I have taught writing classes for a long time. No matter what type of writing one is doing, it can’t be sloppy, unfocused, or lacking structure. As a writer, I get numerous questions about writing techniques. While there are loads of grammar books written, all designed to enhance one’s writing skills, here are five key tips I would like to share:
1. Know Your Audience
It is nearly impossible to tailor a message unless you know your audience. A business proposal submitted to the head of marketing should be written differently than one presented to outside investors. Know your audience as best as you can: where do they work and live? What are their jobs, backgrounds, and experiences? Every aspect of your audience, from their age to their location, can impact your message.
2. Use an Active Voice
Using a passive voice, often relying on the verb to be, shifts the focus of the sentence from the subject to the object, which creates a lack of clarity (and a sense of boredom). Let me give you an example:
Passive Voice: The underperforming division was sold by the president. Subject: President Verb: Was sold Object: Underperforming division
Notice that when written using a passive voice, the verb and subject come at the end of the sentence and the object comes first. While not grammatically incorrect, it lacks clarity.
Active Voice: The president sold the underperforming division.
When written using an active voice, the subject and the verb are at the beginning and the object follows. This offers much more clarity and a sense of action. The underperforming division didn’t take action here, the president did — so doesn’t he or she deserve to bigger role in the sentence?
While there is a time and place for passive voice, stick to active as much as you can.
3. Avoid Commonly Misspelled or Confused Words
Many websites outline the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re” or “affect” vs. “effect.”
4. Endings Really Are Just the Beginning
The ending of most forms of business writing should be a call to action. In an email, you might ask the recipient to respond by a certain day; in a proposal, you might ask the reader to make a decision. Don’t let your business writing fall flat. If the recipient is not sure what should happen next, it is often the writer’s fault.
5. Leave Time to Edit
You can craft the most persuasive proposal, nail your target audience, and use an active voice, but if you don't leave time to read (and re-read) your writing, you risk sending or submitting work that may not flow well, contains embarrassing typos, or lacks sentence structure. Those writing mistakes reflect on you and your job performance.
Pay attention to those writing weaknesses and remember that you can always improve your writing one tip at a time.
Anne Converse Willkomm Director of Graduate Studies Goodwin College Drexel University