Emails, Texts, Reports: 5 Steps to Effective Writing Skills for Business Today
You may have heard the expression “time is money.”
That may not always be exactly true, but it stresses how valuable your time is in business.
Communication is a really important part of doing business, and that includes business writing in English.
So you need to use your time effectively when writing for business.
Effective communication is partly about choosing the right channel (way of communicating).
For example, is it better to set up a meeting and talk to someone directly? Or to send them an email? Or maybe a text message will do?
In order to use your time effectively, you need to think about a lot of things before writing, while writing and after writing.
Your time is also your customers’ time and your business partners’ time.
Below are five steps that will help you best use your time when writing.
By following these steps, you will increase and continue to develop the effectiveness of your writing skills.
Message Sent! 5 Steps to Effective Business Writing Skills
1. Decide How Fast You Need to Send Your Message
If you make this decision early, it will lead you to the best communication channel.
For example, if you need to get a message to someone urgently and you also want a quick response, you should go for a face-to-face or a Skype discussion.
If you want the person to get the message fast, but you can wait for their response, you can write an email, a text message or a note. In this case, the type of communication you choose can depend on how long and complex the message is.
If you need to send official information on behalf of your company, you should probably write a formal letter.
If your superior has asked you to give objective information about a situation, you can write a report.
Whatever you choose to write, you need to keep an open mind and see the big picture. What effect will your message have? Maybe you are feeling the urge to write an email to complain about a situation. Or maybe you are writing to deal with a stressful situation and you feel pressure to press “Send” right now, just to get it over with. Sometimes it’s best to stop and think about what and how you are writing, rather than sending your message too soon and regretting it. A few extra minutes of thinking time may end up saving you more time later.
2. Plan Your Approach
Once you have chosen what you are going to write, focus on planning it. Don’t just start writing. Take a few minutes to plan your writing first. It may seem like planning is time-consuming, but it’s actually going to save you a lot of time. How? Well, when you are done writing, you can easily change small things and correct small mistakes, but you can’t change the whole structure of your message very easily. So not having a plan is actually going to “cost” you more time.
How do you go about planning?
- Describe the situation or the problem to yourself, even if you think you already know it very well. You may be surprised by how much this can help you see the situation more clearly.
- Write down the question or idea that you want to write to the other person. For example, let’s say you want to write an email asking everyone in your team not to be late in the morning. You are going to have to explain the situation and the impact it has on business before asking people to arrive at work on time.
- Decide when you want feedback and how this will help you. Knowing this will help you communicate more effectively. It will also help you get a reply more promptly.
You may need to adapt the above steps to your particular situation, but they should help you start planning.
3. Choose a Tone and Register
Spend some time thinking about the tone of your writing, or how you want the message to sound to the other person. Try to guess the other person’s reaction. Think about how you would feel and what you would do if you received the email or letter or text message.
If you like the feeling you are getting, you probably have the right idea about what kind of tone to use.
For example, sounding angry and authoritative will probably not make the other person want to help you. So try to focus on making them understand that you need their help and that you appreciate their effort. People who feel appreciated for their work are going to be much more helpful than people who feel like you are demanding something from them.
Politeness is always important, as it makes people more receptive to your message.
Once you understand the general idea and tone behind your message, you need to think about the best register.
Register is the level of formality in a message. You can use a very polite, formal register when writing to people you don’t know very well or people who are your superiors. However, you should adopt a more casual, informal register with close friends and colleagues. If the situation requires you to be neither too formal nor too informal, you can always go for a more neutral register.
Writing in the right register is very important because if you get this part wrong, it can make people feel really uncomfortable. For example, people who deserve a formal register could feel offended if you are being too informal with them. On the other hand, colleagues who are on a first-name basis with you will feel awkward if you are suddenly sending an email starting “Dear Sir or Madam.”
4. Think About the Structure
Good writing helps the reader follow the ideas in a structured and logical manner. If you are writing a letter, email or any kind of longer message, you will need to think at this point about how to structure your writing. Each paragraph should have one main idea. So whenever you have a new main idea, you should have a new paragraph. This main idea should be clearly expressed in a topic sentence, which is usually the first sentence in the paragraph.
For example, if your first paragraph presents the reason for writing and the situation about which you are writing, your topic sentence could be:
“I am writing to ask for clarification about the offer we received from your company.”
After the topic sentence, you should continue with supporting ideas or examples. For example, let’s say your paragraph is about the advantages of using a suggestions box in your company and your topic sentence is:
“Let’s have a look at the benefits of introducing a suggestions box.”
You could then continue with supporting details like this:
“First of all, people will feel more confident about presenting their ideas because they can stay anonymous. Secondly, it will be easier for us to centralize suggestions as they are all in one place.”
To help the reader follow your ideas, use connectors within and between paragraphs. Here are some examples of connectors for different situations:
- Sequencing (ordering): firstly/secondly/thirdly, in addition, moreover, furthermore, to sum up, in conclusion
- Cause and effect: therefore, as a consequence, consequently, as a result
- Comparison: similarly, likewise, compared to
- Contrast: however, nevertheless, still, although, while, on the other hand
All of the above are essential elements of a well-written English text. To learn how to write well in English, you may want to consider taking a course or reading a book on this topic.
5. Proofread Again and Again
Proofreading makes the difference between average and good writing. Mistakes make a bad impression because the reader will think you didn’t bother to take enough time in writing to them.
It’s difficult to focus your attention on all the types of mistakes you could make—grammar, vocabulary, spelling and punctuation. So you should proofread several times, each time with just one of these in mind, in order to detect (find) all mistakes.
When proofreading, you may realize there’s something wrong with the whole structure of your writing. If you have the necessary time, you should go back to Step 2 (Plan Your Approach) and rethink the big picture.
While proofreading, you may find the following helpful:
- Grammarly — this is a spellchecker that you can install in your Google Chrome web browser, where it will check all of your online messages, or directly to your Windows desktop or Microsoft Office program, where it will check everything you write.
- Asking a native speaker to help proofread your work
- Hiring a professional. This costs money, but it is the only way to be 100% sure that your writing is edited perfectly.
Take note that while Google Translate can sometimes help with individual words, it can be misleading with longer phrases or sentences. So if you are not feeling confident about certain parts of your writing, ask a native speaker for help.
That said, not all native English speakers can do good editing work. When you want your writing to be edited perfectly, then you need to hire a professional editor.
When you need a professional editor, we recommend that you contact Proofreading Services, an online team of professional editors with tons of knowledge and experience—they offer combined proofreading and editing for over 5,000 clients in 93 countries. They offer an exclusive discount to FluentU readers, and all you need is our secret password: FLUENTU15. This code entitles you to 15% off at ProofreadingServices.com!
It may seem like good writing takes a lot of time, but trust us, poor writing can do your business a lot of harm.
Invest time and resources in writing well, and you will reap the benefits in no time!