In our last post, we explained the benefits of keeping sentences short and specific. Prior, we wrote about things writing should avoid and why it’s important to get to the point using simple, active language. In this final post on improving business writing, we’re talking about why briefer is better, how to edit, and why to keep or break rules.
Keep It Brief
Here’s a dirty little secret of corporate culture: documents over a page rarely get read. At most, they’re skimmed. If you want your writing to be read, keep it under a page. If you have a lot more to say, consider braking up your points into different documents that you send out at different times.
Cut Things Out
Now here’s a dirty little secret of writing: it’s easier to write 500 words than it is to write 250. So go ahead and write your longish first draft. Then, start cutting things out. Make sentences shorter. Cut unnecessary details. Get to the point as fast as you can and make sure every sentence after supports that point. When you come across one that doesn’t, strike it out.
Smart writers get help. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from a trusted colleague. It’s hard to see problems with your own writing, whether they’re grammatical errors, broken logic, or muddled details. Someone else can help you see the issues you’ve become blinded to after multiple editing rounds.
If possible, return the favour. Editing someone else’s writing for clarity will help your writing become more clear.
Read What You Write
Always read over something you’ve written, even if it’s just a simple email. Chances are, there are mistakes to be found or things to be improved. In the case of important writing, it’s a good idea to give yourself some time before rereading it. Even an hour or two will give you fresh eyes.
Protip: try reading your writing aloud. Often, it’s easier to pick up on unclear language and clumsy sentence structure when we hear it.
Obey the Rules . . .
Obeying spelling and grammar rules will not hurt your writing. All writing does not need to be formal, but too much informality can ruin your writing. Email and messaging are especially prone to this.
Take care to write in complete, grammatically correct sentences, especially when replying to someone. A short “yes” or “go ahead” is easy to misinterpret if multiple things were discussed in the initial email.
Remember, if things are unclear or you’re worried about being misinterpreted, you can always pick up the phone.
. . . Unless You Must Break Them
Sometimes, you must break the rules. Sometimes grammatical rules can make writing overly formal. Sometimes a document needs a lot of jargon. Sometimes you need pages and pages to say what you need to say. All the writing advice we’ve given should be ignored if it gets in the way of clear communication.
The Bottom Line
The trick to good writing is good editing. Some things, like emails, need very little editing. Other things require more attention. Don’t short change yourself by skipping this final but crucial step.