How to be a better business writer

Do you spend eight hours a day in front of your computer at work? Maybe you’re sending emails. Perhaps you’re writing proposals or recommendations. The reality is that many of us spend much of our day doing some form of written communication. So it’s vital to understand a few simple rules to make the process quick and easy.


Australian Writers’ Centre presenter Kate Hennessy was recently interviewed in Project Manager magazine, published by the Australian Institute of Project Management (the story is pictured above). Here are her tips on how you can develop your business writing skills.

1. Do a course
If you have the budget, do a course that focuses on plain English skills. It will help to crystallise those promising rumours that professional business writing is not as hard as you fear it is!

2. Be direct
Speaking plainly and directly is 90 per cent of the task and most of us do that already in verbal exchanges. Try to bring the directness of conversational English to your written English – we often tie ourselves in knots when we switch from writing to speaking. And when you're tied in knots, your reader is too.

3. Never forget your reader/audience
Speaking of your reader or audience: never forget them. And I mean never. Define them before you begin and keep their wants, needs and expectations front of mind at all times. Read your finished product from their perspective like a role play. Has your writing serviced them … or you? Never underestimate their selfishness. Think about how you read. They're no different!

4. Keep it simple
Unlearn your tendency towards convoluted sentences, jargon and overly-formal language. Many people use business writing to try to make simple things seem more complicated or, conversely, do not translate specialist language into plain language. Do you want to be understood? To persuade? To provoke action? To tell a story? To inform? Great. Focus on those things then, not on using the words ‘leverage', ‘align', ‘strategise' and ‘engage'. These words are by nature ambiguous. People won't think you're ‘across your game' – they'll just be confused.

5. Keep it brief
Master the art of cutting your sentences. Clarity is not achieved by adding words – in fact, the shorter and more direct your sentences are, the clearer they will be every time. You can practice this by Googling ‘cut the clutter' and it won't take long to improve. Look for redundant words or hollow phrases like ‘at this point in time' or ‘in the month of June'.

6. It’s not about you
Remove your ego from your writing. When your ego gets involved so does unnecessary information and self-important jargon. Be self-aware.

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