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Smart Business Writing in the Digital Age

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Updated: 12/09/2019

Almost every business person has to write in today’s digital age. E-writing such as e-mail, texting and other posts dominate the workplace and, currently, English is the most commonly-used language globally. A most interesting fact is that English is a communication medium used by more non-native English speakers than native ones! As it no longer belongs to any one country, the challenge today can be to make it work effectively across cultures. After all, if people don’t understand your messages, how can you get the results you need?

Author and internationally-known business writing consultant, Fiona Talbot, offers some business writing tips to help businesses of every type and size.

Identify your purpose and tailor messages for your audience:  

The number one point to take on board is that every time you write you need to have worked out the purpose behind your writing. What do you want and need to achieve from it? It may sound like common sense but we’ve all come across e-mails, messaging or more formal documentation that hasn’t got this right!

But once you’ve identified the purpose behind your writing, that’s just the beginning. One style of writing is never going to work for all.

Even your home market is quite likely to be multicultural in the broadest sense.  Besides that, people have different personalities and each office is likely to have its own office culture. So imagine how much more complicated it may be when you use English as ‘a common language’ across borders. You’re so likely to encounter an enormous variation in language proficiency, not to mention the sort of style your audience expects. Ultimately what matters is that everyone understands what you write and, as far as is possible, appreciates the way you write it.

So how can you tailor your messages to your audience?

I suggest you respect the differences and embrace the commonalities, of which there will be many.  Research what’s right for the medium and your target readership and then you’ll be able to write content that‘s as valuable to them as to you.

Sometimes it’ll help you to adopt mirroring techniques, for example, as to how your readership use salutations and openings in letters and e-mails.  For instance, in some direct, extrovert cultures it is considered acceptable to get to the point in the first line or two of an e-mail.  In Arab and Eastern cultures that could well be the wrong thing to do, as it’s quite normal to begin with kind greetings and social niceties – and then move on to the subject matter.  To ignore conventions can lead to unintended misunderstandings.

Do you need to use ‘global’ or ‘glocal’ English that is tailored to the expectations of the local culture? It’s simply amazing how many varieties of English there are to take into account. US English, UK English, Chinese-English, Indian-English –the list goes on!  So we need to ‘dress our words’ in the right attire and set our spellcheck accordingly.

Daunted at the very thought of writing?

Don’t worry, lots of people are! So what I suggest is, don’t crowd your mind with too many details at the outset.

Simply start by working out what you want to achieve in each writing task you undertake. It can help to mind map before you even pick up your pen or start typing.

Make sure you have the right information so that you can get the right message over (to the right people, at the right time). Can you see how being systematic will help?

Use the right words for your audience, as you identified in Tip 1.  Take care to edit out mistakes in your draft and lay out your writing attractively.  Your readers deserve that, don’t they?

Smart business writing in the digital age

Smart writing is always going to be professional.  Smart use of business English means getting the ‘little things’ right, such as spelling, punctuation and grammar.  It’s harder to appear truly professional or customer-centred if your readers see mistakes in your writing.

Today’s smart business writing also needs to address the ‘big things’ so as to sell messages quickly and effectively.  Efficient communication speeds performance and results.  In the digital age, it also needs to engage readers’ shorter attention spans and cut through noise.  We don’t have the luxury of much time to get our messages across.  Simple yet dynamic vocabulary can work better ‘to grab eyeballs fast’.  Complicated language may no longer impress and idioms all too often create unintended barriers – and indeed may lose custom.  These are risks to avoid in this digital age. 

It’s no longer just the case for companies to complain that time is money: it’s true to say time is of the essence for readers too.

Trust is key - whoever you are, whatever you do

There is no substitute for letting your business writing show you care about your readers.

Never underestimate the fact that readers everywhere can sense sincerity when they see it – and they like it.

Take time and effort to express your integrity throughout your business writing. Attention to detail, accuracy, openness and honesty in delivering what you say you will deliver, all come into this important communication equation.

Be a person and a company who are clearly nice to do business with and use #wordpowerskills to build and develop lasting relationships at home and across borders.