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If one of your new year’s resolutions is to improve your writing skills – and why wouldn’t it be? – the first step is to think about your writing style. Do your reports tend to be an avalanche of random ideas? Do you flood your readers with too much information, or pad out your communications with unnecessary or outdated words and phrases?

The Flood

Knowing how much information to include is a dilemma for many team members who often err on the side of including more information than they need ‘to be on the safe side’. Yet, writing as much as you can to cover all possible bases can be as unhelpful and damaging to the communication process as not giving enough information.

Getting it right

  1. Focus your message. Ask yourself ‘What outcome do I want from this communication?’ Focus on this outcome and avoid becoming sidetracked.
  2. Include only what the reader needs to know. Include the most important and relevant information for your reader or readers, and provide links to detailed information and/or a phone number.

The Avalanche

When you’re under the pressure of a tight deadline, planning your report may feel like a waste of time. It may seem easier to give in to the temptation to get the task over with by dumping all your thoughts on the page. Yet no matter how relevant, an avalanche of information with no clear and logical structure will be difficult to read.

Getting it right

  1. Structure your communication. Common structures include problem followed by solution, topic by topic, chronological, and pros followed by cons (or vice versa).
  2. Eliminate repetition. When writing the first draft, it’s easy to inadvertently repeat ideas. When you revise your draft, first make sure the structure is sound and that you have eliminated repetition, then focus on refining individual sentences.

The Babbling Brook

Even if your communication is well structured and contains only information the reader needs to know, your first draft is still likely to contain too many words. Wordy phrases introduce unnecessary noise or babble. Some examples are ‘on a daily basis’ rather than ‘daily’ or ‘each day’ and ‘if this is not the case’ rather than ‘if not’. Other phrases such as ‘in the process of’ and ‘moving forward’ may be redundant.

Getting it right

  1. Allow time to refine your first draft. Reread emails at least once before you hit ‘send’. Carefully revise reports, newsletters or other communications at least twice, ideally with a day or more between each revision.
  2. Use grammar-checking software. Most grammar software programs will alert you to wordy phrases and sometimes offer concise alternatives. If you’re using Microsoft Word, set the proofing options to ‘Grammar and refinements’ to help you find common wordy expressions.

The Fossil

Organisations and governments traditionally encouraged their managers and staff to use formal words like ‘expeditiously’, ‘elucidate’, ‘whilst’ and ‘utilisation’. Thirty years on, phrases like ‘as per your request’ and ‘your letter of the 1st inst’ or ‘please acquaint yourself with’ sound almost 19th century Dickensian.

Getting it right

  1. Use modern day alternatives. Government as well as most private organisations in Australia use a plain English style. Always follow your organisation’s preferences – these will be set out in their writing style guide. If you’re not sure whether a phrase is outdated, refer to this list of plain English alternatives.
  2. Avoid buzz words. Buzz words are overused words that become irritating to readers. To keep up to date with buzz words and undesirable ‘corporate speak’ check Forbes Magazine’s latest list of corporate buzz words to avoid.

In the same way people get reputations for their punctuality or their public speaking skills, team members earn reputations for being good or poor communicators. If you recognise your writing style in any of the above descriptions, working with a writing coach can help you by addressing any writing weaknesses. Not only will a reputation of being a good writer improve efficiency in your workplace, it will also open up promotion opportunities for you.

Want to become a better business writer in 2021? Let us help you set your professional development goals. Contact patricia.hoyle@concisewriting.com.au for a free assessment or call 02 9238 6638.