Clear and effective written communication is an essential requirement of any business – be it for reports and proposals, press releases, marketing brochures, websites, or even everyday jobs such as email and letters.
The cost of poor writing is miscommunication, but also lost business opportunities, and a damaged company image and reputation.
Good writing isn’t as hard as writing in a foreign language, but there are some essential skills for all of us to learn. For example, how to
- Write a press release that will grab media interest;
- Compose web pages, reports and proposals that will engage and influence readers;
- Write emails that get those everyday jobs done efficiently and smoothly.
Experienced trainer in writing skills
As an experienced trainer in business writing skills, I can offer SMEs a fairly unique blend of experience – described below.
- As a former journalist (five years writing features for the Guardian and The Telegraph), I can show directors and managers the tricks and techniques used by professional writers – so your writing is clear, engaging and effective.
- My wide employment experience – I have worked as a manager in local government and the voluntary sector, and a private sector consultant – means I can relate well to many different types of business/organisation, their ethos and way or working … and their writing style.
- Indeed, I have delivered training for high-profile clients such as the World Trade Organisation and European Commission, several high-street clients, and the University of Oxford’s Department of Continuing Education, for whom I deliver six business writing courses every year.
My training style is engaging and interactive.
According to people’s needs, I can run intensive, bit-sized, 90-minute sessions through to day-long courses.
A full list of my course repertoire is available here, on my website.
Would any of the topics already mentioned be of interest – or an amalgam of some of them, such as these?
- Winning reports, proposals and press releases
- How to attract and engage an audience – Marketing materials and press releases
- Making your working day smoother – Tips for effective emailing
- How to write with ease and speed
‘Hard Brexit’, ‘Max-fac’, ‘Passporting’ … What do they mean, and do they mean the same to all of us? Hum.
These Brexit terms are a reminder that using unfamiliar and undefined jargon runs the risk of confusing and annoying customers. And they can also be interpreted differently by staff. If you give instructions to ‘reach out’, for example, are you telling staff to speak to an organisation, invite them to a meeting, or form a partnership with them?
And with more and more pressures on people’s time, and Social Media enticing and forcing us to use ‘shorthand’, the use of jargon is undoubtedly escalating. Despite its risks and consequences. So, here are my tips – drawing on my experience of what works.
- Paint your audience – As you write, think of someone who characterises your target audience – ideally someone you know well. Imagining they are seated in front of you will help you tune into your audience’s needs, and stick to everyday language.
- Ditch your suit – Believe it or not, how you are feeling and how you are dressed will influence your writing’s tone of voice. It is true. So, wearing a suit and tie could be at the root of your problem?
- Find a hero – We absorb the writing styles of what we read around the office, just as children pick up their parents’ accents. However, if you keep examples of writing styles you want to copy, and read them before you start writing, they will rub off on your work.
- Decide your style – Decide on three adjectives you’d like your writing to sound like, and then identify their extreme opposites that you want to avoid (e.g. confident – extreme opposite, arrogant). Use these adjectives to guide your writing.
- Beware of nominalisations (abstract nouns) – It’s common for businesses to use these instead of what are their verb and adjective equivalents (e.g. notification compared to ‘to notify’; precision compared to ‘precise’). However, they make your sentences wordy, unclear and bureaucratic – so ditch them!
- Read your text out loud – This is a great way for spotting anything unintelligible before you share it wither a wider audience. Long sentences, clichés and jargon should leap out at you as you read – for your immediate treatment.
In summary … Write clearly, and you won’t pay the cost of jargon
Business organisations and websites
‘getAbstract recommends keeping this handy guide on your desk.’ getAbstract
‘The story of “It’s just a shower” is worth the cost of the book alone.’ Self-Publishing Magazine
‘Business Writing Tips is a book that promises to ease the transition to a better way of writing.’ Small Biz Trends
‘A solid resource in this business writing genre, and a useful addition to your bookshelf.’ procopywriters
‘Packed with a wealth of information presented in a lively, engaging and attractive format.’ – L Gordon.
‘Comprehensive, easy to use … to appeal to anyone who needs to produce fact or fictional text.’ – MD.
‘A must for the book shelf of a business oriented writer. Considerable aspects are covered plus more. This is a Business Writing Tips bible for inspiration and success.’ – K Villet.
‘I’d recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone who needs help to get going.’ – S Parsons
‘There are few things in life that far exceed their monetary value, and for £9 this book does that.’ – D Perrin
‘Well written, and easy to read and understand… clear and concise, and easy to follow.’ – S Collins
‘Easy to dip in and out of … should be on everyone’s shelf.’ – B Scobie
‘Short, sharp and to the point. It is an excellent guide for all people in business who need an easy to read reference book.’ – A Tomkinson
If you want more details about my book, which you can buy here .
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‘Which side of the bed did you get up this morning?’
That’s the question that several people attending my training courses have been asked by their bosses.
And anyone who works in public research will know that once two or three people say the same thing there is probably some wider truth in it. (In the same way, MPs know that it is time to sit up and take notice of us once they get a handful of letters reporting the same thing.).
After reading a piece of my training delegates’ writing – a report, blog post, whatever – their bosses said to them, “What mood were you in when you wrote that?!”
So, what exactly did they mean?
And what do we conclude?
Answer: That the tone of voice of our writing is dependent not just on obvious things (see later) but also on which side of the bed we get up.
Not literally of course …
The boss’ meant: whether the trains were running on time and the sun was shining, did their team win last night, and did they had time to grab their favourite frothie semi-skimmed latte with sprinkles on top before getting to work.
There are 3 conclusions of the boss’ feedback:
- We need be aware of – and careful – if we find ourselves in an extreme mood, either positive (e.g. excited, jokey, spontaneous) or negative (depressed, annoyed, fed up) as this will impact on our writing – quite possibly sending it away from the style we wanted. Yes, unless we are careful, what we are feeling like, have been watching or reading, whether or not we have plans for the evening/weekend, and our relationships, will all have an impact.
- So, before picking up our pen, we should ‘get into the mood’ we want to convey in our writing. For example, if you want to come across as business like ‘dress the part’ – don’t write when still in your pyjamas on a Sunday morning, lounging around on your settee. It won’t work.
- And finally, recognise that – because of the above – there may be times when we need to stop, adjust, and get into the right ‘zone’ before we pick up our pen … otherwise we’re signing up for an awful lot of unnecessary time later, editing.
Tone of Voice – Components
All of which is important for anyone wanting to effect the right tone of voice.
Wake up, readers, if you ever have to write any of the following: a persuasive proposal, the minutes of a legal or important meeting, some marketing text (print or digital), finely-balanced notes e.g. for a staff appraisal, etc.
The other, more obvious, ingredients to your writing’s tone of voice are these 3 things:
- What you say – the content.
- How you word it – your vocabulary.
- And how you say it – the grammar.
Let’s look at an example …
Suppose you write a blog about how you, unexpectedly, won a half-marathon last weekend. Well, that will be pretty inspiring to many people – especially if it was during bad weather and you won against all odds.
But if you litter it with some inspiring words – struggled, overcame, fought, won – it will be even more inspiring to your readers.
And you can affect the tone one step further with your grammar, by which I include the following:
- Sentence length – long sentences tend to sound more formal that short ones, which keep your voice more casual. The latter are also easier to read, and a great place to put key points you want to stress. Like this.
- Active or passive sentences – the latter make sentences longer (see above), as well as being not the natural way most people speak.
- Use of pronouns – using we, you and I, etc., will make your writing more engaging to the reader compared to referring to Mr X, Andrew (or avoiding using people’s names completely).
- Contractions – we’re (instead of we are), can’t (instead of cannot/can not), etc. Again, the former ones will give your writing a softer tone.
- Punctuation – semi-colons are not your everyday punctuation, as well as resulting in longer sentences.
Moral of this story .. for your tone of voice?
Say ‘No’ to jumping out of bed ‘on the wrong side’.
For help with tone tone of voice, how to write persuasively, and other help, contact PerfectText.
Is your email inbox overloaded – or do you spend too much time on your emails? READ my 6Ps for making your emailing day a lot lot easier.
1) Use the 3-Part structure to save time on emails
Many people get 30+ emails every day – their inbox is overloaded. And dealing with so many emails is time consuming and not easy.
If an email arrives that is long, unattractive (bad layout) or complicated to interpet, the receiver will quite likely – and quite reasonably – leave dealing with the email until later.
And who would blame them?
Whereas, if your email is well structured – so the receiver can speedily digest your content – it will be answered and actioned much more quickly.
Just what you want.
To help your emails get attention, use this effective 3-part structure:
First, give some brief context to the email – e.g. I am following up our meeting on Monday.
Then go into the details. Keep related information together, separate the details using paragraphs, and use sub-headings or numbers if appropriate.
End with the Action you want from the receiver – Can you get back to me before Monday?
Take advantage of the fact that readers’ attention is greatest when they first open your email and read your opening paragraph.
Capitalise on this by drawing readers’ attention to any important points in your email, eg. Sorry this email is a little long … This is really important … Please read the email carefully, etc.
I have pooled together my training experience and tips from my book on Business Writing Tips into 20+ Expert Briefs on Writing. Here is a list of the topics covered. Contact me for copies of any of the briefs.
HOW TO WRITE WITH EASE AND SPEED
- Effective writing is as easy as ABC
- Do your writing jobs take too long? The 5-stage POWER model is your answer
- Find writing frustrating? These 4 Ps will make it considerably easier
- ‘Less is more’: 10 things to delete from your sentences
- How good is your writing? Find out in this short and revealing test
- Calling all writers: Your ‘Duty of Care’
ATTRACT AND ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE – KEY INGREDIENTS & TECHNIQUES
- Learn from writing’s pros: 12 indispensable techniques used by the maestros
- Write like a real master – The 5 artist’s principles
- Eight Essentials for good copywriting: The HOGWARTS school of Wordcraft
- Ten Reasons for employing a copywriter
- Three Great writing techniques for writing with speed, structure and style
- Be a professional writer: Follow these 16 practical tips
WINNING REPORTS & PROPOSALS
- The 6 ‘false starts’ made in business writing – Don’t be BOSSIE!
- Write that winning report: 12 ways to get more attention, impact and influence
- Seven tricks to persuade and influence target readers
MAKE YOUR WORKING DAY EASIER – TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE EMAILS & WEBSITES
- The 4 dangers of emailing – PESTs to watch out for
- Feeling email pressure? 6 Ps to make your working day a lot, lot easier
- ‘Quick Wins’ for improving a website: The 5 Ss that will get more readers’ attention
THE ESSENTIALS OF MINUTE-TAKING
- The 7 essentials for easy and effective minute-taking
POLISHING DOCUMENTS – EFFECTIVE EDITING & PROOFREADING
- Grammatical Myths – 4 lessons from schooldays that you can safely ignore
- How to transform a draft. Follow these 5 As to power-up your editing
- Punctuation made really, really simple
- Say ‘No’ to proofreading slip-ups – Follow these 3 foolproof techniques
CONTACT me if you would like any of these briefs.
‘Kill business speak, ‘Ditch the jargon’ is one of the three conclusions of Everyone’s Business (CBI), a new piece of research by the Confederation of British Industry into what people think about business.
Or, in the more emphatic words of PRWeek magazine, business should ‘Divest the crap’.
The conclusion is based on research that also found:
- A lack of trust between businesses and people – between what they do and what people believe of them (what the survey called a ‘real disconnect’).
- Public trust in businesses and whether they contribute to society is higher when they know the sector better. (Less than 20% said they had a good relationship with sectors such as: construction, manufacturing, utilities, IT, and professional and public services.)
- Leaders of large businesses are considered to be ‘far removed’ from the world of ordinary people (>70%) – but small businesses have a better reputation.
- Customers aren’t treated as individuals often enough by businesses – many focussing on the narrower objectives of customer service and value.
- Better communications would improve relations with the public, using ‘accessible, human language’ – and not done by CEOs.
The CBI is calling on firms to ditch business speak, communicate a clear purpose and remember their human side, with a clear focus on employees.
The study’s two other conclusions for businesses are:
- ‘Think local, act local’ – address what matters to people in their local communities.
- ‘External relationships’ – a better relationship with society will drive prosperity, in which the media and the government have a role to play.
Beginning in 2018, the CBI is now starting to run some regional events to spread its campaign to its members and beyond.
CONTACT me if you would like help Killing your Jargon
There is a saying that ‘you can’t start marketing your book too early’, so let’s begin with some things to do before your book is published.
- Build a database/email marketing list, including family, friends, etc. Badger those that are willing/knowledgeable to write reviews on Amazon etc.
- Prepare a ‘factsheet’ with a high-impact graphic, which contains a summary of the content, your bio, how people can purchase, price and ISBN, etc.
- Get your key messages right (find the value to customers)
- Make sure you sell the benefits of your book, not the features – readers want a problem solved, their objective achieved, etc. How will your book help them?
- Position your expertise – be credible and specialise. What is your USP?
- Write a press release and get in touch with local media – they will want to know ‘your story’, more than about the book!
- There are media opportunities before you publish, when you publish, and after you have published.
- Look for speaking opportunities – groups plan their speakers 6+ months in advance (quite a lot of evidence that the conversion rate, ie books sold, can be high on these occasions)
- Look for opportunities in local newspapers … but also professional, business and community magazines etc (somewhat hard to do in Oxford, where there is nothing new to being a writer). Offer to write something for them, mentioning your book.
- Prepare your administration: dispatch notice, invoice, envelopes, stamps, etc.
- Contact independent bookshops and local libraries. Ask to stock, offer to do talks, etc.
- Also try writing groups, clubs and associations, specialist websites, etc.
- Plan your book launch – invite the right people as well as friends
ON PUBLICATION and POST PUBLICATION
As above, plus…
- Hold a book launch (partly just to celebrate the occasion, but also to invite people you’d like to influence).
- Advertise selectively
- Exploit free publicity
- Use networking opportunities: business, sport, community, school, employer, etc. Look for customers buying for themselves, and those buying as a gift for their family and friends.
- Share your expertise through speaking engagements
- Publish articles, mentioning your book
- Have a stall at relevant exhibitions
- Offer copies as prizes for raffles, to community events (gets you free publicity) etc.
- What about having a website?
- Use social media
- What about a blog – virtual tours, interviews, reviews, feedback, etc.
AS SALES PROCEED …
- Measure what works
- Do more of what works – Tweak as needed – Stop doing what doesn’t work
- Promote any successes that you have, recording testimonials eg on your website or on a sales flyer, etc.
- Ask new customers where they heard about your book / Understand why people buy
- Make a connection with customers
- Learn to love selling!
I was interviewed by Human Communications, for my suggested tips for better business writing – and about the origins and golden nuggets in my book, Business Writing Tips. Here is the interview in full:
First of all, why do you think some people worry when it comes to business writing?
I think some people may have worries about breaking ‘rules’ that they think they learned at school. For example, the question I’m most commonly asked is, “Can I start a sentence with ‘and’?” (In my view you definitely can.) Lots of people have hang-ups about things like that, and – I know from what they tell me – a lot of time is wasted in offices debating and arguing about those sort of unimportant things.
Secondly, I think a lot of businesses write to impress, which isn’t necessarily a good objective or starting point. People love to highlight when their business was formed, for example. But most customers/readers aren’t really interested in that; they just want to know if the business can solve their problem .
Finally, people forget that in the business world readers don’t have to read anything. There’s a lot of competition on the web, for one thing: we’re in ‘the attention age’. People don’t realise that, if you want someone to read your text, you have got to keep the reader interested. But achieving that in writing is hard. Plus, there’s a lot of bad writing around, and I’m afraid we all absorb bad practices.