5 common business writing mistakes – and how to avoid them

You only get one chance to make a first impression. So you better make it count. With the rise of text messaging and abbreviations used in social media, effective written communication is falling by the wayside.

This could be happening in your blog posts, brochures, websites and even your advertisements. The result is that you could be giving your prospects and customers a sloppy impression of your business.

Trust me. It's not just the pedantic Punctuation Police who are keen to catch you out. Whether you like it or not, sloppy business writing sends a subliminal message to your customers and prospects about your attention to detail (or lack thereof), your competence and your professionalism.

It's not just our love of text messaging and social media that's to blame. Sadly, many schools do not make grammar and punctuation a priority in the curriculum. Also, the clear and concise art of business writing is also rarely taught at universities. This combination could have an adverse effect on your business. It's vital to be aware of the common mistakes people make when it comes to business writing.

Mistake #1: Treating a company as a plural
A company is a single entity. However, people often treat it as a plural – and that's wrong.

WRONG: Microsoft are going to release a new tablet.

RIGHT: Microsoft is going to release a new tablet.

Mistake #2: Not stating the conclusion first
In business writing, it's important to state your conclusion, summary or recommendation first and then follow up with supporting information later. Your readers, customers and prospects are typically time poor, so you want to ensure that you get your message across immediately. It can be tempting to provide background information first, leading up to your key point or punch line. While it may seem counterintuitive, the opposite is true.

Mistake #3: Not identifying your target reader
This is the cornerstone of good business writing but it's so often ignored. Before you even start writing, you should take the time to be really clear about who your target reader is. Identify what they look like, whether they are male or female, what jobs they might have, perhaps their income level … whatever it is that would be helpful to give you a picture of who they are. Give them a name if that helps: Sue from the accounts department or John from Pennant Hills, a 55-year-old golf lover.

Once you determine this, you can write directly to your reader. The process of business writing then becomes a whole lot easier.

Mistake #4: Using vague rather than specific terms
It's far more useful to a reader if you can be specific instead of vague. For example:

VAGUE: If the load gets too heavy, contact a foreman for help.

SPECIFIC: If the load weighs more than 50kgs, contact a foreman on 9555 1000 for help.

One person's idea of what is “too heavy” could be entirely different to someone else's. Being specific wherever possible eliminates confusion and takes away the guesswork for your reader.

Mistake #5: Using jargon
This happens a lot, particularly in the banking and finance industry. Often, we see brochures, reports and other business communication that are full of jargon. Avoid it like the plague. Never assume that your reader will be familiar with the terms that you are using and, if you do use jargon, make sure you explain it. If you continue to use terms that are unfamiliar to your reader, this will alienate them. Either you'll make them feel stupid or they'll simply tune out because they won't understand what you are referring to.

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