When it comes to business writing, it is sometimes difficult to know what is the “right” way, particularly if your target audience is varied. Regardless of who you are writing for, there are some common mistakes that should be avoided:
Not following the style guide
The main issue with not adhering to the organisation’s style guide is inconsistency across—and even within—business documents. Having a style guide eliminates the time potentially wasted on writers wondering whether they should add an extra comma, include numbered bullet points or put headings in italics. Most importantly, the organisation’s brand is clear, professional and consistent.
Using passive voice
Passive: “This questionnaire was completed by more than 75 per cent of employees.”
Active: “More than 75 per cent of employees completed this questionnaire.”
The second sentence emphasises the high completion rate and packs more of a punch with the reader. It’s not necessary to ditch the passive voice altogether; it certainly has its place, particularly if the actor is unknown or is irrelevant. However, in most cases, using the active voice is preferable as it reduces ambiguity and conveys a clear message.
Including too many complex sentences
A common misconception is that business writing should contain long, “fancy” words so as to come across as sounding more credible and professional. In fact, complicated and long-winded paragraphs can be distracting and confusing for the reader so it is best to keep sentences short and concise. This way, the key messages are less likely to become lost within the document, and a time-poor reader will be grateful if the document has a logical flow and is jargon-free.
Using informal language and tone
Good business writing may need to have concise, simple language, but it still has to be professional.
There is a hierarchy when it comes to business writing and how formal the language should be. In general, a business report is more formal than a memo, which is more formal than an email. Something that has crept into more and more work emails is the smiley face. It might seem appropriate for someone in your team, but you never know who may see the email so err on the side of caution and keep any correspondence polite but not too personal.
If you would like more hints, tips and techniques, there are countless fantastic online resources to help improve your business writing skills. The Free Management Library is just one such resource that contains informative articles on writing and is split into separate user-friendly topics.