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Business & Finance Series: Expert Comment

Top tips for writing for business

Speaker, author and business writing trainer, Greta Solomon, joins the short course teaching team this autumn to lead our ten-week Writing for Business course. Here’s her top five remedies to common writing mistakes.

by Emily Pedder

The five writing mistakes most business people make

Having excellent writing skills can make you an indispensable member of your team or company; and it’s one of the best ways to remain consistently employable – no matter your profession. It takes time to learn effective writing tools, techniques, tips and tricks, but once learned, they can fast-track your success. Get started straight away with these five ways to remedy common mistakes and become a clear, confident communicator.

Mistake 1: Thinking that English ability and writing ability are the same thing

Were you a dab hand at Shakespeare at school? Or did you experience grammar-shaming from over-zealous teachers who couldn’t appreciate the spirit of a piece if there were commas and apostrophes out of place?

Whatever your experience, in the business world the rules are different. It’s not how good you are at English. It’s how well you can communicate your personality, your tone and your ideas in writing. This is a very different thing and everyone can learn simple tools and techniques for doing so.

Mistake 2: Forgetting the needs of your readers

All readers want an experience that’s been tailored to them. So, before you tackle a document, ask yourself the following seven questions (and answer them in detail):

  1. Who are my readers? How old are they? What kind of people are they? Where do they live? What do they do for a living? What are their goals, dreams and aspirations?
  2. How much do they know about the subject / issues I’m writing about? We always overestimate how much our readers know and often we need to simplify things.
  3. How important is my document to them? If it’s not important to them in the grand scale of things, you’ll have to work harder to get their attention.
  4. What will readers look for in my document? Why are they reading your written work in the first place? What do they most want from you?
  5. What is the most important thing to include? Remember to put this first (see mistake five).
  6. What type of data or supporting evidence do my readers value? Do they want social proof, such as testimonials? Do they want numbers and hard facts?
  7. What do I want my readers to do, say, feel and think after they’ve read my document? If you want them to do something, remember to tell them.

Mistake 3: Using too many complicated words, sentences and insider jargon

Research has shown that the human brain can’t properly process sentences longer than 34 words. Keep yours around 20 and keep them simple.

Mistake 4: Writing in a formal, academic style

Academia is all about thinking, whereas business writing is best done from the heart – especially when your aim is to persuade or influence. So, when you have a larger writing project to tackle, give yourself some time and space to get in the right zone to write. To do this, you need to get out of the mind and into your body. Activities such as walking, showering, chopping vegetables, or taking a solo drive allow ideas, thoughts and sentences to spontaneously bubble up. This can help switch off that pesky, academic voice and provide you with the content you need in order to shine.

Mistake 5: Putting your main message at the end (or not including it at all)!

Decide what your main point is. Then, make sure your title reflects that, and that you open with it too. Deliberately create an opening that is either a story, statement, question, prediction or summary, then expand on this throughout your piece. Don’t forget that you can keep it vibrant and fresh – even if what you’re writing is serious. Remember that whether you’re writing a report, an email, an article, or meeting notes, readers want to walk away feeling they wisely invested their time reading your work.

About the author

Greta Solomon is an author, business writing trainer, Forbes.com contributor and creative writing coach on a mission to help people to better express themselves in writing.

A former journalist for British newspapers and magazines, she now runs writing workshops for everyone from multi-billion-pound companies to kitchen table bloggers.

She will be teaching City’s 10-week Writing for Business course starting on 4th October.

Discover more about City short courses

City, University of London offers a wide range of courses in subjects including business and management, computing, law, languages, creative industries and writing.

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