Often a written form of communication is the introduction that many have to your business, whether it’s at a presentation, website, advertising or even a business plan. You, therefore, need to ask yourself: is the message you are sending SIMPLE, CLEAR and DIRECT? If not, or if you have no idea where to start when writing something, then here are a few pointers.

GENERAL GUIDELINES

  • Remember your audience – Try not to use fancy, foreign words in your message, stay away from metaphors and similes and drop the jargon. It is possible to use plain English and still sound professional.
  • Use active voice – In other words, make it sound a little more personal. Use “we” instead of “the company” and “you” instead of “the customer”. Think of it as a conversation.
  • Organisation – Set out your message in a logical, step-by-step way that is easy to follow and understand.
  • Small sections – Nobody likes reading large sections of complicated text. Break it up using sub-headings. Use short sentences that consist of a subject, verb and object. For example: Instead of writing “A meeting was held between all relevant departments”, you would write “The departments (subject) held (verb) a meeting (object)”. Wherever possible, leave out useless words that do not contribute to the overall message.
  • Examples – Use them whenever possible, especially when you cannot simplify parts of your message, or when you want to give extra clarification.
  • Clean design – Presentation is important. Wherever possible, use headings, font, images and colour to boost your message in a professional and uncluttered way. Design should aid your message, not distract from it.

WRITING GUIDELINES

Planning is important when you sit down to write. It helps you to gather your thoughts and facts and present them in a professional manner.

  • What is the basic purpose of your message? What is it you want to say? What information do you want your audience to get?
  • Collect and evaluate the facts and information needed. Research, if needed. Get all the information you need in one place and go through it to make sure you have everything. Get rid of anything not related to your message.
  • Divide and organise the information into principal topics. If there is a lot of information to get across, group similar topics together and then organise them in a logical order.
  • Write first draft. Sit down and write the first draft of your message. Don’t worry too much about fixing mistakes – that step comes later. Just get the information down on paper (or computer screen).
  • Copy-edit and proofread. Once you have written your piece, go back and fix all the mistakes. These can be mistakes in spelling and grammar, formatting (font or headings or margins). Do the sentences make sense? Is there a better or simpler way of saying something? Re-arrange paragraphs, insert images, etc. It often helps to go through your writing once, leave it alone for a day or two, if time allows, and then go through it again. Better yet, get someone else to read through it – you might have missed something.

SOME COMMON ERRORS

  • That and which: “I am interested in speaking with you about our new product which has the potential to increase sales.” Here “which” introduces extra information that is not essential. You can end the sentence after “product” and it will still make sense. “Computers are the only productsthat we sell. Here “that” and the information that follows is necessary for the sentence to make sense. Take it out and your sentence will be incomplete.
  • Affect and effect: Affect means to influence. “Rain seems to affect the way people drive.” Effect means the result of an action. “The effect of the thunderstorm on the garden was devastating.”
  • Are and is: The word “are” is used when the subject of the sentence is plural. “The members of the sales team are all very good at what they do.” The word ‘is’ is used when the subject of the sentence is singular. “The manager is very happy with their performance.” Remember, though:“The sales team is receiving a bonus.” Here you are referring to the sales team as ONE (singular) entity, even though there is more than one person on the team.

Applying these simple guidelines and rules can raise your level of communication, making it concise and easier to understand, whether it is a business plan or presentation for a possible investor, or an email to staff or clients.

Rosemary Erasmus

Author Rosemary Erasmus

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