In the business world, poorly written documents can create misunderstandings and cost relationships, time, and money. Good business writing, though is not just about spelling, grammar and punctuation. It’s also about ensuring that your document speaks appropriately and professionally to your reader. That’s why it’s important to learn how to avoid certain business writing mistakes. Here’s what not to do.
Make your writing unclear
Clarity is very important in business writing. Your readers are busy and don’t want to figure out what you are trying to say. Make sure your vocabulary is precise and correct for the situation. Use the correct verb and tenses, and ensure that you’ve used uncomplicated sentence structures. For those whose second language is English, it is especially important to be attentive to clarity because it is very easy to slip into the wrong vocabulary, verb tense or an awkward or confusing sentence structure. If your reader has to struggle to decipher your words, then you haven’t communicated effectively.
Write in a wordy prose
Wordiness is another business writing mistake, a bad habit many writers have. Business writing needs to be concise, economical, and not waste the reader’s time. Get to the point. Watch out for certain commonplace bloated phrases such as “at this point in time” (say now), “despite the fact that” (use because), and “until such time as” (until). Also, watch out for long lead ins. For example, instead of writing “I am sending this letter to let you all now that the office will be closed Monday”, why not simply say, “the office will be closed on Monday”. It really is that simple.
Use stiff, starch over bearing tone
Using a stiff, overbearing tone is another business writing mistake. Many people equate business writing with an authoritative tone. Actually, the tone of a business document needs to be conversational, convey a voice of professionalism and authenticity and be written as if your reader were sitting in front of you. Watch out especially for negative passive voice writing. (“It was decided that all internet use during work is strictly prohibited”). Also watch out for “lawyer language”. There’s no need for phrases such as “pursuant to your request, the undersigned wishes to advise you that”.
Focus on the writer’s concerns
Business writing is all about the reader. Many writers overuse the word “we”, and don’t put enough “you” in their documents. They also neglect one of the core purposes of a business document which is promoting goodwill with the reader and retaining a relationship with him/her. Write your document with empathy to the reader’s needs and concerns. There’s nothing worse than a business letter that whines to the reader about your problems.
Use outdated expressions
Plain conversational writing is in, and stuffy, old-fashioned writing is out. Here are some trite phrases that you should avoid: as per your request (why not say as you requested); pursuant to your request (why not say at your request); with reference to (why not say about).
Using too many negative key words
Your document is a dialogue with your reader. If you use negative words, you’ll dampen the relationship on a subtle level. Writing can communicate consciously and even unconsciously. Try to keep your document as positive as possible, avoiding negative words and phrases. Instead of writing “unfortunately, we can’t fill your order until after November 5″, why not write “we’d be happy to fill your order after November 5″.
Use Chatroom or IM lingo
Watch out for lapsing into “chat room” or IM (instant messaging) lingo when you are writing a business email. This is a relatively recent phenomenon, but it can make you appear less professional in your writing. Yes, you might text everyday in your off hours, but shortened and abbreviated language doesn’t belong in a business document.
Make spelling and grammar mistakes
That might seem obvious, as I mentioned early. These days, I’ve observed my students have also become over-reliant on spell-checkers, and more reluctant to edit their work closely. Spell-checkers, however, are fallible. Do yourself a favor, and print out your document, then give it a hard-copy edit. Many people miss mistakes when they edit on-screen or use spell-checkers.
These are only a few of the business writing mistakes you can learn to avoid. There are no quick fixes, though. Practice makes perfect.