7 Quick Tips for Better Business Communications
by Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
- Created: February 27, 2013, 12:07 pm
It used to be that most of the business world understood that simple, clear business writing was a powerful skill. We needed to communicate, explain and convince people in memos, proposals, plans and reports. Simple sentences worked better. Clear and concise worked better.
Maybe I care more about writing than the next person because I’ve spent so much of my career dealing with business plans: writing them for years, then getting them funded and, more recently, reading them. I read more than 100 business plans a year. They’re shorter than they used to be, for sure; but the qualities that make something readable—including good writing, spelling and grammar, are as important as ever.
But writing has been diluted, for sure, with the forward march of email, websites—and now Facebook and Twitter and text and rushed communications with two thumbs while trying not to bonk the other people sharing the sidewalk. So writing, spelling and grammar seem out of style; but still, some writing comes up all the time. The business plan is just the most obvious example. Beyond that:
- In email
- In blog posts
- In comments to blog posts
- In social media updates
- Plans, memos, reports
- In text or sms messages? I’m not sure about that one. What do you think? The obvious abbreviations are so tempting ... but does that have to spread into the rest of our writing. I forgive “idk” in a text but not in a memo (it stands for I don’t know).
So here are some of my suggestions for minding the writing without ignoring that it’s relegated to many kinds of in-between and compromise contexts, like text and on smartphones. And with business plans too, of course.
- Use short simple sentences. Use periods more often to end sentences. Separate your points into shorter sentences.
- Get to the point fast. Put the headline first—then explain. People skim emails and memos. Don’t bury the main point in a dumpling-like mass of explanations.
- Stop using apostrophes to show plural. Apostrophes are for contraction (don’t) or possession (Ralph’s or Mary’s opinion). Stop putting an apostrophe every time you have a plural noun. It’s balls and bats, not ball’s and bat’s.
- Then and than have different meanings. Then is time and sequence, as in first we do this and then that. Than is comparison, like more than and less than.
- Simple words are better. Avoid jargon and buzzwords. Don’t incentivize people when you can motivate or encourage them instead. Use things; don’t utilize them. The phrase “outside the box” is inside the box. Are we really all engaging all the time?
- Although it does take an extra effort to hold down two fingers at once or add a keystroke to capitalize words, it looks better. Capitalize your words like you learned in second grade.
- Don’t write long emails with multiple topics and points. Make each email have its own topic and subject line. Your recipients will get your point faster and better than way.
While it’s apparently true that we live in a world of video, and books and print media are in a decline, technology has also put writing into almost every obscure corner and extra little piece of time in our lives. Not just for business plans. In all cases, let’s do it well.
About the Author
Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, doing social media business planning at smbplans.com, and blogging at timberry.bplans.com. Stanford MBA. Married 42 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including The Plan As You Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press, 2008.
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