Writing for business ­– 10 tips from the experts

Over the years many of my clients and students have asked the same question.

“What makes good writing?”

This question shouldn’t come as a surprise to businesses out there.
We all want fabulous business and marketing content that will connect with our audience. We want to know how to best write for business.
Most of us know the importance of understanding our target audience and writing for them, but many despair because “I’m not a writer”. Ideally you would hire an expert to help with writing or editing, but this is not always possible with limited marketing budgets.
You wonder if there is a secret to writing for business.
Well there is. You can write any marketing or business communication material and make it effective, if you understand the fundamentals of writing.
The fundamentals never change, and for me the fundamentals are explained in an anecdote where Ulysses author James Joyce explained his day’s work. He had spent the day painstakingly writing two sentences. “I have the words already. What I am seeking is the perfect order of words in the sentence,” he is quoted as saying.

Good writing in its most basic form is having the right words in the right order.

Not terribly helpful advice I hear you say. Well perhaps bestselling author, the late Bryce Courtenay said it better with his mantra of  “keep it simple”.
Courtenay was well-educated with a formidable vocabulary, yet he never set out to be too “clever” with his writing. He was a proponent for keeping writing simple, clean, direct and honest. He hated long-winded and unnecessary description and it paid dividends throughout his career, first in advertising and later as an author.
Here are 10 other tips from acclaimed writers and authors that anyone can apply to writing for business.
1. George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty Four
“Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech, which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”

2. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby author

F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Cut out…exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

3. James Patterson, author of Alex Cross series.

 “Pretend that you are sitting across from somebody, telling them a story and you don’t want them to get up until it’s finished.” 
4. Stephen King, acclaimed horror and suspense author
“If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot… If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.” 
5. Ray Bradbury, science fiction author.
“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things you’re doomed.”
6. Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea author
Ernest Hemingway threw out many drafts before he was happy
“The first draft of everything is sh*t.”
 7. Joshua Wolf Shenk, best-selling author and essayist
“Get through a draft as quickly as possible. (It’s) Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft…the old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.”

8. Ken Follett, Pillars of the Earth author

“My aim in constructing sentences is to make the sentence utterly easy to understand, writing what I call transparent prose. I’ve failed dreadfully if you have to read a sentence twice to figure out what I meant.”
9. David Ogilvy, iconic businessman
  • Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  • Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  • Never use jargon words like reconceptualize,demassificationattitudinallyjudgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  • Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  • Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
  • If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  • Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

Highlights from a now famous internal memo, Ogilvy sent to all employees at Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency.

10. Just write
My tenth tip is to write, write, write. Like any skill, it’s something you need to practise. Write every day if you can. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, it could be an email to a friend, a cover letter for a job, just write. It will all help you in writing for business.
The good news is that there are hundreds of free tools out there to help you. You can access a bunch of free writing tips under tools and resources on our the mypr+ website or use any of the free following online tools. However beware when using some of the tools shown below as they may use United States English rather than Australian or British English. For reference, here is a great site with US vs British English word lists.
Improve Readability with MS-Word this tool is built-in to MS Word and uses the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests designed to indicate how difficult a reading passage is to understand. Using simple calculations, it is able to break down text to gauge the level of education (or school grade) needed to grasp the writing, and how hard it is to comprehend overall. A score 90 and above means it is easily understood by an average 11-year-old, 60 to 70 is for 13 to 15-year-olds and 30 or under is best understood by university graduates. Don’t forget to use your spelling and grammar checks in MS Word as well.

The onelook dictionary search indexes more than 1000 dictionaries and allows reverse dictionary and keyword searches

This wiki is a guide on using punctuation correctly and has great cheat sheets.
Useful grammar lessons and tips can be found at the University of Ottawa site, Grammar Girl and the Capital Community College Foundation, which also has good general writing tips.
Other general writing resources can be found at betterwritingskills.com and infoplease.com

Common errors in the English language are outlined at this site and a great general Style Guide can be found at the Economist’s site.

So now there are no excuses. Let’s get writing.
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Kylie Fennell
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