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Smart Business Writing in the Digital Age

15th December 2015 | Fiona Talbot

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?

Smart Business Writing in the Digital Age

KP author and internationally known business writing consultant, Fiona Talbot, offers some business writing tips to help

    1.  Don't assume that everyone is the same: 

  • 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. It does mean that one type of writing is never going to work for all.  So imagine how much more complicated it may be when you use English as a common language across borders. There will be an enormous variation in language proficiency, not to mention expectation of style for the audience. Ultimately what matters is that everyone understands what you say or write.
  • Effective business writing is not just about communicating things that people understand, though.  It’s equally about tailoring your messages to your audience.   Respect the differences and embrace the commonalities, of which there will be many.  Research what’s right for your target readership and write content that‘s valuable to them, to engage them from the outset. 
  • Sometimes it will be good 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 is 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? You see, there are so many varieties of English 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

         2. 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 (maybe 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).
  • 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?

    3. 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.
  • In addition, today’s smart business writing 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’ attention spans.  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.

    4. 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.

Fiona Talbot runs TQI Word Power Skills, a Business Writing Skills consulting company of renown. She is the author of three books in the Better Business English series, co-author of Improve Your Global Business English, all published by Kogan Page and available internationally. The books are recommended reading in companies, universities and business schools across the world.

By popular demand, Edition 2 of ‘How to Write Effective Business English’ is now available for pre-order and includes writing for social media. For a limited time, you can use code ENGLISH20 at checkout to receive 20% off this title.

See www.wordpowerskills.com for details - as well as a free self-assessment tool on how well your current Business English writing works.


Business, Finance, Risk, Information Management

The Kogan Page range of management and leadership books combines leading authors, practicality, detailed case studies and best-practice methodology. Our books are used by managers and leaders worldwide to make informed decisions based on the latest business thinking. Follow us on Twitter @KPMgmtLeaders.

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