Tips to Jump-Start and Fine-Tune Your Writing
Whether you’re pulling together a 10-page report, creating a presentation, or drafting an important email, the need to write well is important for everyone in a business environment. Even if writing isn’t the focus of your job, having a few tricks up your sleeve can make the process a little faster and less daunting. Hopefully you can build your skillset over time and start knocking things out with less stress and more gusto. Below are some tips I’ve learned along the way to get writing projects moving.
Staring at a Blank Page Is Brutal—So Don’t Do It!
Get your initial thoughts down quickly and without worrying about finesse or word choice. You can refine and edit later. Your goal here is to capture the essence of the message you want to convey. If there are certain words or phrases you’d like to use but aren’t yet sure where they should go, put them in a list on your page. If there are figures or ideas you need to verify with someone else, just highlight them. Boom. No more blank page, and you’re on your way.
Give Some Thought to Message Structure
Now that you’ve got your thoughts down, start thinking through the organization of your message. Even the best writing can’t be saved by a poorly thought-out structure. If information doesn’t flow well, the person reading your piece won’t fully understand what you’re trying to say or asking them to do. Imagine you’re the audience. What are the three things they need to know? Is there an overarching concept that should come first to help other elements make sense?
Refine Your Text and Tone
As your writing begins to take shape, start refining word choice and look for redundancies in message. Simplify language wherever possible and try to avoid jargon. Make sure your tone is what you intend. If your communication is stern and serious, fine. If it’s lighthearted and educational, great. Just make sure you don’t come off in a way you don’t mean to. Your marketing team may have a defined tone of voice document, which helps guide how communications should sound when messages need to go far and wide.
Make Your Call to Action Clear
If you’re creating a marketing piece and want your audience to take a particular action at the end (click on this link, call us, read this related resource, send in thoughts, etc.), make sure that stands out. This touches on the visual elements and design of the piece as well as messaging, but it’s important to consider how your request is worded. If there’s a key date involved, make sure that’s very clear.
Let Your Writing Rest
Adding in a few hours (or even a day) between the moment you finish your writing and when you complete the final review could make all the difference, particularly for an important communication. Having a fresh eye for your work can yield new insights into how to frame your message or help you see typos you may have missed the first (or second, or third) time around.
Read It out Loud
As a final step to catch any wobbly wording or errant apostrophes, read the piece out loud. (You can also use the functionality in Microsoft Word called “Read Aloud” under the Review tab.) You may be thinking this is overkill, but I guarantee you’ll find something you’ll want to fix. Make sure to read what is actually on the page, not what you think you wrote. You’ll be amazed at how your brain can smooth over problems because you’re pretty sure you wrote “with” instead of “wish.” This is where you’ll do some final editing and will catch phrasing that needs polish. If you find you have to take a breath during a sentence, it’s too long. If you forget the subject of a sentence by the time you find the verb, it’s too complicated. Look for opportunities to simplify to get your message across. Remember that above all, business writing is about clarity and comprehension.