Thought you were done worrying about grammar and punctuation when you passed your last English class? Think again.
Writing is an essential skill in today’s workplace. The prevalence of electronic communication means just about everyone, in every field, spends part of their workday typing away. Moreover, the quality of your writing always reflects on your stature as an employee.
Like any skill, developing your writing ability takes time and practice. But there are a few things everyone can do to make their business writing clearer and more effective.
Here are five basic points to keep in mind when writing in today’s workplace.
Write for Your Audience
Who is your intended audience? Put simply, in your workplace who is going to read the memo, email, or document you’re writing?
You should always tailor your approach to writing for your audience. Think about your reader or readers’ needs, values, and attitudes. This helps you choose the appropriate tone and format, and know how much information to include. For example, a quick message to a colleague will call for a different level of formality than one written to your boss or a client.
Before you start writing, think about who your audience is, what information they need, as well as when and where they will be reading.
Choose the Right Style
What exactly are you writing? Is it an informal email to a colleague, or an important office-wide memo? Is it an instructional FAQ, or a business proposal?
Each medium calls for a different style of writing. As you begin to hammer out the details of your work, be sure you understand the conventions and limitations of your chosen (or assigned) style.
For example, technical writing, like an instructional manual, should be brief and direct. A persuasive piece, like a proposal, should present well-structured, fact-based arguments. Emails generally have a more conversational tone, but this can vary depending on the recipient.
Be Clear and Concise
What is the best way to say this? The answer: in as few words as possible.
Clarity is important in all forms of writing, but especially so in business writing. Time is money, after all.
The shorter the document, the more likely people are to read it, and the less likely they are to misunderstand it. The same goes for the words, sentences and paragraphs within that document.
Writing clearly and concisely shows you have respect for other peoples’ time.
Follow Email Etiquette
You would never forget to shake your client’s hand after an important meeting. But when was the last time you closed out an email with, “Thank you and best regards”?
Email is still the main medium of workplace communication. Grammar, style, and tone are as important here as in any other form of writing.
A few simple changes can make your emails easier and more enjoyable to read. Include a concise and informative subject line of 40 to 60 characters. Open with an appropriate salutation and end with a courteous closer. Limit the body of the message to one screen in length or shorter if you know the recipient will read it on a smart phone.
While this may feel outdated in the world of text messaging, courtesy helps build good business relationships.
Your English teacher always insisted you proofread your work. But what’s the point when we have spell check and online tools like Grammarly?
Because while these tools have come a long way since high school, they still miss hundreds of spelling and grammatical mistakes. It won’t know you have misspelled your boss’s name for example. Homonyms, like ‘there’ and ‘their’, also slip by. These errors make your writing look rushed, careless, or just plain lazy.
Always proofread your work by hand, and keep a writing manual on hand to consult if you’re ever in doubt.
Writing doesn’t have to be a chore. These habits become second nature once you put them into practice. Paying close attention to your writing will lead to better communication and establish you as a reputable, reliable employee.
To learn more about writing for business, check out our textbook, Business Communications in Canada. It provides an in-depth overview of how to stay professional with any of your business correspondence.