Why good business writing matters

It’s still something that winds people up – and some of you have listed it as being among the most annoying aspects of living in Britain today. ‘It’ is bad grammar, and earlier this year respondents to a poll of 700 people cited it among the top 12 moans about life in the UK.

Granted, public transport, UKIP party leader Nigel Farage and snow ranked even higher in the survey, which was published by Metro newspaper. But it is good to see that sloppy English is still something that irks the public. Why should it matter?

The standards of many things have risen dramatically in recently years; so would it not put you off if a company (or organisation) can’t be bothered to communicate properly?

Think about it – if their website is poorly written and full of spelling mistakes, what does that say about the actual goods and services they supply?

If press releases they send to the media miss the main ‘newsworthy’ point and have other important information buried down the page, why should journalists be bothered to cover their stories?

And if a company’s social media feeds are full of unintelligible ‘youth-speak’, I would give them a miss and take my business elsewhere. Somewhere that talks to me in plain, simple English.

Content is certainly king these days, but part of that content should always be well-written words, in

Clear, simple writing always helps
It helps if your business writing is in clear, simple English – and easy to read!

a clear, simple style. Contact me for advice on helping make your business writing crystal clear.

  • What was the most irritating thing about life according to respondents to the poll? Self-service checkouts in supermarkets.

Re-booting creativity. How to gain inspiration

We all have times when our creativity flags and we get stuck in a rut. It’s quite natural to go through the odd fallow patch when the ideas don’t flow as naturally as they usually do, whatever kind of writing or other creative work you do.

Once in a while, I think this is allowed. Few of us have the luxury of frequently taking a few days off to recharge creative batteries, given the pace of modern working life and the daily demands on our time.

But there are simple ways we can re-boot our creativity. I have found the following have worked in the past:

• Take a short break. Sounds obvious, but ten minutes away from your screen, a few stretches and a bit of gentle exercise (I like walking around my house for a few minutes) might give you the boost you need
• Sleep on it, or give it a few hours. Finish the first draft of your copy (it’s always better to complete a task than stop half way through). If time allows, try to do something else for a short while rather than agonising over why a draft isn’t perfect. Then return to the task in hand when you are more focused
• At the end of the working day, tune into some music you find particularly inspiring. Read a book, watch a favourite programme on TV, play with an app, go to the gym – you know what works for you
• Try reading out the draft of the article/blog/press release/etc. that’s been troubling you to a spouse/business partner to get their feedback. You may be judging your own work too harshly. Or perhaps not?
• Get a decent night’s sleep
• Surround yourself with creative, inspiring, challenging people
• Meet new people from other walks of life than your own. A cliché? Maybe, but creativity and ideas come from all sorts of (sometimes unlikely) sources. Be sure to talk to people, even if you know nothing about their backgrounds and professions. Ask questions. You might be surprised at the outcome
• Find the right environment to work in. But learn to write, too, in places where things are less than ideal – simply shut out the distractions
• Step back a bit from that particular piece of copy or writing task. Remember, yes, it is very important to the client and/or you, but the success of project itself is not life-dependant
• Ignore the voices of doubt that sound in our heads from time to time
• Try scribbling, doodling, writing down random words on scraps of paper, juggling –whatever brings your imagination alive. Good luck in rekindling the creative flames – they seldom go out completely for too long!

Don’t be boring! How to write to engage your audience

Here’s a quick question. When was the last time a piece of business writing – be it copy on a website, some advertising copy, or a press release – really grabbed you?

There are some great examples of those kinds of writing out there, but it is also easy to turn your audience off in just a few lines.

So what’s the secret of great writing? In a nutshell – don’t be boring! There are many ways to engage your customers, company’s staff or the media. In fact, one of the worst marketing crimes is where a piece of communication goes unnoticed. That means your efforts have failed.

Here are a few tips to add some punch to your copy:

1. Be interesting. Maybe you think what your company does isn’t very intriguing. Well, there is usually a way of making it so. You manufacture paperclips? Well, how about adding a factfile on paperclips (where relevant) into your copy – for instance, calculating the number of paperclips it would take to reach from Earth to the Moon; who was the inventor of the paperclip and add in unusual uses the paperclip has been put to. Immediate interest!

2. Be succinct. Some of the best advice I saw was on writing for the web. Basically, write your article as briefly as possible. Then cut out half of what is left. Readers drown in too much text and quickly loose interest.

3. Thinking visually. Work with a good graphic designer. Whether for digital use – or print – great imagery and imaginative design concepts work wonders in getting your ideas across. And the copywriter should help generate them – does the phrase I used above about ‘adding some punch’ might give you a few visual ideas and conjure up any images?

4. Think customer. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in your own organisation’s achievements. But how do they reflect on your approach to customers and what you can do for them? Being a company founded 37 years ago and having eight directors on the board is all well and good, but, what does this tell your customer? And, without wishing to be rude – try applying the ‘so what?’ test to the statement above. See my previous advice on writing press releases for a further explanation, but this is just as applicable to other forms of business writing.

5. Imagine you are the reader. This takes point four a step further. It’s helpful to think of your intended audience as a real person. So, what are they like – male or female, young or old, where do they live, what do they buy, what work do they do, what interests do they have and so on? What do they like and what would turn them off – in short ‘what’s in it for them’ with your proposition? Don’t be afraid to cut to the chase here. If you can put yourself in the mindset of this customer, then you will be better equipped to tailor your words and images to their needs (give them a name, that will probably help).

I will be returning to the theme of engaging customers, the media, and other audiences, through great writing, in my next few blogs.

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