Ten classic business writing mistakes

 Mar 25, 2015

Writing effective business correspondence does not come easy to all employees. They often lack self-confidence, or fear that what they write will be incorrect, too wordy, too brief or something in-between.

However, one proven way to overcome such obstacles is to first avoid the ten classic business writing mistakes.

1. Lack of clear objectives

The first mistake is made before you even start writing. Many employees start to write without asking themselves "what do I want to say?" or "who am I writing for?". If you do not have a clear objective(s), your reader may know not what your text is about. You also waste a lot time and finally, your document may miss the mark.

2. No planning

Planning is crucial to good business writing. If you write your ideas in the order you think of them, your text will be clear. The better organised the text, the more likely your reader will understand it. The most effective business writers follow a writing process. Here’s one to consider:

  • Plan
  • Draft
  • Proofread
  • Edit
  • Publish
  • Archive

3. Lack of cohesion

Use linking words and phrases in your sentences and paragraphs to help your reader follow your ideas. Tell a story, most readers love a good story.

4. Unclear or overlong sentences

Write clearly and concisely so that your writing is read and understood. One idea per sentence is good practice. Two ideas per sentence is also acceptable. Using more words than necessary could mean your key message gets buried. Aim for an average sentence length of between 12 to 16 words.

5. Inappropriate style

Your choice of writing style depends upon your purpose of writing and your relationship with your reader. Get the level of formality wrong, and you risk causing offence. Your choice of style also affects your choice of words and sentence structure.

6. Inappropriate tone

Related to style is using the right tone of voice with your reader. Aim for a professional tone in formal correspondence and a conversational tone in informal correspondence. If you appear rude and aggressive when you write, you are less likely to get the result you want.

7. Incorrect grammar

Poor grammar can obscure your meaning and lead to misunderstanding. It can also affect your credibility in the eyes of your reader. Proofreading can often help you identify any errors. Here are six proofreading techniques I use:

  • Read it aloud. It is more difficult for your eyes to skip over errors when you read aloud.
  • Take your time. When you hurry you guess and skim, and that usually doesn't work.
  • Don't try to do something else when you proofread. Stop tinkering with the document and look for errors instead.
  • Proofread 'under' lights.
  • Use a proofreading checklist.
  • Proofread in a quiet location.

8. Incorrect punctuation

The wrong punctuation can make your writing difficult to read and understand. Punctuation is an area a lot of employees who are new to writing business correspondence get wrong. Ensure you proofread your document for punctuation errors before you publish it.

9. Poor text layout

Dense blocks of text, no spacing or margins, or too much spacing all make your writing visually difficult to read. Paying attention to how something looks on a page will mean your writing has a better chance of being read.

10. Lack of reader analysis

The ‘who’ is a very important consideration in the planning aspect of your business document. Most people tend to write the way they like to be written to. This can be a big obstacle in achieving your document outcome(s). Especially if the tone of your document is upsetting for the reader, the style and language cumbersome or important information is missing.

Remember in business writing, the language is concrete, the point of view is clear, and the points are well expressed. Good business writing takes hard work, and even the best business writers get discouraged. However, start by avoiding these ten mistakes and you will feel more confident about your own business writing.

To learn more about our business writing programs and our other workplace performance programs, have a look at our business communication training courses.

Until next time, stay centred, stay cool, and stay grateful.

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About the Author:

Stan Thomas  

Stan has been working in a professional training capacity for over 15 years and possesses a wealth of knowledge in the areas of adult education gained through both formal study and practical training delivery both nationally and internationally. As the Professional Development Manager for New Horizons Melbourne, Stan is responsible for the delivery, quality control and enhancement of existing and new programs at New Horizons.

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