No matter your occupation—whether it’s healthcare, law, hospitality, technology, or none of the above—writing is a skill that will empower your team to become better communicators. Effective writing helps businesses grow and succeed in big and small ways—daily emails, important presentations, and lucrative proposals to name a few examples.
While business writing isn’t usually thought of as a creative endeavor, it does take the same kind of critical thinking. Leading your team to become skillful writers isn’t difficult; it involves providing proper guidelines, encouraging collaboration, and giving constructive feedback. As someone who has led an editorial team, the same advice I’d bestow to professional writers also works well for business and marketing teams.
Determine the most effective format for your writing
Before jumping into a project, stop to think about what it is—is it an internal document full of data and research or a client-facing presentation with fewer words and more images? One will be more technical and drier, while the other should have engaging, direct language. This is a good starting point to level-set, zoom out, and consider the context of writing.
Write a one-sentence objective
Ask your team to describe what they’re trying to say in one succinct sentence; ask them share their ideas in a workshop and revise until everyone has a crystal-clear objective.
Tip: Write the objective on a post-it note and stick it near your computer as a constant reminder to keep you on track. No left turns allowed!
To get your tone in writing right, consider your audience
As writing is a form of communication, it’s super important to consider who you’re talking to. You’d probably describe a movie differently to a 6-year-old than an adult, right? It’s the same concept in business writing, except it might be your boss versus a peer or a client versus a consumer. Making this distinction will subtly change your writing style to cater to your audience.
Create a writing styleguide
Creating a styleguide for your team will get everyone on the same page, so your business has a cohesive, unified way of writing. Elements often included in a styleguide are:
- Typography and fonts
- Lettercasing rules
- When to spell out numbers
- Words to use and not to use
These are all small things, but they add up to one big mess if no one adheres to the same rules. If you want to do a deep dive into styleguides, these resources will help you develop and customize your own to fit your specific needs:
Be concise; be clear
Of course, you want to encourage creativity and imagination from your team, but business writing isn’t the place to wax poetic or get experimental. In other words—cut the fluff. Instead, introduce the idea of plain language, a writing technique that prioritizes simple words and straightforward sentence structures.
Write with confidence
When you meet someone for the first time, you stand up straight, look them in the eye, and introduce yourself clearly. This is also the impression you want to give through writing. Leave out phrases like: “Just, “I think,” and “Actually.” Don’t start sentences with: “Well,” “So…” or “OK.”
Choose definitive words and phrases that don’t give the impression of a hesitation or a pause.
Your voice should be professional (but that doesn’t mean boring)
“Sound professional” is a vague statement, because it’s not like you can put suit over a paragraph and a sentence can’t give a firm handshake. In fact, the word “professional” has a somewhat dull connotation—void of personality, amusement, and fun. However, good business writing should engage the reader. Think of your favorite teacher from school who made math more fun or English class more interesting. The tone should always be respectful and well-mannered, but encourage your team to put a little of their personality into their writing. Remember, people are not computers.
Don’t use slang, social-speak, or acronyms
Even though acronyms and emojis have become accepted forms of communication, it does not belong in business writing. So leave the LOLs and OMGs for conversations with your friends.
Do watch your industry-specific jargon and vocabulary
Many fields of work have their own language. For example: chemists, software engineers, architects, and lawyers all use industry-specific words that most would not understand. While this doesn’t pose an issue for internal communications, it’s important to remind your team to simplify their language when writing to a less-informed audience.
How to write a business email
Poor emails. Once a revolutionary form of lightning-fast communication, they’re now seen as those pesky things that clog up our inboxes and cause anxiety. We find ourselves overwhelmed with work emails because many of us fail to construct an effective message. We quickly type, don’t bother proofing, and hit send to get to the next one. A good work email will:
- Begin with an objective. What are you asking? What is the purpose of the email?
- Follow with details. Give any pertinent information, but make it brief. Bullet points can help with clarity.
- End with a call-to-action. What response do you need from the recipient? Ask directly to get what you want.
Yes, it may take a few more minutes to write a more thoughtful email, but it will shorten the exchange of emails and make your work more efficient.
Watch out for common grammatical mistakes
There are some common grammar traps that people always fall into. You probably see these particular typos frequently, but one wrong word can honestly delegitimize the whole of your writing. Here are a few that everyone has succumbed to at least once or twice:
- It’ s/its
Commit these to memory, and you’ll probably never make these mistakes again. And if you want to double-check (and you always should), try our new free online grammar checker.
Lean on your colleagues — they’re your best editors
If you are building a writing process for your team, the last steps should include a peer review. Not only is it a fresh pair of eyes, but it’s also a pair of eyes that shares similar goals and knowledge about your workplace. More than checking for typos, a peer can provide invaluable feedback on content, structure, and clarity of writing.
Remember: Turning your team into great writers takes time and practice
No one—not Hemingway, not Virginia Woolf—became a great writer overnight. It’s an iterative process that takes thoughtfulness, but if you implement these practices into your team’s everyday work, they’ll slowly but surely sharpen their skills. And, of course, if your team needs some lunchtime reading, perhaps points them over here for some more writing tips.