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Write to the Top in Business: 7 Steps to Better Business Writing

In the fast-moving environment we live in today, those who leapfrog to the top have great communication skills, and that means better business writing than the competition. You’ve heard the cliché, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Well, in business, you’d better be able to wield a pen or else you might just fall on your sword. In the Information Age in which we live, it’s a foregone conclusion that your ability to communicate is one of the most critical skills you can master. In business, you’ve got to communicate with clients, employees, suppliers, attorneys, consultants, maybe even legislators. In many cases you can express yourself orally and do just fine; however, you are dead in the water in business if you can’t get your point across in writing.

So why is business writing so important? Come now, you didn’t know? As a professional, you need to be able to prepare effective proposals to management and customers, provide meeting agendas to associates, and update others as to the current happenings of your business. You may be responsible for writing ad copy, manuals, or legal contracts. These are the obvious ones, but just remember that there are people you need to communicate with, share ideas with, and persuade who just aren’t in the room at the same time as you are. Your goal is to provide your valuable pearls of wisdom to be read at any time convenient to your audience.

There are several key times in the course of business where it’s absolutely imperative to write rather than speak. I’ll provide a solid, but certainly not complete, list here:

1. Visual Impact is Necessary

Do you buy into the fact that you learn more if you not only hear but see information? Just think of any talk you’ve ever heard about goal setting and the paramount importance of writing down your goals. Sales trainer extraordinaire Zig Ziglar, in his book Secrets of Closing the Sale, highlights the importance of using your writing pad when persuading prospects of the value of your goods and services. Why? Seeing it in print makes something more believable, increasing retention. In addition to sales, the written message is appropriate for work instructions, company objectives and mission, and updates about your industry. If you want something to really register with your listener, you need to write it down.

2. Statements of Policy.

You can’t have a verbal employee handbook; it just won’t fly. The verbal message gets massaged and twisted throughout the chain of command. If you’re responsible for policies or practices at a company that absolutely must be followed to the letter, you need to put them on paper and publish them for the appropriate parties. Just imagine telling your OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspector that, “we’re very safe, we just don’t have any records.”

3. Complaints.

Have you ever been ripped off by a supplier? If you want to get it resolved, I suggest doing it in writing.  You’re trying to persuade someone to your point, and your written complaint will have legs.  For starters, you now have a record of correspondence. More importantly, it’s quite possible that the person you originally complain to won’t be the person that resolves the problem, meaning that your complaint must be transferred. If you give your complaint over the phone, it goes up the chain of command verbally. Remember in grade school when the teacher whispered “The Easter Bunny will be here on Wednesday” to the kid in the front row, who in turn started it around the room by telling his buddy behind him. By the time the last little girl recited the original message back to the class, it came out “Godzilla can beat King Kong in a fight because he breathes fire.” Write your complaints down to avoid the confusion.

4. Recognition.

People love to get complimented on a job well done. Managers today are learning that an important part of an incentive program is to make these kudos available to the top employees. Funny thing is, when the praise is received in private over a cup of java, it’s nice. When it’s posted in writing on the company bulletin board, it’s like giving the employee an unexpected bonus. Just think of the amount of work and loyalty that the lucky employee will demonstrate now. Recognize people in writing and publicly to get measurable results.

5. Complex Ideas are Expressed.

If your company has achieved ISO 9000 Certification or is going through that process now, you can relate to why the ISO auditors demand written documentation. You must describe processes for corrective action, for instance, telling people exactly what to do when things go wrong. ISO is concerned with precision or repeatability, and putting something complex in writing leads to consistency during implementation. Whenever you have to explain or document complicated ideas at your company, put them on paper.  And remember, avoid esoteritisms and jargon.

6. CYA.

We all know this one, don’t we? It’s become the number one use of email on the company intranet. If you are involved in controversial problems at work, or if your actions for whatever reason are under the company microscope, you absolutely must record your positions for posterity and future protection. You can use paper or electronic messages, but always cover your assets.

7. Meeting Agendas.

If you’ve ever been to a meeting that was a debacle because nobody knew the objectives or what they were supposed to do, raise your hand. OK, put it back down. You know first hand the importance of a written agenda for a meeting. It focuses people on a common goal, assigns responsibilities, and helps the meeting leader maintain time control. Never, never have a meeting without first producing a written agenda and sharing it in advance with the meeting attendees.

I’m sure in your particular line of work that you can think of other examples. The point is that for the reasons given above and many others, it’s vitally important that you clearly express your ideas in writing. It will help your bottom line by saving countless man-hours otherwise lost in confusion, you will increase productivity by getting people on the same page quickly, and you can avoid the headaches that come with communication misfires on the job.

So go ahead—give yourself a present—and write it down.

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