Great Business Writing 2015 – 10 golden rules updated again

Just over a year ago I shared an update on a previous post, all about the 10 Golden Rules of Great Business Writing. Even though it’s only one year since the last one appeared, I thought it was worth seeing just if – and if so how – things have moved on in that 13 month period. Here are the results…

HTWB golden rules 2015

The 10 Golden Rules of Great Business Writing: how does high tech affect them – or not?

1. Before you write anything down define not what you want to say, but what your message must achieve.

Yes, absolutely. That one never changes in its theory, but it does change in terms of how it’s delivered. With online business writing today often we’re looking at very different things that our message must achieve according to where in the buying cycle customers and prospects are when they receive it, so we need to refine our message accordingly.

2. Identify your target audience and get to know them very well. No matter how beautifully structured your message is if it doesn’t take into account the real circumstances and needs of the audience, it won’t work. Align your message’s objectives with these circumstances and needs.

Yes, again. However as time goes on we have more and more tools to help us do this, and with increasing accuracy, too. See point 3. below, particularly with media like Search; the latest analytics can tell you so much more about your target audience than traditional methods can.

3. Study the media you’ll be using; be aware of how people will receive your message and where your message will be competing for their attention. Use your common sense and creativity to make it stand out in the crowd. (Or if the crowd’s too big, reconsider the choice of media if that’s within your power.)

As I mentioned above, modern (mainly online) media make it much, much easier to target not only the right audience, but where in the buying cycle they are. Search, remarketing, blogging, social media, etc. – all offer very different environments in which our message must work, and it pays to really understand how these function and how to write for them.

The other beauty of these online media is that it’s usually very easy to measure their success or failure, so you can make quick and effective changes. There’s no easier way to tell how your words are doing than by looking at the number of clicks, conversions, page views, visits, etc…

4. Now develop your message based on these issues, and add in the final magic ingredient … “what’s in it for them?” Successful business messages are always based on benefits for the target audience – either actual or implied. Ensure you know the difference between features and benefits, and how to convert features into benefits.

Again – yes, of course. It’s a sobering thought that although we now have a fantastic range of digital media and highly detailed analytics to go with them, when it comes to the crunch you still have to tell your audience what’s in it for them if you want them to click on. And the trouble with all this high-tech stuff is that because of its sheer nature it encourages you to go more tech with your writing. Ergo, you start focusing on features rather than benefits which we all know, is wrong no matter how high-tech the surroundings.

No matter how technologically advanced a medium may be now or in the future, if your message on there doesn’t convey what’s in it for the reader, once again – you’re wasting your time, and your readers’. Technology may be way up in the stratosphere, but human nature is down-to-earth, and always will be.

5. Research the way your target audience speaks and communicates, and phrase your message in their language – which may not necessarily be yours. Avoid corporate pomposity and unnecessary jargon. Talk to “you,” not some vague third party, and keep your English as simple as possible, especially when your message is going to people who originate from other cultures.

Another yes. The hairy old argument about whether grammar etc. (see below) should be perfect or not still rages on, but the short answer is never mind what your auntie says: write as your target audience speaks. If you stick to that you won’t go far wrong – ever.

HTWB golden rules 20146. Traditional grammar and even spelling mostly have been thrown out of the window. However there are still a few grammar rules you need to follow if you don’t want your message to look amateurish. Your knowledge of the audience and how they communicate will dictate your writing style to a large extent. Don’t let catchwords, “internet-speak,” emoticons,
etc., obscure your message or its benefits.

As I suggested, the Grammar Fascists are still arguing about apostrophes and past participles, but what really matter – especially online – are clarity and comprehensibility. Correct grammar and punctuation aren’t just for pedants to play with; they are simple tools that make what you write clear so anyone can understand it with accuracy. Remember the old joke about what happens when you write the following all in lower case letters … “Please help your Uncle Jack off his horse.”

7. Time pressures and the influence of the internet have made us into a world of browsers, even when we’re reading brochures and other print. Unless it’s very short organize your offline text so readers who are browsing get the key points very easily. Always separate technical detail and other lengthy data from the main text so readers aren’t obliged to plod through it unless they want to.

If anything, this has got worse in the last 13 months. We are becoming more and more of a bite-sized society, especially given the huge amount of information we need to read and process in any one business day. Some tips on how to get your writing noticed for that here.

8. Never be tempted to transplant text written for print into an online environment. Online text is as different from offline text as a PC screen is from paper. Because reading from most screens is unfriendly, online text must be very short and crisp and must make it extremely easy for readers to absorb the key points. Don’t let web designers talk you into flamboyant graphics that could inadvertently swamp your message.

This is still true, although it won’t be long before we’re talking about it the other way around – does the short, snappy, soundbite culture of online text work in print? My own feeling is that it probably does and makes for a more sharply-honed read, but print does offer you the luxury of a less pressurised reading environment so you can afford to expand a bit on your online content. Not too much though. And yes, still stop the designers from cluttering up your words. They just don’t learn…!

9. When you give a speech, make sure you write it for yourself and your natural way of speaking – not your (or someone else’s) idea of how an important business person should speak in public. Use a tape recorder to get an objective view of your voice, style, weaknesses and strengths. Keep sentences short with only one idea in each. Avoid telling jokes unless you’re naturally funny. And rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

This is all totally relevant. And one update you need to bear in mind is that nowadays you’re often captured on live video which is then broadcast to all and sundry via such devices as YouTube and Periscope. Although you don’t have time to prepare yourself for this and you will need to ad lib, there are still a number of things you can bear in mind so you come across well. More on that in this article here.

10. If you think you may be out of your depth with a business writing project (e.g. a TV commercial, major direct marketing campaign, complex video or business theatre script) you’re probably right – so call in a professional writer. Don’t risk embarrassing yourself or your organization with an attempt that’s amateurish. There’s no shame in admitting you can’t be an expert at everything!

Commercial time – not just for me, but for all professional business writers. If you want to see what I can do in terms of writing for you click here, and if you want to see how I can teach you to do it for yourself, click here.

So there are my 10 Golden Rules of Great Business Writing updated for another year or so!

What Golden Rules would you add to this list?

Please share!





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