Sunday, April 14, 2013

Writing Matters – Business


In my first professional copywriter job, I wrote primarily product marketing copy for a direct mail marketing company. In the 30-odd years since then, I’ve had the opportunity to write nearly anything that has words: ads, brochures, marketing collateral, packaging, technical documentation, RFPs, press releases, web copy, business documentation and more. I’ve performed freelance copywriting/editing for over 30 years. In my current full-time position, much of my time is spent copyediting work submitted by company employees for internal or external publication.

Even if you’re not a professional copywriter/editor, it’s likely you’ll have to communicate something in writing, either to a co-worker, supervisor, customer or vendor at some point during your workday. Some people write easily; others have told me that they find the task torturous. Easy or not, writing matters. Customers’ perceptions about a company are affected by a company’s written communications, such as letters, emails, websites, etc. Incorrect orthography (grammar, spelling and punctuation) creates a perception that the company itself lacks polish and professionalism. And customers detest overly hyped, promotional boasts; “marketese” creates doubts about credibility.

Here are some tips to help make your business writing more readable and improve credibility:

  • Get to the point. Start with the most important content first. Don’t make the reader search for the point.
  • Be concise. Avoid filler words; make sure each word matters.
  • Use natural language to ensure clarity and understanding.
  • Use a strong, active voice; avoid a passive voice. (“Jim mailed the contract” vs. “The contract was mailed by Jim.”)
  • Be objective. Avoid loaded, emotional words or opinions that reflect a narrow viewpoint.
  • Check the orthography:
    • Spelling – Don’t rely solely on spellcheck. Proofread once or twice.
    • Grammar – Know the rules of that/which, there/they’re/their, its/it’s, your/you’re. (Contractions should be the easiest.) Also, “through to” is impossible; it’s either “through June 5” (to the end of June 5) or “to June 5” (to the end of June 4).
    • Punctuation –
      • Use commas correctly
      • Use apostrophes for possessives, but not plurals
      • Place periods within quotation marks, not outside
      • Use hyphens for compound modifiers. (“Man eating lion” and “man-eating lion” have different meanings. In the first one, “eating'” is  a verb; in the second, “man-eating” is a compound adjective to describe a lion.)
      • Use only one space after a period at the end of a sentence, never two. (Typewriters used monospaced fonts; today’s computers use proportional fonts, so only one space is needed because the program makes the adjustment automatically. Save yourself the extra work.)
    • Avoid random capitalization; only capitalize proper nouns. (A surprisingly common mistake.)
    • Have someone else review important documents; even professional writers use editors.
  • Avoid square blocks of text; they’re hard to read. Use white space, bulleted lists and bolded headings that include keywords of the content.
  • Don’t center or justify text. Eye-tracking studies show left alignment with a ragged right edge is easier on the eyes.

Conciseness, accuracy, a natural tone and easy-on-the-eyes layout help reduce the reader’s cognitive load, make information easier to process and improves customers’ perceptions about a company’s credibility and attention to quality. Just keep it simple and easy to read.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Glad to hear you're back in the workforce! Has it been awhile now or am I just out of the loop, LOL? Congrats!

Rose - The Center of My Self said...

Thanks, Debra! I've actually been working here since August, but it was intended to be just a temporary job since they only pay me less than half what I was making previously. It's barely more than unemployment pays, but I get full benefits, which is awesome. I continue to look for a job that better compensates me for my ability and experience.

Missed Periods said...

I need to remember to show this post to my class. I am forever trying to explain how important writing is.

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Missed Periods said...

Random capitalization drives me crazy!

Lori Skoog said...

I just caught up with several of your posts. You are the one who writes so beautifully! I am so flattered by your comments on my Journal. Thank you!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Well, benefits are crucial if you ever need to claim against them so that's a plus! Good luck in your continuing search for a better job though.