It was more than luck, of course. When the editor found my site, she also discovered that I could string a sentence together.
In one way or another, every business owner relies on writing for a good deal of the work they do, and the more effective their ability to communicate in writing, the more effective their work.
Writing, Writing Everywhere
Writing good copy is, in part, how we sell our products. Writing effective emails is how we provide good customer service, connect with colleagues, successfully ask for favors and convince editors to feature our work. Writing our blogs and other social media posts, even if they’re photo-heavy, is a huge part of attracting new customers or clients, and establishing our brand presence online.
Writing poorly can seriously tarnish anything from our brand to our reputation to our bottom line.
Here are some simple tips to help you make sure your writing works for you and not against you.
And I’ll put this caveat right here: Writing imperfectly is far better than writing nothing because you fear getting it wrong. Even the best writers leave the occasional typos on their blogs.
The Rules Matter
The basic rules of spelling and grammar are not just nitpicky details your teachers wanted you to memorize in school. They play an important role in enabling your reader to make quick sense of what you write, and they make you to look like you know what you’re talking about. Some quick tips:
- Capitalization is important. Please do it, both at the beginning of a sentence and when writing out proper nouns.
- Spelling also is important, not only so your reader believes you care enough about what you’re writing to take the time to spell your words correctly, but also to avoid confusion. Pay particular attention to homophones like their, they’re and there; its and it’s; you’re and your; and who’s and whose.
- Apostrophes are never, ever used to indicate a plural (more than one of a thing). Never, ever. One never has several apple’s. They only have several apples.
- There aren’t many hard rules about comma usage. Commas can, however, help your reader hear your voice. A comma creates a pause in how your writing is read. If you want a pause in your writing — if you hear one in your mind, or better yet, if you pause when you read your writing aloud — use a comma. (I will not touch on the serial, or Oxford, comma here, because it is purely a matter of style, though people who feel strongly about it feel very strongly about it, and this is not the place to start a grammar riot. That said, some style guides demand the Oxford comma, while others — most notably the Associated Press style used in newspapers, most magazines and many online sites — reject its use. Read more about the use – optional or mandatory – of the serial comma here.)
And The Rules Are Meant to Be Broken
Of course, if you have a fair handle on the rules, you can confidently break them to further develop your written voice.
- You can totally end a sentence with a preposition. The “rule” that says you can’t was created by stuffy people a long time ago for silly reasons, and is no longer held in high regard. If you refuse to ever end a sentence with a preposition, your writing will sound stilted or robotic, and that does you no favors. Same goes for the rule to never split an infinitive (See what I did there? No worries if you don’t; I’m being a grammar nerd).
- Go ahead and begin a sentence with a conjunction (like and, or, or but). And when you do, note how fluid your writing can seem.
- So-called sentence fragments can be used very effectively, in moderation, for effects like emphasis. Very effectively.
Consider the Quantity
How much you write can be as important as how well you write when it comes to achieving your goals.
If you’re writing a detailed blog post, try breaking the text into sections so your reader isn’t presented with an intimidating wall of text.
For tutorials, make sure that each instruction is clear and concise. If you need to elaborate on your reasons for using a particular technique, for example, consider including your explanation in a footnote so people have the option to continue following your instructions without interruption.
Likewise, make sure you’re writing enough. If your intended reader is someone you’re trying to instruct, make sure you don’t assume they know more than they do.
In fact, a general rule of thumb is to keep your reader in mind, always — what they know, what they want to know, how they need help, etc. Writing for business is writing for them, rather than writing for you.
And Finally, Email
Email is a nightmare for most of us. We get too much of it, yet without it we’d be unable to do business. So when you write email, it’s best to keep in mind that your recipient is as busy, and as overwhelmed by their inbox, as you are.
Even with customer-service communications, keep your emails brief, polite and to the point.
If you’re emailing with a colleague about an ongoing project, try to keep to one or maybe two topics per email, to avoid unrelated points from getting lost.
An exception to the one-or-two-topics rule is to try not to bombard your recipient with a barrage of emails asking questions. Compile all of your questions into a single email they can address when they’re able.
When you email editors or other people who are routinely pitched or hit up for favors, be sure to keep in mind that people in this kind of position only really want to hear from people who can help them do their job. Covering great news and cool products and stories is part of an editor’s (or blogger’s or podcaster’s) job, so make it easy for them to say yes to you. Give them the relevant — well-written — information with great photos if appropriate, and don’t write as if you know their audience better than they do. Leave out comments like, “Your readers will love this because,” in favor of simply and clearly highlighting a few key points you’re confident will lead them to make that conclusion for themselves.
I may have started in this industry as a writer of books, but that’s not why I focus so much on good writing. I know how valuable it is to my business to connect with my readers, customers and clients through the written (ahem, typed) word. If you think about it, I bet you rely on writing just as much, no matter what your product or service is. Here’s to making that writing work hard for you.