If you have been following my journey from the public sector to freelance life, you would know that one of my biggest bugbears is poorly written corporate documents that bore me to tears.
You know the sort – full of jargon, long sentences and words that the average person needs a dictionary to decipher. Trust me, you are proving nothing by using language that you think makes you look uber-intelligent. You are not writing a thesis here, and clarity is the key.
What’s more, language has evolved making the rules somewhat fluid. It is OK to start a sentence with a conjunction, and it’s fine to use contractions in official documents. If you don’t go with the flow, you risk looking (and sounding) like a fuddy-duddy when you actually want your words to resonate with your audience.
And since it has been a while since I wrote a blog post about how you can avoid this kind of waffle in your corporate documents – and other business material – I thought I would revisit the issue by pointing out just:
five ways you can improve your writing and end up with corporate documents people actually want to read.
So whether you are writing an annual report, policy, tender document, marketing collateral or any other business copywriting, get your pen ready and take some notes!
1. Cut out the big words: Remember when you were 18 and you thought it sounded smart to show off your vocabulary? That was then, this is now. So “use”, not “utilised”; “started” not “commenced”, “do” not “pursue”, “get” not “obtain”. You get the idea, I’m sure.
2. Short and sweet: Have a look at your nearest paper and read a couple of news stories(rather than feature or opinion pieces). Notice something? Journalists are experts at short sentences (and one sentence per paragraph). There is a reason for this – short sentences are a lot easier for the audience to read and digest than long, run-on ones.
3. Lead from the front: Another thing journalists are good at is getting the important information in early, because they know most readers rarely get past the first few paragraphs. This translates in marketing and corporate documents to using headings and sub-headings to get the point across, even if the reader is merely scanning the document.
4. Get to the point: A lot of business writing includes words that just aren’t needed. For example, “Contact us at your earliest possible convenience”, rather than “contact us today”. The best way to make sure you are not guilty of this is to read your first draft aloud and listen out for unnecessary phrases or words. For a start, get rid of any modifiers such as “fairly”, “completely” or “totally”.
5. Paint a picture: While it is important to use simple language and get to the point, there is nothing wrong with using metaphors or similes to paint a picture for your audience so they can easily grasp your key message. It’s why marketing copy often uses examples such as “less than a cup of coffee a day” or “bigger than a jumbo jet”. But avoid cliches like the plague (boom boom!).
You can put you pen down now – and never write a dull corporate document again!
Till next time,
About the author: Nicole Leedham
Nicole is the Word Barista at Black Coffee Communication. With more than 20 years in the communications game, she has developed some strong opinions on grammar, punctuation, copywriting and, well, pretty much everything. When she is not sharing these opinions – for the benefit of her clients, of course – she enjoys relaxing with a good book and a good red. Her young children, however, have a different agenda.