When I was in high school, I was determined to be a good writer — and to impress my English teachers. Naturally, I thought the best way to reach this goal was by doing what my teachers taught me. They encouraged me to make sure every sentence of every essay was perfect before moving on to the next sentence. They told me to expand my vocabulary and to use impressively long words. They said that if I followed these guidelines I was sure to excel.

There was only one problem: I didn’t! The highest mark I ever got was a “B,” and usually my marks were lower than that. Every time I sweated and slogged to finish one sentence, rewriting it again, my work became wordier and wordier. Frankly, the more I followed my teacher’s advice, the less success I had communicating my ideas.

Fortunately, by the time I wrote a doctoral thesis, my writing had improved. Mostly because I studied the work of good writers and figured out the basics of good writing. But it really wasn’t until I entered the business world that I realized that to excel at business communication there was one thing I had to do: forget what I was taught.

I’m sorry to say that some of what I was taught is still in fashion. A client of mine is living proof of this. Her first language isn’t English. She told me that in her home country she was taught that to write well in English she should use big words and write long, complicated sentences. Her teachers taught her to write to impress, not to communicate.

Gradually, I’ve helped her to see that good business writing is all about communicating. One of the ways I did that was by giving her the following guidelines. You may find these guidelines useful too.

How to Excel at Business Communication

1. Think First
What is it you want to say? Ask yourself if you have a clear idea of your message, before you start writing.

2. Forget Perfection
Don’t worry about writing perfect sentences. Just get your key points down.

3. Cut and Paste
Once you’ve got your key points on the page, move sentences and words around until you have created a logical flow.

4. Keep It Short
Go back through your work. Make sure the sentences are short and to the point.

5. Keep It Simple
Use words and phrases most people will easily understand. For example, don’t say, “A preponderance of long words will ensure that I will get an A.” Say, “Using mostly big words means I will get an A.”

6. Be Active, Not Passive
If you ‘re not sure of the difference between the active and the passive voice, compare the following two sentences:

Passive: “The lesson that was taught to me by Dr. Fok was to use simple sentences rather than long wordy ones, thereby making it possible to communicate effectively.”

Active: “Dr. Folk taught me to use short words to communicate effectively.”

Most of all, be honest with yourself about whether you’re trying to impress your audience or to communicate with them. In business writing, the best communication will get you the “A!”

Want to learn more about how you can excel at business communication? Contact me at The Language Lab.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

clear formSubmit