Write On: Increase Your Career Success With These 6 Business Writing Tips

Good writing skills can yield success.

Misspellings. Incorrect punctuation. Bad grammar. These crimes against writing exist not only in hurried personal tweets done in your spare time, but can be career-damning elements in your professional writing.

It’s common knowledge that you can’t have any grammatical mistakes in your cover letter or resume. But beyond the glaring errors, knowing the nuances of how to best communicate in business will help your career. This is particularly essential since most job descriptions include “clear and effective communications in writing and speech” as requirements.

Perhaps it is because I am a journalist, editor, author and emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University, but I find poor writing nearly intolerable. But keen writing skills are valued universally in the marketplace.

According to Michele Brooks in Business World, “No matter what level of hierarchy you are at in a company, writing skills are a valuable asset. The list of written business communication is quite long. It includes emails, letters, reports, company brochures, presentation slides, case studies, sales materials, visual aids, social media updates, and other business documents. Whether you are connecting internally with colleagues and executives or externally to clients, the way you write can either give your career a boost or hamper your progression within the organization.”

Knowing how to best write letters, scripts, program content, email responses or even write papers can expand your career options and add to the value you offer an organization.

“Communication consistently ranks among the top five soft skills employers look for when choosing new hires. And in a world where face-to-face is becoming less and less, that communication more often occurs through the written word. If you want your business to succeed, make certain you and your employees have a firm grasp on the written word.” Linda Emma writes in Small Business.

No exclamation points! I would tell students that the only words that need to precede an exclamation point are “help” and “fire.” While the use of exclamation points in business communication has risen along with emojis, they make the writing appear breathless, amateurish and too casual. The emphasis is implied; if the content wasn’t important, you would not include it. Your tone will express the urgency.

Honor the permanence. Ages ago you could put your paper in the fireplace and that would be it. Nowadays even shredded documents can be put back together. Digital lives forever, even in the deleted files. Do you really want your misspellings and improper grammar outlasting your legacy? “Some offices insist on a paper trail of email communication to document every detail of a client interaction. The practice makes it less likely that there will be misunderstandings. Even intraoffice communication often occurs thorough email, but employees sometimes take to IM-ing one another or texting quick questions. Regardless of which device they choose, they’re invariably writing out messages. Those who do it well also do their jobs better, because they’re clear in their intentions, actions and follow-through,” according to Emma in Small Business.

Be casual, but not too casual. Everyone advises that you be conversational in your writing, but you need to be careful. Your conversations with your BFFs over cocktails are vastly very different from conversations with your boss, your manager, your clients, even the employees who report to you. Write respectfully always, considering the audience. Stiff third person language is not optimal, but neither is slang, vulgarity, run-on sentences or one-word expressions. Find the balance of casual tone in your writing, perhaps writing as if you are speaking to a teacher or relative you know well and respect highly. “When you want to be clear, write the way you speak. Often in our business writing, we try to sound more formal. We adopt more abstract language that minimizes personal pronouns, framing our messages as if they are from some disembodied entity not connected to the planet. As a result, some messages from corporate leaders create distance instead of bridging divides,” writes Jay Sullivan in Forbes.

Focus on clarity. One of the biggest mistakes people make in their business writing is making the thought too complicated for one sentence. My rule is one main idea in each declarative sentence and do not use punctuation like semicolons, dashes, parentheses or too many commas to get you out of a jam. Express it simply and in a sentence that is not longer than 20–30 words tops. Read your writing aloud to see if it is easily understood. If you have to take a breath during a sentence, it is too long and will be too hard to understand. The first and foremost requirement for business writing is for it to be incredibly clear. The language has to be both clear and precise and it needs to be used so that the communication is fairly easy to read. The style has to be entirely professional and mainly courteous,” according to Business Matters.

Trim the fat. Some writers call superfluous phrases flabby, fatty or fluffy. One writer friend calls it “gassy.” I had an editor who once told me I was always “clearing my throat.” The point is to take out the excess phrases that are meaningless and add to the word count without adding to the content. My rule is to eliminate clichés, and words like “currently,” or “formerly,” because the present and past tenses of the verb will handle that timing distinction. You can also avoid empty phrases like, “In fact,” because what is the alternative, “In fiction?” Go over your first draft to see where cutting would help with clarity, then cut away. One of the essential tasks when you edit that first draft is to excise the flab,” writes David Loftus in Entrepreneur.

Avoid jargon. This also means avoiding a reliance on acronyms. Jargon is shorthand in your industry, but also locks people out of the conversation. Don’t use business speak. If you have to run your writing past a person who is not in your company or your field, such as a good friend, partner or family member, do that. See what he or she does not understand and change it so she does. According to Amy George in Inc., “’Leveraging our knowledge,’ ‘strategically aligned’ or ‘uniquely positioned’ don’t mean much to the average person. Skip the vague, fancy phrases and just say what you mean to ensure customers understand you.”

Yes, you can take courses online in business writing, particularly if you enjoy it and want to expand your role and start doing speechwriting, for instance. Online business writing tools are also available, while Grammarly and a simple spell check can at least eliminate the mistakes.

So check your writing before sending.

“Regardless of your writing style, all writers need to proofread and edit all written material, even emails. After you’re done writing, proofread your work. You may then need to edit it. Proofreading is re-reading what you wrote to make sure all the words in your head made it correctly onto the paper. Because our brains work faster than our fingers, you may omit words, leave off an ending, or use the wrong homonym (e.g., “there” instead of “their”). Proofreading catches these errors. Obviously, proofreading a one-line email is easy and just glancing over it as you type may be enough,” writes John Reh in The Balance Careers.

Bcuz everryonne mackes missteaks in riding. Just hopefully not you in your final draft.

This post originally ran in Take The Lead.