Do you spend most of your day writing? If the answer's yes, these tips from a Gloucestershire, UK professional copywriter could help make writing anything from a simple email to a major business proposition more effective and more enjoyable.
As Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music , let's start at the very beginning. Good writing (effective, engaging writing that gets results) begins with your mental approach before pen touches paper or your fingers hit that keyboard.
1. What's your business writing objective?
It sounds obvious, but how many times have you launched into writing, only to head straight down a metaphoric blind alley at 90 miles per hour! Whatever you need to write, always allocate time to think it through first. Do not be afraid to daydream either because the mind often comes up with innovative, creative ideas when we relax. That's why so many good ideas come in the shower or on a long car journey. Though your words gain permanence with keyboard or pen, the most important part of effective business writing is done with our brains.
Sometimes it takes weeks, other times just a minutes to capture ideas and structure your business writing. Try mind mapping or another brainstorming technique. By working non-linearly (like our brains) mind maps help us make connections and structure effective documents. The great thing is that a mind map does not need expensive resources. Even an old envelope or a paper napkin will do.
Above all, remember that effective business writing is virtually impossible unless you know what you want to achieve. After thinking about the project, you should have a clear idea of your objective. It's simple – work out what you want to achieve, then how to get there.
2. Let your thoughts rest awhile
Often, you've got to move fast. But if you can, let your ideas rest for a while: ideally an hour or two, overnight or longer. Get away from your writing for a while. It's hard, but often, coming back to it fresh you'll add additional insights.
3. Getting started
This is often the hardest part of business writing. But, as someone once said, even the longest journey begins with a single step so if in doubt just write something; you can always edit later with the Delete key.
And then there's the idea of rewriting. A few years ago, as a copywriter for a Gloucestershire PR agency, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was the benefit of rewriting, rewriting and rewriting. It's like making a rich sauce; as the volume decrees the flavor intensifies.
That said, do not get trapped by the writer's version of 'paralysis by analysis'. Effective business writing is about writing something worthy and getting it in front of your audience. Ultimately, 95 per cent of something is better than 100 per cent of nothing. Almost perfect is usually good enough. Remember the law of diminishing returns. Is the effort needed for that last percentage of improvement really a good use of your time? Know when to say 'enough', then hit the Print button.
5. Proofreading for effective business writing
No matter how great the pressure to publish, always check your document. Even for email, check carefully because mistakes slip through easily. And do not be afraid to let an important email rest overnight.
For longer documents, try to proof on a hard copy. This becomes more important with the importance of the document and the cost implications of getting it wrong. You've been warned.
6. Good writing counts
Even in business writing, it's easy to get lazy in this age of text-speak and informality. While there's a place for more casual writing it probably is not in a serious email or on your department's intranet page.
I've noticed an increasing tendency for basic grammatic and punctuation conventions to go out the window in much of today's business writing. Even at a high level, among people who should (and are being paid enough to) know better, apostrophes, hyphens, exclamation marks, ellipsis points and en-dashes are often misused. This leads to ambiguity, harder reading for the message recipient and an apprehensive lack of professionalism. The ideal answer is to hire a copywriter to help you, especially with major projects such as brochures, case-studies and website content.
Headlines and subheads
Headlines and subsidiary headings help your readers make quick sense of the content of your document. Even in a simple email, a strong headline and a few well positioned subheadings can dramatically improve the likelihood of your message getting through. In effective business writing, subheads help skim-readers quickly assess the content. Particularly in our modern world of short attention spans and information overload, your readers will thank you for using subheads. And do not forget the power of a strong email subject header.
8. Do not try to be too 'clever'
Sensible formatting and use of styles in word-processing software can often enhance your business writing. But remember that, absolutely, it's the quality of your message rather than your word processor's eye candy that will persist your reader. For effective business writing, less is often more, so put most of your effort into a persuasive message rather than fancy formatting.
9. AIDA, Six W's and an 'H' and FABS – the copywriter's friends
Back in the day, when I worked in technical sales, I learned about the 'salesman's friends': the classic AIDA model (Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action), and the Six W's and an 'H': Who? What? Where? When? Which? Why? and How? Used in open-ended questioning, these will help you understand the purpose, structure and content of your business writing.
And then there are Features and Benefits (FABs). Whatever your business writing is selling, always 'sell the sizzle not the sausage'. Features are great, but people buy benefits. Effective business writing focuses on benefits, and 'what's in it for your reader'. If you're struggling, a good copywriter will have a well-trained eye for the benefits of your product or service. They may even help you find some new ones.
10. The end effect
And finally, there's the end effect, the discipline introduced by setting time constraints for your business writing. Ever have to write something for a really tight deadline? Chances are that you worked with surprising effectiveness. Make use of the end effect; set yourself a target and write.
Whatever you want your business writing to deliver, these tips should help you plan and write better documents. They're easy to learn and you'll quickly see the benefits.
Sometimes, however, there's no substitute for a professional copywriter when you need effective business writing. Because professional copywriters write day-in and day-out, they're ideally placed to help you with your business writing and free your time to do more of what you do best, be it managing a business, a department or a project.
Copyright © 2008 Al Hidden