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Communication Skills Articles
Your Business Writing Should Match Your Personality
Al Borowski, MEd, CSP, PP

Many times, dealing with employees or customers requires you to follow up in writing or e-mail. But, many times the personality you have projected over the phone or in person to this same audience becomes lost when you create letters, memos or reports.

The following helpful hints will help ensure your readers get the same impression of you in print as they did in person. These hints will also help you save time, get better results and actually have fun with your writing tasks.

Helpful Hint # 1 Write to be understood, not to overwhelm.  

Your goal in business writing should be to inform people. This means you need to express ideas in a fashion your readers can read quickly, understand, remember and act upon.
Let's put that another way. Keep your business writing conversational. Your business writing should sound as natural as a telephone conversation. That's all business writing is - conversation on paper.

I seriously doubt you start a conversation with a friend, coworker, boss or client, "per your request."

Also avoid your academic tendencies to impress people with your vocabulary. You are not writing to get a grade. You are writing to inform. Rather than paradigm, use model, pattern or example. Rather than subsequently, use after or later. Don't make people guess want you mean. Tell them. Give them a warning, not a caveat.

In his book, "Talking Straight," Lee Iacocca wrote, "write the way you talk. If you don't talk that way, don't write that way."

I will add a side bar to Mr. Iacocca's sound advise. Write the way speak; then, edit, edit, edit. Check your first draft to ensure you have used complete sentences and correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Helpful Hint # 2 Become intimate with your grammar checkers.

This is another way of saying always leave time to edit and possibly rewrite your first draft. Someone once said, "There's no such thing as good writing, just good rewriting."

I realize in the hectic business world, finding time for editing and rewriting becomes a challenge. However, investing the time to run your writing through grammar checkers pays huge dividends.

Grammar Checkers will help save you time, improve the quality of your writing, and eliminate the embarrassment of misspelled words, incorrect grammar or confusing writing styles.

Helpful Hint # 3 Average 18 words per sentence.

The important word in this helpful hint is "average." That does not mean every sentence must be 18 words long.

I feel confident most of you have heard the expression, "in 25 words or less..."

"In 25 words or less, tell us why we should send you to Hawaii."

Please understand the importance of this concept. Do you understand they are giving you the first seven words? "You should send me to Hawaii because..." If you take the first seven words they give you, you must then state your reason in 18 words!

Helpful Hint # 4 Find some friends.

Business writing is a team sport.

Every day, you compete with thousands of the best letter, memo, proposal and e-mail writers in the world. That's the "sport" part of the equation. Sports also involves "winning." Winning for you means getting results with your writing.

Increase your chances of winning by letting at least one other person read what you have written before sending the document. Your chances increase if you ask more people to review it. Your friends are looking at your words for the first time. They will find things in your writing you never dreamed you put in there.

After reading your writing, your friends will likely give you comments such as, "I don't understand this part." "What do you mean by this?" "You forgot _____." "You can't say that." "You misspelled some words."

Receiving these comments from your friends is a lot better than receiving them from your bosses or your customers.

Helpful Hint # 5 Use a twenty-four hour drawer.

This means putting what you have written in your desk drawer for one day before sending it out. I know, you think I'm crazy. But, you will find the more distance you put between you and your first draft, the better your writing becomes. Waiting 30 minutes before you edit your first draft may mean the difference between a successful document or an embarrassing situation.

You have at least two good reasons why you should use the 24 hour drawer. First, if you write a document and read it immediately after writing it, are you really reading it? No! You are remembering all the good ideas you wrote about. You don't even see half the words.

Second, in the writing stage, we use the creative side of our brain. In the editing stage, we use the analytical side of our brain. Using a 24-hour drawer means allowing enough time for your brain to switch from the creative to the analytical. This takes time.

The more time you allow between the writing and editing stages, the better your writing becomes.

Helpful Hint # 6 Read your writing out loud.

That is not an invitation to a rubber room. That is a good technique to test your writing. If you read your writing out loud, you will see how long the sentences are. If you run out of breath before you run out of words, you know your sentences are too long. Remember the helpful hint - average 18 words per sentence? That hint helps ensure you don't run out of breath too often.

Reading your writing out loud forces you to slow down to look at each word. Looking at each word helps ensure the sentence says exactly what you want it to mean.

Helpful Hint # 7 Proofread, proofread, proofread, proofread.

Obviously, helpful hint # 7 stresses the importance of proofreading. Let me tell you why I use the word proofread four times. First, I am reminding you that you don't have to do all that proofreading. Remember I said find some friends? You should do one version of proofreading, your friends should do another, your spell checker's and grammar checkers should do another.

I also stress the importance of proofreading because the minimum you should do it is twice. The first time you proofread, you proofread for content. Is my message clear, correct, concise, complete, and conversational? This second time you proofread, you proofread for mechanics. By mechanics, I mean your spelling, punctuation, grammar, format and approach.

Proofreading is your last shot at getting the your writing to the point where you will be proud of it and get the results you're looking for.

Yes, please spread the word. To reprint this article in your Ezine, Newsletter or magazine click here for Reprint Guidelines.

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