From reports and emails to memos and proposals, business writing is a primary mode of both internal and external communication in the workplace.
Its main purposes are to share ideas or release updates to a target audience, explain the impetus or rational behind a decision that has been made, and encourage team members, clients or stakeholders to perform a certain action.
While these are necessary functions to promote a clear, smooth and direct exchange of information within a company, the fact is that business writing has earned a reputation for being tedious, lacking interest and causing boredom.
As the writer though, it’s your role to debunk that misconception and give the audience something to read that compels, motivates, intrigues and excites. So how can you redirect a monotonous, utilitarian business memo into a piece of writing that actually engages the reader? These four tactics can help you reach that objective.
Choose an Angle that Has Relevance to the Reader.
First and foremost, you need to convince the audience there is a pertinent reason for them to give your writing more than just a cursory glance. So in order to accomplish this, make sure the content is applicable to whoever you intend to read it. If a topic does not feel relevant to their unique position and responsibilities in the organization, a reader is likely to assume this material is not worth their time or attention.
Since your goal is for people to care about what you have written, demonstrate how it relates to them specifically. The trainers and consultants at Emphasis, an online business writing resource, recommend asking yourself these questions as you prepare to write.
1. What is the subject of this document, and who is going to read it?
2. How much do the readers know about the subject?
3. What is likely the readers’ attitude toward the subject?
4. What are the particular issues that will concern the readers?
5. What do the readers want to gain from this document?
6. How important and interesting is the subject to the readers?
Grab the Reader’s Attention in the First Paragraph.
The introduction is the most crucial element of any writing because it solidifies in the audience’s minds whether this piece of content is more stimulating or thought-provoking than another item competing for their focus. With their inboxes saturated in emails, their newsfeeds crowded on social media and their awareness pulled in every direction, your writing needs to captivate readers in the first couple sentences, or those overextended attention spans will drift elsewhere.
According to research from Chartbeat, a website content intelligence company, an estimated 55% of readers spend less than 15 seconds actively consuming an article. This makes it essential to create an introductory paragraph that leaves your audience primed to want more. So begin with a pithy, concise and dynamic sentence opener that raises a curious question, offers an unexpected statistic, or invokes an acute emotion.
Engage the Reader with a Conversational Approach.
Once you have piqued their curiosity with a provocative introduction, keep your readers focused by writing in a tone that mimics human dialogue. Envision how you might choose a word, organize a thought or phrase an idea if you were across from another person, drinking coffee and absorbed in conversation. Then utilize that same relaxed, natural approach in how you address the readers on paper.
Instead of writing from a sense of formal detachment, draw in your readers with interactive language that communicates they are participants in a discussion, not bystanders in a lecture. When you express information in writing just like you would in talking, it makes you sound more genuine which builds connection with the audience. In fact, the academic writing platform Bid4papers discovered that when its content was structured in the tone of a dialogue, readership increased from slightly more than 80 full-post views to upwards of 180 full-post views.
Avoid Using Jargon the Reader Is Not Familiar With.
It can be enticing to write in business speak, using idioms such as “reinvent the wheel,” “shift the paradigm” or “create team synergy.” But this technique is ineffective if your audience is a group of clients, for example, who are outside the industry and not familiar with the jargon. Corporate buzzwords sound trendy and innovative, but for people who lack the necessary context, this language can seem both exclusive and alienating.
Another issue with jargon is that, in your effort to come across as informed and business-savvy, the content will often lose its meaning because you inundated it with triteness. Michael Shmarak of the Chicago-based Sidney Maxwell Public Relations firm describes this as “intellectual chest-thumping.” Some professionals choose “needlessly complex words…or phases such as ‘optimize bottom-of-funnel efficiencies’ when they mean ‘close more deals faster,’” he adds. Succinct, colloquial words that are easy to understand make readers feel comfortable rather than confused.
You might just be composing an email, not crafting a novel, but why should this mean the reader is automatically bored and disengaged? No matter how routine the topic, you can still produce business writing that your clients, stakeholders, colleagues and other target audience members will not dread perusing.