How to make sure what you write is effective, not disastrous, for your organisation

Words have power and communication is crucial for businesses. Fiona Talbot offers some tips

Written messages are our prime communication medium today. They’re hugely important and mistakes in meaning and ineffective messages abound in plain sight.

Once a word is written, it is here to stay. Which is why it is crucial to:

Avoid problems. Look at written messages in the round

Companies have often contacted me to help with disparate writing tasks. It could be about plain English in technical literature, or about effective meetings notes, or great customer interaction, or effective emails and instant messaging, or punctuation and grammar tips or marketing and so on. 

My mission is to advocate: ‘What does effective writing look like in the round?’ 

Why do silo writing – it’s better to connect the dots and align the results

It’s so easy in an age of shorter attention spans to regard writing as a series of fired-off ‘post its’. The result is that this can so easily come over as ‘the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing’ – and various other permutations if we look at a company as a whole. A solution? Deliver your organisation’s communication as a cohesive whole. Does every written message add up to the overall desired outcome? 

Onboarding in terms of a style guide can be a good starting point. That way your technical or customer service staff won’t come over so differently from your marketers and so on. Noticeable differences in style can confuse perception of your brand and your credibility, overall friendliness (being a company that’s nice to do business with is universally welcomed) and, ultimately, customer buy-in.

Beyond that a key goal has to be marrying strategy with operations in consistently effective writing that connects the dots and aligns the strands. Each division pulls together and draws customers in. Sound good? So how do we do it?

Who’s looking at whom? Get the binoculars out 

Get some figurative binoculars. Look at the world around you. And understand the world will be looking back at you too, via your writing. So here’s your challenge. Get everything into focus in your messages, long or short. Be mindful of:

  • yourself and your values and goals; 
  • the organisation you work for (or hope to) and their values and goals;
  • the channels of written communication that will come into play in each of your likely writing tasks; and 
  • being professional.

And if writing is a challenge for you because you have dyslexia, Irlen syndrome or other considerations, ask for help. Managers owe you support and may not realise you need it.

Now for the nitty gritty 

Do you think costs are just for the finance guys to focus on? Wrong. Business writing mistakes (which include spelling and punctuation errors and unclear/confusing or other user-unfriendly messages) can = lost profits + lost sales/custom + loss of professionalism + lost goodwill. Yes, ineffective writing costs dear.

Don’t get stuck in a rut 

Keep abreast of changes – language, diversity considerations, etc. It’s not just language that’s evolving. Neologisms/new technical jargon, punctuation and grammar in instant messaging, for example, can create new meanings to be aware of in your communication.

Changes are needed if writing is to reflect open-door policies and fewer hierarchical structures in business today.

Now you get it – so do something about it

The easiest of all solutions is to ensure your writing leads to the right outcomes. Use the right language for your target audience, with words that are easy to understand and timelines that work for all. If you don’t know where your words are leading, your readers sure won’t.

Also add vitality. You can easily energise your writing with active verbs and words that people like to see. They can more easily engage and persuade. The sort of ‘power’ words I can start you thinking about are: you, we, results, cost saving, effective, fast, friendly, expert, free, integrity, professional, easy, best, now, help, support, unrivalled… You’ll be getting the gist. So what words can you identify that are best suited to your goals? Which will pull people towards you, not push them away, in each and every writing task? 

Face up to the fact the writing’s not on the wall, it’s on the screen. Get it right so that it’s not a problem in plain sight.

Fiona Talbot is the author of How to Write Effective Business English