Every business finds its own path to success. But virtually all effective business teams have one thing in common: They’ve harnessed the power of persuasion.
Even if you don’t work in direct sales, you probably engage in the art of persuasion on a weekly if not daily basis. Have you written a message to motivate your team members to implement new processes or complete a big project? Have you sent an email to convince another company to partner with yours? Have you created copy designed to inspire customers to make a purchase or engage with your brand online?
If you answered yes to any of those scenarios, then you know persuasion plays a hand in every industry, every business, and in many forms of business-related writing. And persuasion hinges on effective communication.
You can’t change people’s minds or inspire specific behaviors if you can’t communicate well, which is why clear and effective writing is one of the most crucial skills you can possess in the business world. Keep reading to discover the power of persuasive writing and learn proven strategies to improve your business writing for greater success at work.
Why persuasive writing is an essential business skill
Need to be persuaded about the power of persuasive writing? Look no further than the cold, hard facts.
For starters, businesspeople spend a huge amount of time writing. A 2016 survey found the average businessperson spent a whopping 20 hours per week engaged in writing. That’s half of a 40-hour work week. If you’re not crafting effective communications, that’s a missed opportunity and a major productivity suck. In fact, 81 percent of businesspeople said reading others’ poor writing wastes a lot of their time.
Solid writing skills are so important that in the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2020 report, 77.5 percent of employers said they preferred job candidates with strong written communication skills. Not only does clear communication eliminate misunderstandings and boost productivity, it can also drive sales and improve a brand’s reputation.
Tips to improve your business writing
So persuasive writing is important. But what if you’re not the second coming of Shakespeare?
The good news is effective business writing is a learned skill. Use these simple, proven tactics to start improving your business writing today.
- Emphasize the reader and how they’ll benefit.
It’s a common mistake to focus on yourself or your company instead of the reader. Readers want to know what’s in it for them, and their eyes will glaze over if it’s clear they’re an afterthought in a communication. To make your writing more effective, you need to understand the person who’s reading it. If you’re writing for a larger audience, it helps to understand your ideal reader. Tailor your writing to meet your reader where they are, demonstrate consideration for their needs and challenges, and outline how they’ll benefit from following through on your written recommendations.
As Marie Forleo, an entrepreneur and copywriting teacher, puts it: “In business we know our customers want to feel seen and heard and acknowledged. So an easy way to do that is to make sure you’re putting them in the spotlight.” The same concept applies when you’re writing to a colleague or a contact at another business.
- Anticipate your reader’s questions.
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Think through the questions they may have and proactively supply the answers they crave.
For instance, if you assign a task to a colleague via email, supply all the information they need to complete the task. If you craft copy for a sales page, answer the questions your reader will likely have in your copy. This practice helps your reader know you’re invested in them and their success.
- Research before you write.
Research helps you get clear on the topic you’re writing about so you can share accurate, well-organized information. For instance, if you’re creating your company’s ideal customer profile, carefully research your customers to speak to them in a way that resonates.
- Plan the structure and messaging.
When you take time to outline the structure and messaging for a piece of writing, you clarify your audience, the purpose of your message, the critical information to include, and a logical structure. This step will make your prose more relevant and digestible to your audience.
- Get to the point.
No matter who your reader is, they’re probably busy. Respect their time and get to the point as quickly as possible. Why are you writing, and why should your reader care? Answer those questions right out of the gate.
- Be conversational.
A reader is more likely to stay engaged with your writing when it has a laid-back and personable feel. Overly formal writing can be a turn-off.
To achieve a conversational tone, use contractions (such as they’re, didn’t, can’t, and I’m), write short sentences and paragraphs, vary your sentence structure, and choose simple words over complex ones. (More on that last point below!) These strategies will make your business writing easier to read.
Still struggling to achieve a conversational tone? Record yourself speaking and transcribe the recording. Observe your natural speech patterns and try to capture similar contractions and turns of phrase in your writing.
- Use simple, easy-to-understand words.
Indubitably, utilizing obscure verbiage could provoke lugubriousness in one’s readership!
If that sentence made you feel confused or disengaged, you’ll understand why it’s wise to use simple words instead of complex ones. Effective business writing isn’t about proving your intelligence to a reader—and who says intelligence is defined by one’s vocabulary, anyway? The point is to speak to your reader in clear, digestible, and easy-to-understand way.
Keep this business writing maxim in mind: Write to express, not to impress.
- Stick with the active voice.
In general, the active voice clarifies and strengthens your writing. Consider the passive version of that last sentence: In general, writing will be made clearer and stronger by the active voice. Which one of those sentences felt easier to grasp? We’re betting on the former. To write in the active voice, identify the subject of the sentence and put it first.
- Eliminate filler words and phrases.
So-called filler words and phrases take up space but don’t serve a purpose. The sentence makes sense without them, and they can bog down writing. Eliminate these whenever possible as a quick way to clean up your writing.
- Cut back on jargon.
The business world is filled with jargon. Leveraging synergies? Seamless integration? Core competencies? In many cases, these phrases are vague and overused, which means readers are likely to tune out when they encounter them. Translate jargon into straightforward language to make your writing clearer, more specific, and more engaging.
- Spell out the call to action.
Here’s an easy way to encourage readers to take the action you hope for: Tell them what you want them to do!
That’s the idea behind a call to action (CTA). An effective CTA addresses the reader and circumstance in question. For example, if you write an internal memo, your CTA could prompt readers to let you know they’ve read the memo. If you write an email newsletter targeting customers, you could ask readers to hit reply and share their thoughts. If you write sales copy, a standard CTA is “Buy now.”
- Refine your headline or subject line.
Headlines and email subject lines strongly influence whether a reader engages with your content. Effective headlines catch a reader’s eye, promise to share useful info, and hint at the subject matter of the body copy. Don’t overpromise in a headline or subject line; the written content should deliver on your claims or you risk alienating readers.
- Read your work out loud.
When you read your work out loud, you give your ear a chance to spot awkward phrasing, confusing sentences, and repetitive sentence structure or word choices.
- Use an online editor.
Online tools abound to help you polish your business writing. Popular online editors and writing tools include Grammarly, Purdue Online Writing Lab, Hemingway Editor, and Readability Score. These tools can catch common errors and make suggestions.
Big-picture strategies to improve your business writing
Along with the hands-on tips above, consider these bigger-picture strategies to improve your business writing.
- Read and write more.
Practice may not make you perfect, but it will help make you better! One of the most effective ways to enhance your writing skills is to write more. Reading more is also helpful—especially if you read business writing with an eye toward what works and what doesn’t.
- Check out business writing blogs.
Business writing blogs can help with outlining, grammar, sentence mechanics, headline writing, and more. The more you learn about business writing, the more knowledge you can apply to your written work.
- Ask a professional for a critique.
Think about every book you’ve ever read. Before each book went to print, it underwent a thorough review process that included developmental editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, and more. Even the greatest writers have help, and you don’t need to produce your writing in a vacuum. Ask a skilled colleague or a professional writer or editor for help, and soak up everything you can from their feedback.
- Take a writing course.
Another great way to enhance your business writing skills? Take a course in business writing! Your local community college or public university may offer for-credit and non-credit options. Ask your employer to help foot the bill—after all, enhancing your writing skills will benefit the business.
Good business writing is a critical skill for anyone who writes for colleagues and/or customers, including every worker who uses email.
Feel like your writing could use a boost? You’re in luck—you can learn business writing skills. Adopt the strategies outlined above, practice, and don’t be afraid to seek help. With time and effort, you’ll feel more empowered to produce effective, persuasive writing that moves your work and company forward.