Business documents are not like novels or newspaper articles. Reports, presentations, newsletters and marketing copy all have a special place in any organisation and there are some very simple rules you should follow when writing these. These rules help you create documents that will get the results you desire.
The first thing to sort out when you sit down to write a business document is: who is the target audience?
If you are writing something that senior management will review, you need to keep it short and to the point. If it’s for your customers, telling them how to use a product, for instance, then you will need much more information. You don’t want to leave them guessing.
The Basic Rules
Regardless of the audience, however, there are certain basic rules that apply to all business documents.
- Your opening should be a clear statement of what the document is about. Tell them right up front what they are going to read about.
- Break the writing up into manageable hunks. Never write a 10 line paragraph; that’s just too much text all in one go!
- Use side headings to emphasize different sub topics. This also helps to break things up so the reader does not get lost.
- Use bullets or numbered lists. They break up blocks of text into definite sections that are visually obvious. And, people just love lists of things – they appear to be so organized.
- Try to avoid complicated or high-sounding words. Keep the whole flavour simple and to-the-point. If you use words that some people are not familiar with, you will lose them. You are not in contest to prove how educated you are – you are simply trying to get some ideas across in the easiest possible way.
- Keep your sentences short. Short sentences have much more impact than long ones. Always look at the length of sentences when you review your draft. If any sentences go for more than 20 words, see if you can shorten them. You will often find words or concepts that are unnecessary and can be removed. If any of your sentences go over 40 words, apply some major surgery. Be ruthless!
- The next thing to look at is paragraphs. Right – you guessed it – keep them short. When you review your finished article, there is a trick you can try. Half close your eyes and just look at the pattern that the blobs of paragraph text make on the page. Do you see one that seems too big? OK – make 2 paragraphs out of it. In fact, it is often good to have an occasional paragraph that is just one line of text. It breaks the page up nicely.
If you follow these simple rules your business documents will have a much greater impact than they normally would.