The ultimate business writing tips – all you need to know

I make no apologies for repeating this list of business writing tips that I compiled a few years ago, because it forms an excellent reminder for everyone who has to write / blog as part of their work portfolio. (I have updated things though…)

freeimage-2524903-webBefore you start to write, be sure you’ve done your homework…

Define what your message must achieve

Get to know your audience very well…

Understand how people will receive your message

Develop your message out of the right criteria (what do they need to hear, not just what I want to tell them)

Write as people speak, but don’t just write down a conversation

Write in terms of “we” and “us” or “I” and “me,” but don’t use a pompous “royal we” approach

Make every sentence relevant to the audience – “what’s in it for them?”

Wherever possible write to “you” – not to 3rd-person “customers,” “staff,” “suppliers,” etc

Don’t just get to the point – start with it, and phrase it so it will grab the audience’s attention

Say what you mean and don’t procrastinate with fuzzy language

Be informal but be careful not to be overly familiar

Use go words, not slow words – sharper nouns, stronger, shorter verbs

Use active rather than passive phrasing (“go to bed now,” not “it’s time you went to bed”)

Although simple is usually better, don’t over-simplify – it can seem childish or patronising

Don’t go into more than one idea per sentence

Write so that one sentence flows logically into the next

One-word or verbless sentences are useful for pacing and effect, but only if you use them sparingly

Where possible start new paragraphs with links like “Of course,” or “However,” to keep the audience hooked

Use a list or bullet points to put across more than two or three items in a sequence

Keep jargon to a minimum and be sure your audience will understand what you do use

Avoid meaningless or valueless clichés because they make your writing seem unoriginal

Learn the difference between poor clichés and your business’s commonly used terms, and use the latter intelligently

Avoid adjectives and superlatives that smell phony, e.g. “best,” “fastest,” “exciting”

Use the most visual adjectives and adverbs you can think of – they’re powerful

Use “Plain English” wherever possible and especially when writing for audiences whose mother-tongue is not English

Especially with online text but with print too, avoid long blocks of text because they’re uninviting to read

Visually break up continuous sections of text by peppering them with cross-headings or emboldened key points

Keep online sentences and paragraphs short, and vary the length of offline sentences

Check for small grammatical and punctuation goofs – they make you look amateurish

Check for spelling mistakes and don’t rely totally on your spellchecker

Proofread your work backwards – it sounds crazy but you don’t miss spelling mistakes that way


freeimage-6502810-webTo get a true idea of your own natural speech style, tape record yourself talking to someone in an appropriate context and then
transcribe it

Write in the style of the transcribed text (or that feels comfortable for you to say) – not how some people think “public speaking” should be phrased

Even if you want to make a formal impression on the audience, avoid long words – especially unfamiliar ones you could trip over when your stage nerves are making you edgy

Always write shorter sentences than you do for text, vary the length of them, and never follow one longish sentence with another. When in doubt, read it aloud – if there’s anything awkward you’ll feel yourself tripping over it

Don’t use long or even short qualifying clauses – they work on paper or screen but not in spoken speech. Try reading this aloud:  “the way forward, although not necessarily what was intended by our parent company, is to buy more components from Thailand” … sounds odd, doesn’t it? Turn it around instead: “this is not necessarily what was intended by our parent company, but the way forward is to buy more components from Thailand.”

If you list a number of items, reprise your initial thought about them afterwards or there’ll be an awkward jump. Try reading this aloud: “It’s taken 3 months of co-ordinated effort by HR, marketing, sales, distribution, logistics, warehousing, finance and customer service to achieve our objectives” … falls off a cliff, doesn’t it? Now add a reprise: “It’s taken 3 months of co-ordinated effort by HR, marketing, sales, distribution, logistics, warehousing, finance and customer service – all these, working together to achieve our objectives”

While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by my Bookshop…books and eBooks to help you write better – and to give to friends and family…

© Chrisharvey | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images




  1. […] we’ve already looked at some tips on writing for spoken speech in articles like this here on HTWB, since those were written circumstances have changed and so, too, have the goal posts where […]