This post is by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene, authors of “The Business Style Handbook, An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job.”
Keep your business communications short and simple. The goal is to make it effortless for your audience to understand you.
Choose words that convey your meaning in the simplest terms. A good guideline is to write as you speak. Readers are confused, not impressed, by legalistic or esoteric vocabularies. Write simply because simplicity is a product of careful thought and choice.
“Employers and writing coaches say business-school graduates tend to ramble, use pretentious language or pen too-casual emails,” Diana Middleton wrote in an article on WSJ.com. Don’t fall into any of these categories. Distinguish yourself by making clarity a priority when selecting words. Shoot for the specific and concrete, not the ambiguous and abstract.
At the same time, be sure your tone is appropriate. Refrain from using language better suited for texting or IM in formal communications. Nell Minow, editor and cofounder of the Corporate Library, said in a New York Times article that she won’t hire people who can’t write. “If they’re using texting language in a memo, that’s a bad sign,” she said.
Likewise, avoid the temptation to always write in the idiom of your business or specialty. It may be familiar, save you time and send the signal that you are an insider. But is it appropriate? Be guided by your audience. Understand what they know about the subject and the level of detail they will want.
The vice chairman may ask for a report on how foreign exchange rates are affecting profitability, but chances are he does not want details about currency fluctuations in every market. Customers want to know how a new online service will help them, not how the technology operates. For an email to an IT group versed in technology and systems, technical language works and is efficient. If you are sending the same email to the entire organization, write in plain English so that everyone understands.
Another reason to keep it simple is that time is not on your side in today’s business world. Everyone is inundated with information from multiple sources and attention spans are increasingly short. When you cut to the chase in your written communications, you not only do your readers a favor, you also demonstrate your own competence.
Think of it this way: ignoring the way you present content to the reader is like dressing inappropriately. It undermines you and sends the wrong message about your professionalism. So keep it simple. Write and dress appropriately. It will make a big difference.