Five Business Writing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Documents
When you write documents and communications for your business, what you say is only as effective as the way you say it. Grammatical errors, technical jargon, and overly wordy messages can cause you to lose your reader. As a result, your bottom line ends up ignored, and your needs are not met.
At Ariel, we have identified five of the biggest mistakes people make in business writing and ways you can avoid these pitfalls.
1. Not writing for your audience
To guarantee that your reader will understand the message you are sending, you need to first understand who your reader is and craft your message accordingly.
Using overly technical words to a layperson or using company-specific acronyms to someone outside of your company will leave your readers confused. In fact, it may lead them to disregard your message in its entirety. After all, why would they want to waste their time reading something they cannot even understand?
Before drafting your documents, consider your audience. Ask yourself what they already know about your message, what they absolutely need to know, and how they may react. Knowing these details will help you write your message in a way that your reader understands and will make your point clearer.
2. Using the wrong tone
Tone errors (being too formal or too casual) risk turning off your readers from your message or possibly offending people and causing a conflict in your business together.
Being overly casual can look unprofessional. Inserting elements such as short hand, inappropriate jokes, or emoticons could lead your readers to question if you are taking them seriously. Even if your reader does not take an overly casual tone as a slight, it could still lead him or her to question your judgement and understanding of business norms.
Conversely, writing in overly formal tone risks coming across as rude or stuffy. You don’t want to appear insincere or haughty. Using large words, being too blunt about sensitive issues, and over-explaining points that you know your reader is already familiar with can all cause your message to have a stuffy or condescending tone.
Aim to make your communications personable. They should be sincere and respectful; regardless of whom you are writing to, write as you would to a peer or supervisor with whom you have a cordial relationship. The goal is to make your message inviting enough for the reader to want to read, while still conveying the importance of your bottom line.
3. Burying the bottom line
When your reader receives a new message, the first thing that he or she will wonder is what’s in this for me? What about your message is important to the reader? What does the reader need to do with that information?
Research shows that most readers will, at best, only skim the documents they read. If you have an easily distracted reader, putting your main point at the beginning minimizes the risk that he or she will stop reading before they reach that information. This could lead to a failure to follow through on a request or assignment that you need.
While you are planning your document, write down in a line or two what the most important thing is that you want your reader to remember or do. Put this information as close to the start of your document as you can in clear language so that it cannot be missed or confused.
4. Being too wordy
Likewise, if you are writing to busy or distracted readers, including unnecessary information can turn them off and make them lose interest in your message, which is a waste of time for everyone. A long document that is too long could look daunting enough for your audience to put off reading it or ignore it all together.
One of the best ways to shorten your documents is to streamline your sentences and paragraphs. Are there places where your point could be made in fewer words? During your editing phase, find the words that don’t serve a function and delete them. Instead of saying “I would like it if you would…” simply say “please.” “They are of the opinion that…” can become “They think.”
Once you begin streamlining during your editing process, you will begin to recognize wordiness while you are actively writing and can adjust as you go. Taking the time to shorten your sentences now will not only lead to clearer documents, but also will shorten the amount of time it takes you to write in the future.
5. Making spelling and grammar mistakes
Spend even a minute reading the comment section on an online article or a web forum, and you will realize how quickly people are to jump on a spelling or grammatical error.
Grammar and spelling mistakes can color a person’s view of your work ethic and your intelligence. They may think that you are either too lazy to take the time to write correctly or that you are unaware of the basic rules of the language you are writing.
If you are having this problem because you are not editing your documents, you need to leave yourself more time to check your work before you send it off. Even on the strictest deadlines, taking the time to reread your message and fix errors is better than sending a well-crafted message that the reader ignores because you used an incorrect version of there/their/they’re.
If your documents have frequent spelling and grammatical mistakes because you are unaware of the rules you are breaking, set stricter spelling and grammar checks on your word processor of choice. Set it to suggest changes as you type, and run a scanning check when you are finished writing. Most of these programs will also give tips on what rule you are breaking and how you can fix it, so you can learn how to stop making these mistakes in the first place.
By keeping these points in mind during your planning, drafting, writing, and editing phases, you can create reader-centered documents that better express your point and drive appropriate action from your audience.