Why Copywriters Should Think Like a Librarian
Learn about the overlapping skills that support excellence in information science and copywriting.
Mastering the art of writing for business audiences can transform the trajectory of your career. It’s a skill that, on the face of it, seems simple. After all, pretty much anyone can string a few sentences together with no spelling mistakes.
But communicating effectively in business settings is a lot more than just following the basic rules of the English language that you learned in elementary school. It demands an understanding of your audience, a commitment to clarity, and a firm grasp of the different mediums you can use to communicate.
When I talk about business writing, I’m not talking about blog posts like this one, or marketing copy that will be seen by customers. I’m talking about the writing you use to communicate with your leaders, colleagues, vendors, and partners. Emails where you share your quarterly numbers, or explain issues you’re having. Communications where you want to tell a compelling story that everyone will buy into.
It’s a tough skill to master, and it’s a muscle you need to exercise frequently to improve. It’s also not a skill that’s widely taught: I came out of college with no idea how to write for a business audience. But it’s a soft skill that will take you far, helping you build better relationships, get that big promotion, or grow your business.
Now, we’re never going to cover everything you need to know to write effectively for business audiences in one article. But I can share some actionable tips I’ve received from mentors and applied to my own writing. Here are four tips that will help you write for business audiences more effectively.
Understanding your audience is a prerequisite for any good writing. That’s obvious when it comes to writing blog posts or ad copy, but it’s easy to forget it when it’s time to write an email or an executive level report.
Before you start to write, take a moment to think about your audience. Hopefully you know them on a personal level, or are at least aligned in your goals. What do they care about? Why are they reading what you’re writing? What questions will they have?
Too many people use their emails to broadcast a stream of consciousness, with little concern for the person reading them. Don’t be that person. Take a more thoughtful approach that places your audience front and center. Proactively address their concerns and speak to them using language they understand. Often, this requires you to remove yourself from your own bubble and take a 30,000ft view of your topic.
Not sure where to start? Ask for feedback. Early in my career, I used to send a weekly sales report email to all my superiors. I’d ask for feedback: what did they want to see? How could the format be improved? What was irrelevant? Take this feedback on board and adapt. Sometimes, it takes a little vulnerability to improve.
In business writing, different mediums have different roles. What is a medium? Basically, it’s a form of communication. A Slack channel is a different medium to email, which is different from a slide deck. Your writing style should match up with what’s expected on that medium.
Mediums aren’t entirely consistent from company to company, but there are some generalizations you can make. Take Slack, or other similar messaging platforms: that’s the place to send quick updates, no more than a couple of lines long. Need to send a longer update? Use email. Working on a particularly complex topic? Consider sharing a one pager, or a short slide deck.
When people receive communications through a particular medium, they have a preconceived notion of what that message will look like, and set aside an appropriate amount of time to consume it. When the message doesn’t fit the medium, it’s jarring, and a bad experience for the recipient. As the writer, you don’t want that, so take care to select the appropriate platform when communicating.
There’s nothing worse than receiving a wall of text in your inbox. Just looking at it saps your energy, never mind reading it, trying to decipher what’s important, and formulating a reply. Even with all that, many people simply don’t have the time to read lengthy emails.
Keep it concise. Don’t use elaborate, overly complex language, don’t embellish sentences with unnecessary adverbs, and don’t dance around the point you’re trying to make – be direct.
If an email is particularly important, read it through multiple times and edit yourself, challenging every single word and deciding whether you really need it. You’ll be surprised how much text you cut this way, and it all serves to convey the point you’re making more clearly.
Instead of long paragraphs, use bullet points and headlines. Highlight your key points in bold or a different color. Use hyperlinks instead of directly posting links. There’s all kinds of ways to tighten your writing: experiment with a few and determine which one works best for you.
Sometimes relaying a lengthy message in written form is necessary. Maybe you don’t have the time to meet, or there’s a time-sensitive issue that you need to weigh in on. Whatever the case, there’s a few ways to break your writing into more easily digestible chunks.
Consider including a top-line summary at the top of your message, email, or document: a couple of lines explaining the most salient points. You could present this in bullet points, or highlight your text in bold. Regardless of the format, doing this gives your audience an easy way to quickly understand what you’re talking about.
It’s important that you mix up the format when it comes to a longer piece of business writing. There’s a variety of ways to do that, including bullet points, charts, graphs, using different colors, and adding images or other visual elements.
Writing isn’t everyone’s forte, but it’s an important means of communication, especially in remote work environments. Becoming a better writer will have an outsized impact on your career, helping you to be perceived as more skilled by your peers and superiors.
While we can’t write all your personal emails and Slack messages for you, the team at Hire a Writer is here to help with a huge variety of content and copywriting needs. That’s everything from developing copy for your new website to building out a content strategy that drives qualified inbound leads directly to your business.
Get in touch with us today to learn more about how Hire a Writer can support your writing needs.
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