By Juliet James
Journalists, novelists and professional bloggers have it easy. They know that writing is the bulk of their job. For others, the need for good writing is not so obvious.
To most, honing writing skills may not seem like the fastest way to climb the corporate ladder. In the digital age, though, nothing could be further from the truth.
No matter what occupation we are in, we all have to do a great deal more writing than we even really think about. Mastering the nuances of different kinds of business writing is actually one of those small things that can distinguish a good business from a great one. If you know how to write well in a few different scenarios you can help your company rise above the competition.
[Editor’s note: It’s a good idea for professional writers to look at these areas as well, since this is where many businesses need (and hire) writing help. To business owners out there, if you have no interest in learning good writing skills or no time, consider letting a professional writer help you out. ]
1. Web Writing
Writing online isn’t quite like any other kind of writing. Even within web writing there are a number of tiny subsets. There are blog posts like this one, main pages, product pages, articles, FAQs, navigation, side bars… the list goes on and on.
For every area of a website the rules are a little different. When we write posts and articles, we want to write thoroughly. Ideally, we want to create something that is insightful and thought-provoking.
When we write content for the body of web pages we need to be pointed and concise. Scanning has now become the predominant way that people read web content. According to one study (from Jakob Nielsen’s Website), users on average will only read approximately 20% of the words on a page. That means that most of what we write will never be read at all. That’s why when we’re writing for the web we need to remember not to bury the lead.
Writing for the web isn’t a complicated science if you remember a few key points. It’s always best to open with your most important point. It seems logical to start with an introduction and build to a conclusion, but when online putting the conclusion first is the most practical way to get your point across.
Beyond that, there are a few other things that will help guide a user through your content:
- Bulleted lists, like this one, are easier to digest visually
- Sub-headings are crucial, and they should be more matter of fact than clever
- Using bolded fonts and hyperlinks are also useful ways of drawing the eye to important points
- Paragraphs and sentences should be short and stick to one main idea.
Also, because the web is a universal equalizer, credibility is everything online. If you have a way to demonstrate your authority make sure to feature that information prominently in order to build trust with users.
Finally, when writing on the web, the most important thing any page needs is a call to action. Sure, a website by nature is kind of a “choose your own adventure,” but you can help guide your users in the direction you want them to go by using prominent, eye-catching calls to action that lead directly to the action you want the user to take.
2. Marketing Materials
Another area where businesses also face a learning curve is in the creation of their marketing materials. Just like with web writing, this is an area that has a number of different facets. There are flyers, business cards, signage, booklets, reports, brochures–the list goes on and on.
For most businesses creating promotional materials is a necessity. The business may be using the materials to try to attract new customers, raise brand awareness or just reporting to clients and board members.
There are some basics ideas about marketing materials that everyone can use. First of all, marketing should focus on the reader rather than the presenter. No one is interested in how great you think you are. Yes, credibility factors are important, but they needn’t be the main focus. What should be the focus is the benefit to the consumer. People are primarily interested in what they stand to gain from using your product or service, so that should be the driving force behind the creation of any promotional writing.
Every audience is different, so it’s also vital to be able to isolate and identify your target audience and speak to them in an appropriate way.
- You may not want to use words like “dude” when you’re selling medic alert bracelets, just like teen-agers aren’t interested in words like “professionalism.”
- Whether you are trying to target a specific demographic or a broad range of individuals, it’s essential to use the kind of plain language that anyone can understand. Big words are very impressive; but they may be a turn off to those who don’t understand them.
- Overly technical language or jargon may make outsiders feel as though you aren’t relatable. When you can write about universal concepts and use simple terminology your marketing materials will be effective to a much broader audience.
No matter what you write, the most important thing to do is to focus on action.
What do you want the reader to do after reading your flyer or brochure? If it’s a phone call, or a visit to a website or a physical store, make sure you find a way to make that desired action clear and easy for the reader to do.
One of the best ways to ensure that you get the result you want is to include an incentive in your promotion. Whether it’s a coupon on a flyer or a discount code that can be used on the phone, attaching a tangible benefit can increase your response rate.
Whatever kind of business you do, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have to talk to others. There are plenty of nuances involved in face-to-face interpersonal communication. Things like tone of voice, facial expression and body language speak volumes above and beyond our words.
But when we have to use letters or email to communicate with clients, bosses or co-workers it’s a completely different ball game. Without the benefit of direct conversation, intent can get lost, misconstrued and misunderstood very easily. That danger makes correspondence one of the most important kinds of writing every business needs to do well.
Obviously professionalism is important at all times in any kind of business communication. But within that broad heading there are a number of things to keep in mind. Depending on who you are speaking to the rules will change a bit.
In most cases, timeliness will be of the utmost importance. Whether you’re talking to a client, a customer or a colleague, procrastinating on a response is never a good idea. Sure, sometimes you need to gather the appropriate information before sending a reply, but if it is going to take more than a few hours or a day, a quick email to let the sender know you are working on an answer is usually a smart move. That eliminates any chance that the person on the other end will feel ignored or forgotten.
There are a hundred other details that can be involved in writing a successful email, but here are some key points to remember:
- Be concise and make sure to answer all questions.
- Be personal whenever you can and always be aware of proper spelling and punctuation.
- While CCing people isn’t always appropriate, in some cases if you are dealing with a sensitive issue it may be wise to include someone else in the conversation to ensure that you protect everyone involved.
- As a business, emails are always a great place to use a customized signature. You should always include contact information and logos if possible because it’s yet another way to market the company effectively.
Also, because tone of voice is completely absent from emails, we need to always make sure that we choose our words carefully. You never know when something can be read as sarcastic, or attacking when it wasn’t intended to be. That’s why our mothers all taught us to make copious use of the words “please” and “thank you.” It’s so important to always come across as amenable and co-operative. If you are feeling negative emotions while composing an email it may be a good idea to have a third party read your work to ensure that the message is devoid of attitude.
There are no magic beans for making a business thrive. It takes hard work, passion, savvy and even a little bit of luck. But one surefire way to help a business wither is to fail at communicating effectively with the public.
Whether that communication is in the form of a website, marketing materials or correspondence, without being able to convey your message successfully you will lose people.
This post just scratches the surface of each of these writing areas. They are all vital aspects of writing that a business needs to be able to do well. Without mastery of these types of writing, your best intentions can go awry.
Is your business communication as effective as it should be?
Juliet is a writer for Print Express a UK Printing company that specializes in printing business materials of all kinds. Juliet has worked in different areas of marketing for a number of years but has most recently been focused on freelance writing, blogging and brand consulting.