Good business writing improves your bottom line

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NOVEMBER 2016

Consider the recent college grad: an in-demand diploma, good grades, some work experience and enthusiasm. Let’s give him the first haircut he’s had in a couple of years, a new suit and clean socks. We’ll give him a bath, shave him and polish up his shoes for good measure. Is this enough for him to go forth and get hired? Not yet. Before anyone but his mom weeps with joy that her son has lost the man bun, this guy needs a resume and a cover letter – he needs some good business writing. Should he use his college email account: manbun2016@yodawg.com? Nah. He needs one that looks as professional as his new suit.

Let’s say he prints out his cover letter and resume and sets it on the countertop next to the Keurig. His roommate comes in and makes his organic, fair-trade, fat-free soy macchiato and sets his organic, fat-free mug on top of the papers. Now our graduate has a fully-caffeinated coffee ring on his application. He blots it with a towel, folds the papers and mails ’em anyway.

What do you think? Is our graduate going to land the job? Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s even going to get to wear his suit to an interview.

Good business writing is more than a jumble of letters

Good business writing is not this jumble of letters; it’s clear and concise.

Photograph by Tomohiro Tokunaga via Flickr cc

Your business writing indicates your work performance

Good writing isn’t just for job applicants. It’s for businesses that want to succeed. Your writing reveals the quality of your business’s work, so it’s important to write in the same way you present yourself to customers. Good writing shows the following about your business:

You pay attention to the details.

Imagine sending a sales proposal to a company and spelling the company’s name incorrectly. That’s not an error Spell Check finds; that’s one you discover when you read your document over before sending it. Attention to detail is a work habit that your business writing reveals. No one is perfect; typos can and do slip through, but people who care enough to proofread their work in addition to using spelling and grammar checkers have fewer of them. These details show that you and your business take the time to make sure that your products or services are done right.

You value others’ time.

When you write an email, marketing piece or sales kit, you’re writing for an audience who is already pressed for time. Busy executives, harried assistants, multi-tasking middle managers and moms and dads all have many demands on their time and often these people skim over documents instead of reading them. If your message is important, you must show you respect your readers’ time and write in a concise manner.  Clear, concise business writing has a clear purpose and includes little fluff. Readers locate and understand main ideas quickly, which saves them time and increases their productivity. That’s a win for you and your business.

You care about each customer’s unique needs.

One reason we toss junk mail in the trash is that it’s impersonal. However, hand-written letters rarely hit the trash bin. Why? The hand-written letter is personal and addresses the reader and her situation. Good business writing is targeted. The person reading the message understands that the sender cared enough to tailor the email, proposal or follow-up letter to the reader’s unique needs. Knowing your audience and meeting their needs shows the customer that their business is important to you and your business.

You’re honest and trustworthy.

Start-up businesses, established businesses, businesses that have undergone management or ownership changes and those that are breaking into new markets or products all need to establish credibility with their customer bases. Handing out a brochure with well-written, engaging content provides a business with some credibility. It’s an indication that your business, no matter what stage it’s in, takes its mission seriously. Distribute a brochure with spelling, grammar and usage mistakes and most people will dismiss your business, no matter how honest or trustworthy you are.

You’re professional.

When you imagine what qualities professionalism encompasses, you might think of: polished, serious, successful and productive. When you send out good business writing, you convey all of those qualities. Of course, good writing without your business’s strong product or service and work ethic is just an empty suit.

“Of course, good writing without your business’s strong product or service and work ethic is just an empty suit.”

Easy ways to improve your business writing

Iris Content is a content writing agency, so naturally, I recommend using our business writing services for your online and print needs. However, you can’t hire us for everything. You’ll respond to emails and other communications in the course of your daily work, and you need to maintain that good impression your customers have of your business. The following fixes are simple and will improve your writing immediately. You’ll notice I’ve left out rule exceptions and tricky examples. My advice is: run a spelling and grammar check. Proofread. Apply these rules 90 percent of the time and your reader will forgive you the other 10 percent.

Capitalize with care

I see this error in business writing all the time – people want to capitalize nouns, whether they need to be capitalized or not. Here’s an example:

 BAD: I want to add the Hardware and Software to upgrade our System.

GOOD: I want to add the hardware and software to upgrade our system.

 THE RULE: use capital letters at the beginning of a sentence and for proper nouns. What’s a proper noun? The name of a person (Deborah, Michael), place names (Green Bay, Bucharest), company names (Iris Content, Google) and product names (Kleenex, Jello) are all proper nouns. These are not proper nouns: television, health care, insurance and parking.

Follow an apostrophe diet

I’m not sure why people use apostrophes to create plurals, but it ends here. By the power the State of Texas has vested in me as an English teacher, I hereby revoke your license to use the apostrophe (‘). Unless you know why it’s there, just leave it out of your business writing. Readers will forgive an omission, but not a glaring error.

Plurals

Singular nouns are just one thing; plural nouns are several of that thing.

BAD: The football player’s lost the game, 51-6.

GOOD: The football players lost the game, 51-6.

THE RULE: To make a noun plural (more than one), add an s or es. (Common exceptions are: child à children, goose à geese, man à men, wife à wives)

Kid à kids, car à cars, gadget à gadgets

Possessives:

Possessive nouns use an apostrophe (and sometimes an s) to show ownership. Possessive nouns can be singular or plural.

BAD:

I’m not giving a bad example here. Most people who use the apostrophe to show possession use it correctly.

GOOD: The kitten’s litter box needs scooping. (One kitten with a stinky cat box.)

James’s kitten has a stinky litter box. (One James, one kitten, one litter box. Yes, it looks funny.)

The boy’s cat plays with fuzzy mouse toys. (One boy, one cat, several toys)

 GOOD: The kittens’ litter boxes need scooping. (Many kittens with stinky cat boxes.

The boys’ kitten has a stinky litter box. (Several boys own the same kitten and no one has scooped litter.)

The children’s cats play with fuzzy mouse toys. (Children is plural, but doesn’t end in s.)

THE RULE: If the noun is singular, add ’s (I don’t care if it looks wrong; it’s right). If the noun is plural, make the plural first. If it ends in s, add just an apostrophe. If it doesn’t end in s, add ’s.

Memorize commonly confused words

Native and non-native English speakers confuse homonyms in business writing all the time. (Homonyms are words that sound alike, but are spelled differently.) Mixing up the words is a cringe-worthy error, though, so there’s no getting around this: you must memorize these or post this in a place where you can refer to it while writing. (Look. Your third-grade teacher made you memorize multiplication tables and you’ve still got those in your head. Just commit these to memory and move on.)

There/their/they’re

There – this indicates a place or is part of the idiomatic expression there is/there are/there was/there were

EXAMPLES:

I put the flyers in there.

There are too many rules and too many exceptions in English.

Their – this indicates plural possession; something belongs to a group.

EXAMPLES:

The cats have made a mess in their cat boxes.

The boys need to take better care of their kittens.

 They’re – this is a contraction of they + are.

EXAMPLES:

They’re always chasing fuzzy mouse toys.

They’re not scooping the cat boxes.

They’re frustrated with all of these grammar rules.

Your/You’re

Your – this indicates possession for someone or a group.

EXAMPLES:

Your cat box is stinky, Mr. Whiskers.

James, please clean up your cat’s mess. (Oooh. Double possession. Fancy!)

You’re – this is a contraction of you + are.

EXAMPLES:

Mr. Whiskers, you’re a sweet, fluffy kitty.

You’re grounded until you clean out the cat box, James.

You’re capable of memorizing these rules; I have faith in you.

Its/It’s

Its – this indicates singular possession. It’s used for objects or beings with an indeterminate sex, like a cat, a chair or a company.

EXAMPLES:

The cat plays with its fuzzy mouse toy.

The chair sits next to its table.

The company celebrates its Founders’ Day on the 17th of the month.

It’s – this is a contraction of it + is.

EXAMPLES:

It’s about time you cleaned that cat box, James.

No, it’s not a joke.

Whose/Who’s

Whose – indicates unknown possession.

 EXAMPLES:

Whose cat is this?

Whose responsibility is it to clean the cat box?

Who’s – this is a contraction of who + is.

EXAMPLES:

Who’s playing with the fuzzy mouse toys?

Who’s supposed to scoop the cat litter this week?

Omit needless words

This isn’t just my advice; it’s straight out of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Writing. Some complain about this little book, but few argue about this tenet. As an editor, I slash out needless prepositional phrases, adjectives and adverbs, even in my own writing. Don’t over modify. Let your strong verbs convey action and don’t weigh them down with qualifiers.

OK: Let your strong verbs convey action.

BETTER: Let your verbs convey action.

OK: The litter box around the corner in the next room smells terrible.

BETTER: The next room’s litter box smells terrible.

OK: This is relatively easy.

BETTER: This is easy.

Omitting needless words streamlines your business writing to make it clear and concise. Remember those lessons in middle school where the teacher told you to use adjectives and adverbs? I’m here to tell you she was mostly wrong. Weed out as many as you can to improve your writing.

The short list of quick writing improvements is incomplete. I could go on about commas and other fine points, but a good spelling/grammar checking program will reveal these errors. However, these tips are a great place to start if you want to improve your writing.

Good business writing will improve your bottom line

Photograph by Lainey Powell via Flicker cc

Good business writing improves your bottom line

More so online than in print, good business writing can be the difference between a business that succeeds and one that fails. Proper spelling is important for the search engines and browsing public to find you online, but once you have an audience, you have to keep them. Good business writing engages, informs and sometimes entertains the reader. It builds relationships, fans and a following. Good business writing represents your brand’s voice and identity and establishes credibility and professionalism. Your message is important enough to spread to an audience of consumers, so you should make sure that it is as polished as it can be. Hiring a professional writing service like Iris Content can ensure that poor writing doesn’t ruin your message. Contact us today about how our staff of experienced business writers can create content that showcases your message and yields results.

Diane Trim

General, Red Pen Brigade

Diane has traded in her red pen and sensible teaching shoes for a laptop and fuzzy bunny slippers. Even though she writes and edits from the comfort of her living room, she still hunts for and collects misplaced modifiers in the wild. It’s not fashionable, but she’s a Strunk and White fan and has every book Roy Peter Clark has written. Want to geek out over grammar? Need good business writing? Let’s talk.

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