Photo: David Chambers - icehound.net
1. Let it sit, then proofread before you press send or publish.
This is akin to performing a shoulder check before you change lanes. We omit this step at our peril. Spelling and grammar checkers are imperfect aids.
Important communications deserve a colleague’s proofread, if possible. The human brain is the best auto-correct around; you’ll automatically correct your own mistakes as you read, particularly on a screen.
If you don’t have a colleague/editor/proofreader to review the piece for you, let it rest for a short time. Then slowly reread it aloud, or whisper to yourself. Tell your bemused coworkers you’re practising reputational self-defense.
2. Be friendly. Don’t discount the value of a hint of personality or humanity.
Business communications needn’t be entirely clinical, depending on the context and your relationship with the recipient. Writing with warmth and empathy leads to greater engagement.
To paraphrase the great journalist William Zinsser: All writing invites the reader on a journey. Given the choice, we’ll choose the travelling companion who will make the journey a bit brighter.
3. Brevity is key.
Know your primary purpose before beginning. Then keep it lean; keep it brisk. Eliminate where possible.
4. Avoid bafflegab, cliches, redundancies, legalese, and puffed-up or padded language. Plain is best.
Which do you prefer to read—clear, simple, direct, and readable, or … the opposite? Ever waded through something like this? “We are making an effort to think outside the box and are reaching out to dialogue with you on this issue, therefore we ask that you kindly advise forthwith: of the two (2) options presented hereafter, indicate your preference for one (1) of the two (2) options by marking an X in the respective box accompanying same.”
Your readers shouldn’t struggle in order to soldier through your communication. They’ll disengage.
5. Jargon: sometimes a yes, most often a no.
Know your audience. If you are exchanging industry-related communications with someone in your field, jargon may be acceptable. Otherwise, do not assume those outside your field of expertise are familiar with its jargon, acronyms, and particular terminology. Assume they know none of it.
If you must include industry-specific jargon, terminology, and concepts which may be unfamiliar to the reader, take the time to break them down and briefly explain.