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Get read, get results! How to write better

by on
in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

Imagine you've just opened an email, and you see that it's four lengthy paragraphs. Do you read it? Scan it? Close it quickly?

Leo Babauta, author of top blog "Zen Habits,” says that when he re­­ceives a long email, it's almost always a case of the sender not taking the time to edit. It leaves the impression that the sender believes his time is more valuable than Babauta's.

Guidelines for writing short, effective email:

1.  Limit your message to five sentences. The website five.sentenc.es first put forward this idea, in response to the continuous flow of email. Babauta says he's used the strategy for years and it works.

2.  Figure out your main point. If you have to write several paragraphs, you probably haven't determined what your main point is.

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3.  Edit.

4.  Ask one thing at a time, or maybe two. Don't ask many questions at once, because you're less likely to get an answer.

5.  Include a link to information available online rather than reiterating it. If the information you need to share isn't online, post it there using a blog, wiki or another free tool.

Use positive language for better results

Which are you more likely to write: "Do not waste energy” or "Conserve energy”?

If your writing contains a lot of "no's” and "not's,” it's a signal of negative writing.

Has business writing become more conversational and less stilted than in the past? Absolutely, and for the better. But you can't just follow the conventional advice to "write like you talk.” There are still rules to follow.

When your business documents appear polished, so do you. Let the Business Communication Toolkit help you put your best word forward.

Using positive language is a better way to promote your ideas. In the above example, "Conserve energy” is more persuasive because it makes readers feel good rather than admonished.

Here are five examples of negative sentences turned positive:

1.  We hope you will not be dis­appointed with the results.

Positive: We hope you'll be as pleased with the results as we are.

2.  Without proper planning, we will not be able to prevent overcrowding.

Positive: We're planning thoroughly in advance to keep the crowd to a manageable size.

3.  If you don't like my suggestions, please contact me.

Positive: Please contact me if you have any other suggestions. I'd welcome hearing them.

4.  Don't ignore details; they're important.

Positive: If you can implement the plan down to the smallest details, you'll realize better results.

5.  This project is going to be nearly impossible to do.

Positive: I want this project to be successful, and to make sure it is, I need your help working around two potential roadblocks.

Other tips for creating positive, clear sentences:

  • Choose one adjective. Pick the best one and delete the rest. Example: Replace "He had a tentative, uncertain, hesitant manner” with "He had a tentative manner.”
  • Make verbs stand alone. A lawyer might tell you to "cease and de­sist,” but it's better to just write "stop.”
  • Look for phrases you can replace with verbs. Example: Substitute "We'll take into consideration” with "We'll consider.”
From the dozens of emails you send every day, to in-house reports that are scrutinized by your bosses and peers, to proposals that must make the right impression on potential clients, your written communications need to be appropriate, clear and error-free. And it's up to you to make them that way.

That's why you need the Business Communication Toolkit: Vol. 1. Why do we call it a toolkit? Because it contains not one but three sets of tools designed to be used every day, just like your word-processing software:book cover

1. Creating Polished Business Documents. From key concepts such as adjusting your style to your reader, to basic sentence structure, to troublesome hot spots to avoid.

2. Developing a Style Guide, Proofreading to Perfection. Every organization needs a style guide, and creating one is easier than you think. As for proofreading, our easy-to-follow tips cover everything from spelling to punctuation to protocol.

3. Grammar and Word Usage Errors: 21 Red Flags. From misused words (among/between, hopefully, imply/infer) to dangling and misplaced modifiers. A quick scan for these red flags can prevent misunderstanding on your reader's part and embarrassment on yours.

Get your copy today!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cathy Plunkett April 23, 2012 at 11:31 am

While these rules aregood as far as they go, the rule about length does not apply for the most part in academics, government, or publishing. Manuscript reviews and details on projects often are a page or two long as response is electronic or time-sensitive.

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