read more to be better. Reading more books will be helpful in getting your head in a better space for writing. Writing daily, whether in a journal or in a long Facebook post for your business, will help you become more confident at expressing yourself.
- Always know your audience. Who you’re writing for can, and should, change what you say and how. Be mindful of who's reading you.
- Never send your first draft. Even professional writers stop to reread and rework their emails. The first draft is never perfect.
- Edit, edit, edit, edit. Editing will change your life.
Steffani Cameron is a professional writer who has written for the Washington Post, Culture, Yahoo!, Canadian Traveller, and many other platforms. Some writing projects have included ghost-writing for CEOs and doing strategy white papers. She frequently writes for corporate clients representing Fortune 500 brands on subjects that include marketing, business, and social media trends.