According to the Harvard Business Review publication called Your Guide to Better Business Writing, “A survey of 120 blue-chip American companies found that a third of employees wrote poorly, a problem businesses are spending more than $3 billion a year to correct.”
The book includes essays entitled “The Best Memo You’ll Ever Write” and “Writing Well When Time Is Tight”, which focus on a time-pressed manager’s need for a streamlined process to get ideas down on paper.
Here are the top 5 mistakes I see people make in business writing:
#1 Problem: people write what they want to say, and don’t think about what the people reading actually need to know.
Solution: Good writers focus on writing for their audience. We answer questions in ways that resonate with our readers.
#2 Problem: people deflate their case before they make it by leading with something that is worrying them, or with an apologetic statement (when no apology is required).
Solution: Good writers lead with the thing that is most relevant/of interest to the reader and cut anything that detracts from their case.
#3 Problem: people overly complicate their writing by trying to use words, phrases, or sentence structures they don’t really grasp.
Solution: Good writers k.i.s.s (keep it simple stupid) and tell other writers to do the same.
#4 Problem: people don’t reread their own work or ask a colleague to reread their work before sending it out.
Solution: Good writers know to look for our usual errors (I invert letters. I write “teh” every time and have to change it to “the”) and we often work with editors to find the mistakes we can’t see.
#5 Problem: people spend way too much time agonizing over writing and ultimately work themselves into a corner, or worse they try to write by committee because no one feels comfortable running with a writing project on their own.
Solution: It’s OK. There isn’t an in-house solution to every problem. There are times when it is better for businesses to hire a writer and move on.
Professional Writers can bring more than a polished, finished product to the table. I’m happy to answer my clients’ questions about writing. I like giving people tips so that they feel more confident with daily writing tasks. I offer time-savers and provide useful tools like style sheets and lexicons so that staff can more easily maintain the voice and tone we’ve worked to create on a project.
I’ll likely buy the Harvard guide – I have a growing collection of desk references for writing. And I’m curious to see if the Harvard publishers mention that sometimes the best way to improve your business writing is to work with Professional Writers who are skilled and passionate about the craft.