Business writing used to be rather narrow. It consisted of cover letters and resumes if you were an applicant; it consisted of inter-office memos, reports, letters to clients, and business plans, if a self-employed wanted investment funding. All of this writing was quite formal. Structure and grammar were the critical skills, along with a style and tone that was almost academic.
It’s a New Day
Of course, there are still certain types of business writing that must be formal and follow an almost academic structure. These types are based upon a pretty narrow audience – potential investors, clients who represent conservative and traditional organizations, and quarterly and annual reports that must be presented to investors. Beyond that, however, the workplace of the self-employed is, by its very nature, much more informal. Communication among team members may occur through project boards, emails, and texts.
In addition to direct communication with staff, clients/customers, and investors, there is this huge new realm of content writing for marketing purposes. It is a very different “animal” and requires varied styles, tones, and structures. The small business owner who is responsible for at least some of this content (along with his team, we hope), must become a very quick study and a master of this new content writing.
The point is this: Every time you produce a piece of business writing, you must consider your audience. Your tone, style, complexity, and language will vary considerably.
In preparing yourself for all types of business writing, here are 6 mistakes that you must avoid.
- Poor Grammar and Mechanics: You may be writing in a more informal style, but there is still no excuse for poor grammar. You never know who will be reading your content, and there are people who will “bristle” when you mis-use “your” and “you’re,” or use the wrong forms of verbs. If you are unsure of your grammar, get a good grammar tool (Grammarly.com or ProWritingAid.com) and use it.
- Readability: You may be used to sentence structure and vocabulary you used in college – long, complex sentences and advanced vocabulary. When you write content, it must be simple – a reading level of middle school. Short sentences and simple vocabulary make your content readable for people who are I a hurry and just want to get the point you are making. You can test the readability of any content you write with any number of tools, such as Read-able.com.
On the other hand, if you are writing to customers and clients, you need to know their reading/writing levels. A good rule of thumbs is this. Consider their workplace environment. If it is a financial institution, for example, you need a formal style that is more complex. If you have a job interview and a candidate who is a startup goes to work in jeans and flip-flops, you can pretty much know that a really informal style is called for.
Jumping back and forth among styles is hard, but you must learn to do this.
- Incorrect Structure: Formal business writing is in paragraph style, with a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph and a transition at the end of that paragraph to the next one. If there are instances in which you may need to include a list, points should be numbered or bulleted. Charts and graphs should go on separate pages at the end, not within the text of your writing.
Content writing, by contrast, has very short paragraphs – 3-4 sentences is about average. Use of bold type, capitals, and lots of bullet points is the norm. Charts and graphs are included within the text along with other visuals and links to resources. These techniques allow a busy reader to scan through the piece and select those sections that are of interest.
- Not Planning: In both types of writing, not planning what will be written and the sequence in which points will be made will make your writing illogical and lacking in coherence. Sometimes in the planning process, particularly if you are producing a white paper of a manual, you should begin with some mind-mapping software, to get all of your thoughts out and organized first.
- Using Buzzwords and Acronyms: Too much jargon and industry acronyms in a formal business piece ca turn a reader off. If you do use acronyms, put the full name in parentheses afterward. You cannot assume that another individual who is not in your niche will understand all of these terms.
Content marketers have developed a lot of jargon and acronyms in their niches, but they should not assume that their audiences understand these terms. A beginner in the field who is trying to read a blog post on content marketing, for example, may not know the terms “CRM,” or “CRO,” or even “SEO.” Do not assume that your audience has the same level of expertise as you, no matter what your product or service.
- Incorrect Use of “Person” and Pronouns: A formal report in a traditional business setting should not use the first-person (“I”) pronoun. The pronoun “one” is preferred. By the same token, “one” should usually replace the term “you,” unless the communication is directed to a specific person or group of people.
Content writing is far more informal and uses the pronouns that are usually forbidden in formal writing. In fact, you will come off as stiff and as less than human if you use the formal “one.”
There are probably many more errors in business and marketing writing that your experience has taught you. But if all writers will begin by addressing these 10, they will be more admired and respected.