Writing business articles or blogs isn’t much different than any other kind of writing. You have to realize it all starts with the same premise – nobody really wants to read what you have to say.
You have to drag most people kicking and screaming to read anything. If you think just because you put some thoughts on paper that readers will be salivating over every word, I have some condos in Florida I’d like to sell you.
Good business writing has to be interesting, and it has to be understandable. It should entertain readers and promise them a reward for their effort – information that will help them run their businesses better or make their paychecks stretch a little farther.
Find an original topic, or take a novel approach to one that’s already been done. Do your research. Be sure the content is current, is 100 percent accurate and answers any question a reader might reasonably have. Don’t include your opinion unless you are writing an opinion column or blog. If you do write your opinion, make it clear and strong.
You have to catch your readers’ attention at the very beginning, and if you make one misstep along the way, you’ll lose them. They’ll be gone, bye-bye, better things to do.
Picture your readers – maybe weary executives at the end of a busy day – picking up your newsletter, clicking on your blog, glancing at your e-letter. Then think about how much your little piece of writing is competing with in their world.
The good news is, once they actually have their eyes on your literary effort, that’s half the battle. The bad news is, now you have to keep them there.
Even if your target readers are in a field where they’re expected to read mundane, technical information on a regular basis, you can make an impression by writing something that’s interesting and easy to read.
Draw them in with a headline or title that arouses their curiosity, alludes to benefits they’ll receive by reading, and gives them the essence of the content. And then follow through. A headline shouldn’t make promises the content can’t keep.
The first paragraph, or lead, is crucial. Take your time with it, and make it short, interesting and to the point. It should be one or two sentences at most – and it should set the tone for the rest of the piece. A little humor never hurts.
If your lead is boring, you’ve lost them, and they’ll never get to those jewels of wisdom in paragraph seven. So put the most interesting and important information first. Leave chronological order to the historians.
Some dos and don’ts
Basically, just write the way you talk. Keep it conversational, but clean it up a bit and make sure your grammar is correct. A run-on sentence, sentence fragment or misspelled word can wreak havoc with your credibility.
Spice up your writing and add color by using some direct quotes. “Easy reading is damn hard writing,” Nathaniel Hawthorne once said.
Use action verbs, but don’t go bananas. The same goes for adjectives and adverbs. Overdoing it can make the descriptions less credible.
Keep your writing natural, and remember the writer’s mantra – Write for the reader, not for yourself.
One of the fastest ways to lose your readers is to try to impress them with your vocabulary. Throw in a paradigm, a synergy or a quantifiable, and your readers may suddenly remember that root canal they forgot to schedule.
So keep the $3 words at bay and use the simplest words you can. Note, use not utilize.
And whatever you do, avoid the word whom. Does anybody in the universe like to read that word? Just rewrite the heck out of the sentence so you don’t have to use it.
Acronyms are another killer to readability, especially if you use too many of them. You don’t want your readers scanning down a page that looks like a military field manual (MFM). Use acronyms only when they’re absolutely necessary. Give the reader a break, say group, committee or law, or just write the entire title again if it’s not too long.
Be precise and succinct in your word choice. For instance: for the reason that – because; brought to a conclusion – ended. There’s nothing worse than wordy.
Vary the length of your sentences, and try not to write sentences that need too many commas. Commas stop the eye, and if you’re using a lot of them, the sentence is probably too long anyway.
Dashes – attention-getting dashes – are a much better way to go. Just don’t overdo it.
And try very, very hard not to use parentheses. (They really stop the eye.) If the information is important enough to include, do so without parentheses. If it isn’t, leave it out.
Break up the text and make more detailed information easier to read by using:
- - Bullets
- - Numbers
- - Subheads
As to the conclusion, if you have many readers who get there – Congratulations! But, unless you’re Stephen King or John Grisham, you really don’t need one. A little tie-in back to the beginning is plenty.
If you have a really good conclusion that you think summarizes the article perfectly, put it at the beginning.
Judy Moore, publications director of CPAmerica International, holds an M.A. in journalism from University of Florida. She is a former business editor of a large metropolitan daily, journalism professor and author of hundreds of business articles that have been published in regional and national magazines.