Has Business Writing Evolved For The Better?

The New Business Writing - How It EvolvedWhat  would be your first answer to this this question? Well, if you’ve lived long enough, I’m sure you already know this truth about life; everything changes and evolves over time. Doesn’t it?

Look at languages, even though it may take decades, even they evolve over time. If English is your language, go pick up one of Shakespeare plays and see for yourself if it sounds like the English you speak and write today.

But let’s not even go that far, just watch movies from the 1950’s and see how much language has evolved.  I bet you’ll hear few expressions that are not really used anymore.  Besides that, compare it to movies of today, and hear the difference.  You wouldn’t hear expressions like, “you’re cool,” or words like computer, internet, cell phone, GPS, the web, texting, etc.

In languages where both the formal and familiar forms still exist such as French, Spanish or Italian, for example, the familiar form is used more and more, because people are becoming more relaxed in their way of talking to each other. That difference is noticeable even compared to only 20 to 30 years ago.

So, yes, whether you’re aware of it or not, and whether you even agree with it or not, our way of speaking evolves and changes.

Now this, said, if our way of speaking changes, then our way of writing changes too. Even business writing. If you write for business, you should be aware of few elements that I’m going to discuss in this post, so your writing will be up to date.

Business Writing shouldn’t mean Complicated

Went you look at the progression of languages, I guess we could say that beside the fact that our vocabulary increases and evolves with our life styles, it has also become simpler, in the sense of less complex and maybe less fancy.

I think that in the past, business writing, and business letters were full of fluffy words and phrases that were there only to make writing more official and more impressive to the reader.  Over time, however, as the human race has grown up (so to speak) we’ve come to understand that simplicity works best. Today, instead of being impressed by stiff official sounding business writing, we are rather bored by it. It just doesn’t work anymore.

The reader needs more true value and less stiffness.

Even Legal Briefs are Changing Style

10 years ago I was working in a law office as a legal assistant for a while, and my boss sent me to a few legal writing classes and seminars. For the purpose of this post, I pulled out my books and notes form these classes, and found some very familiar reminders there. I’m sure you’ve heard them before.

Here are some tips given for legal brief writing.

  • Start with a basic introduction of the facts
  • Follow up with a clear statement of what you want
  • Include the strong facts at the beginning all the way to the weakest
  • Follow up with the actions that you will be taking

Yes, this about writing a legal briefs, but it really sounds a whole lot like any writing tips you would read for bloggers or any writing tips book you may have read, doesn’t it?

The reason for this is because no matter what you write, you want your writing to make sense for people who read it. Not people living one hundred years ago, but consumers of today. Business writing is writing for the consumer.

Legal Writing – Business Writing – Online Writing

I still have all my books from my legal writing courses and I thought I’d share some tips here. This will also prove to you, in case you doubt it, that business writing is a lot similar to blog writing, article writing, and any other promotional writing you’re doing.

Wordiness

Somewhere in my Effective Legal Writing book there is a chapter about wordiness. There it says how lawyers are found of “verbose” and how useless it is to the reader.

Legal writing is by nature, formal and detailed, so it doesn’t need to be made longer and more complicated by adding useless words.

In this chapter there are few very common writing tips that are valid for all writings, legal, business or online writing. Wordiness is a no-no for any type of business or non-business writing.

Use Active rather than Passive Verbs

Instead of: “The car was repaired by John.” You need to write “John repaired the car.”

Instead of: “Paris is visited by millions of tourists each year.” You need to write “Millions of tourists visit Paris each year.”

The use of active words works for any kind of writing, because they work better period. No matter what you write and no matter whom the reader is.

Avoid Repetition

Make a strong argument the first time around, and you won’t have to repeat it again, and again in the same article.

Repetitions are OK only if use purposely to create a specific effect, but beside that, repetition is boring to the reader.  Thus it makes your writing dull.

Avoid Fillers

Avoid filler words such as “clearly,” “truthfully,” or “obviously.” Make it so rather than saying that it is. This is also called writing laziness, just adding fillers rather than finding a way to make our argument stronger.

Avoid Jargon

Whatever niche or market you’re in, I’m sure there is a jargon. Lawyers have a jargon, doctors have a jargon, computer geeks have a jargon, SEO experts have a jargon, and bloggers have a jargon, but whoever you are and whatever you do, you need to remember, that not everyone is going to be familiar with your jargon, so while you can use it when you talk to your peers, avoid using jargon when you write if you don’t want risking not being understood.

Business/Legal Writing Tips that may Sound Familiar to Online Writers

I found some very interesting tips again in that legal writing book, that sounded so familiar to me. Any business writing, or blog writing should know this.

Before you start writing know the followings:

1)      Who you are writing for?

2)      What is it you are writing?

3)      Make a list of the things you want to cover.

4)      Outline your writing to direct your article better.

5)      Once you’re ready, write freely. Let yourself write. I found that note in this book so interesting indeed. (Read my subconscious writing post if you haven’t yet, to understand what I mean here).

6)      Edit several times over.

7)      Proof read.

Business Writing is Simply Writing

As you can see from this article, it doesn’t really matter what business you’re in or what or whom you’re writing for anymore, because writing is writing, and nowadays, even lawyers and paralegals are asked to simplify their writing and write in such a way that they can be understood by people who don’t know anything about the law.

Whether you are a corporation, a freelance business or anything else, make sure that your letters, emails and other articles can be understood by most.

Drop the formalities, fluffy words and terms that only people in your business can understand. Write correctly, but as if you were speaking to the reader in the simplest manner possible.

You can still keep a business tone, with a simple style that speak to everyone. Our languages have changed and evolved, and so is business writing. But not only business writing – any writing.

So, you’re turn to write a few words about what you think about business and/or any type of writings of today, in the comment area.

 

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32 Comments

  • Harleena SinghTwitter: harleenas says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    Informative post indeed 🙂

    Your post reminded me of the time when I became a freelance writer, some years back. I literally had a fright about business writing because it all looks so official, if you compare it to a blog, but slowly I got the hang of it once I started writing a few of these for clients. There are no I or you words used. It has to be a very formal way of writing.

    Just as your points mentioned, you need to cut the fluff and just focus on the main points, be brief, but to the point. And I think it’s not tough if you know how to go about it.

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice week ahead 🙂
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Harleena,

      Yes, for example, press releases are written without you or I. It’s all in the third person, but even though that’s the case, we still need to remember that we write for humans and be interesting enough to grab the attention of the reader. Something people are starting to get more and more.

      Thank you for your life experience input.

  • Corina RamosTwitter: notnowmomsbusy says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    Thanks for sharing this tips with us. I think this is the reason why I won’t describe myself as a writer…I think it’s more formal than blogging but as you shared it doesn’t have to be difficult.

    Thanks for putting this together for us. I hope you’re having a great Monday.
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Corina,

      I think that anyone who writes on a regular basis is a writer, so as a blogger, you are a writer.

      Thank you for coming by and see you in a bit on yours side.

  • AdrienneTwitter: adriennesmith40 says:

    Hey Sylviane,

    I was on a webinar last week and it was with a guy who is a published author but he started with a blog and it all just fell into place. He had always loved to write and so he asked this published author one time, “when do you know you’re a writer”. The guy responded “when you say you are. If you write you’re a writer”. Just like this guy, I always considered someone who was a writer, someone who has published something or writes for the paper or a magazine. To me that’s always been my definition of a writer. Just thought I would share that with you.

    Now as you also know, I use to be in the secretarial field and I ended over 31 years as an executive assistant working for the owners of companies. Our writing was very formal and business like and I was horrible in English. I even laughed at myself how I ended up in that particular field but it was mostly because of my organizational abilities and my outgoing personality.

    Now that I’m into blogging and yes I consider myself a blogger and not really a writer, but I hate the stuffy approach now. I can only assume that in corporate America that a lot of that remains the same although the last three to four years I was there the men were getting away from wearing suits to work and more slacks and a shirt. So things were changing and I have no doubt that seven years after I’ve left that they have even more.

    I say, darn good thing too.

    ~Adrienne
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      HI Adrienne,

      Yes, things change and business changes too, and writing is changing with it. Of course you still have your formal stiff letters, but over all the tone has become more relax and most of all clearer for the average reader.

      I’m sure your English wasn’t that bad at all to handle that job anyway 🙂

      Thanks for coming by, and have a great day!

  • MarkTwitter: coach2coachguy says:

    Really nice article Slyviane!

    First off, isn’t truly amazing, that the exact same 26 letters of the alphabet, produced some of Shakespeare’s classic literature as well as today’s writing as well!

    And today’s world couldn’t be more farther apart than back in Shakespeare’s time! So your point is definitely well taken. And it’s amazing just how extreme the two worlds are!

    And yet, the exact same 26 letters are responsible for their written dialogues! Pretty amazing indeed! Thanks so much for sharing and pointing this stark contrast out!
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      HI Mark,

      Yes, interesting point, but here is more, isn’t it amazing that those same exact 26 letters also write in French, Italian, Spanish, and many more languages? Truly amazing, I agree.

      Thank you for bringing this up and have a great day!

  • donna merrillTwitter: donna_tribe says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    Another great writing lesson from you. When writing my blogs, these tips come in handy. Language is a funny thing. I think what I learned from this is not to use jargon that I assume people understand.
    I always try to write simply, so that everyone can understand what I’m writing about, but lately I notice I’m using terms that only people that are blogging and/or marketing use.
    Thanks for this food for thought.
    -Donna
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Donna,

      I know that at times we forget that not everyone understands our online/blog jargon and if we’re not careful it can happen. I’m sure I’ve done that too at times, and while reading my notes from those writing courses it was a good reminder for me as well.

      Thanks for coming Donna, and have a great day 🙂

  • Mi MubaTwitter: BAMoneyBlogger says:

    Hi donna
    I think it depends upon nature of business as well to decide how business writing should be. In services marketing its requirements are different while in product marketing it is quite different. But it should focus more on benefits rather than features.
    This has happened in every type of business writing that now people are getting more impersonal instead of staying personnel with big salutations and prefixes and suffixes.
    Thanks for sharing another wonderful post which enriched a lot my knowledge about the topic.
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Mi,

      You’re right, it also depends on the nature of the business, but whatever that may be we need to keep the reader in mind, since that’s the goal of the writing.

      Glad you appreciated this post and thank you for coming.

  • Barbara CharlesTwitter: BarbaraCharlesl says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    I think this is great advice. Business writing is very formal and stuffy. That’s how I learned to write as well. Formal English major back in the day.

    Anyway, I think your tips are dead on. Less fluff, more stuff that is meaning and useful to the reader. Active writing as opposed to passive is a god one and one I try to teach my family when they write. It means a whole lot more when it feels like the person is talking to you right then. It actively engages the person’s mind with the reader and that is key to drawing them in.

    Great info.
    Barbara
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Barbara,

      Yes, if we go back we can remember that writing was much stiffer, especially business writing. But when it comes to writing the main goal is to be understood by the reader, if not, there’s no point, right? 🙂

      I always try to catch myself for passive verbs as well. Active is always the way to go.

      Thanks for coming, and have a great day!

  • Ilka says:

    Hi Sylviane!Nice and informative post and a great reminder! I just read a market research and I went crazy about the fluffy writing style of the author. In one full page I could find only one sentence of real value. But there is one point – which I know of – which I have to remind myself of again and again:Active rather than Passive!Thanks for the reminder, Ilka

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Ilka, and welcome here.

      Gosh, don’t you hate those useless type articles full of fluff with nothing in there? Here you’ve seen an example 🙂 I really don’t get that.

      I know what you mean, I also have to remind myself of always using active vs passive, at time they do slip in 🙂

      Thank you for coming and for you great input.

  • sherman smithTwitter: shermanksmith75 says:

    Hey Sylviane,

    It’s amazing how much languages keeps evolving. I can remember my grandmother would say some things that I just didn’t pick up on. That use to frustrate her LOL.. but at least I learned something new about what slang and expressions they used when she was growing up.

    The one thing that really irks me is when I’m reading an article or going to a workshop is when a lot of jargon is used. Sometimes I think they use this a lot to “impress” the audience. I do have to say that it doesn’t impress me and it really doesn’t show that they know the information well enough to put it in laymens terms.

    You definitely want to figure out who your audience is before you start writing, or else you may lose your audience! Thanks for sharing Sylviane!
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Sherman,

      I can’t stand jargon, or even abbreviations which I don’t know for the most part, and when people use lots of them, I’m out 🙂

      Indeed, knowing your audience is vital, so you can be sure you’re audience can appreciate what you’re telling them.

      Thank you for your input, and have a great day!

  • Kostas says:

    One particular phrase struck me here Sylviane ‘business writing is simply writing’. That sums it up perfectly. It’s something I see alot of in guest blogging. The writer’s try to be too clever, too elegant and too formal. What a reader wants to see is something engaging and chatty – People need to stop over thinking their writing and let it come naturally.

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Kostas,

      Yes, at times we see this type of writings, trying too much, I would say, but when we over do this we lose on our personality which is what helps us connect with others.

      Thank you for bringing this up, and for coming 🙂

  • Neamat TawadrousTwitter: nkeriakos says:

    Hi Sylviane,

    Great Post Sylviane and you never cease to amaze me with your valuable posts and every time I have to come out with some takeaways. You are a God sent my friend. Still I have to go and read the other post “subconscious writing”, sounds interesting.

    You are absolutely right about the language. You know English is my second language and when I learned it in school was something and speaking it was something else and I found a whole lot of changes when I moved to Canada. Some stuff, like what you mentioned “You’re cool” or something like “You’re nuts”, I never heard it back home when I learned or spoke English but I got used to it now and believe it or not I learn a whole lot of this language from my kids. You are spot on, nothing remains the same, everything evolves and changes over time.

    Thanks again Sylviane for an amazing post. Have a great week.

    Be Blessed,

    Neamat
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Neamat,

      Thank you so much for the compliment. You know I’m never really sure that my posts are as helpful as I want them to be, so that’s always nice to hear.

      I know what you mean, I think that most parents do learn new vocabulary from their children. I think that’s very interesting 🙂 Languages keep on evolving and so is writing. Personally I do prefer the way we speak today, except when people whose language is NOT English and insert too many English words in their language. I know French do that at times and I don’t like it 🙂

      I’m glad you enjoyed my post, and thank you for coming.

  • Ryan BiddulphTwitter: RyanBiddulph says:

    Active versus passive took me a while to iron out Sylviane, for my blog and freelance business 😉 Nice share, and a good read for writers everywhere. Thanks!
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Ryan,

      I kno wwhat you mean, it did for me too 🙂

      Thanks for passing by, and have a great day!

  • OktoTwitter: oktohakim says:

    Hi Sylviane,I think there are two major players in business writing today. The writer and the reader. As writer we need to enjoy what we write while reader has lesser time to spend than before. That is why we need to be clear on points of problem we are talking about as you said above.Thanks for the post. Wish you a great weekend
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    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Okto,

      Yes, the writer always needs to write with the reader in mind, and respect their time, indeed. It’s not necessary to only add fluff that has no use. No one has time for this.

  • Susan Payton says:

    I, for, one, am happy with the way writing has changed. As an English major who interned at a newspaper and now blogs for a living, I’ve had to adapt from my own flowery prose to more hard and to-the-point, to now somewhere in between with blog writing.

    We write for quick consumption. No one’s going to spend an hour reading a blog post. As a writer, it’s your (and my) job to capture their attention quickly and let them move on.

    Great post!

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Susan,

      I certainly appreciate your professional point of view.

      Yes, you’re right, no one is going to spend an hour reading our blog post, we need to write with this in mind. At times I read articles or blog post where almost half way through I realize that I still haven’t learned anything. That’s what I call adding a lot of fluff 🙂

      Thank you for coming by and for our input.

  • Memtali says:

    Excellent point to raise. Customers want to know and they don\’t take excuses. They want clear explanations and they would keep asking until they get answers. Therefore, companies and professionals have to write in a language everyone can understand. If you want your customers to complete most of the tasks online and don\’t feel the need to call you it is necessary to provide clear guidelines. For example, auto insurance policies are now written in plain English so that everyone can easily understand them. This helps motorists pick the right policy without the need to call the company.

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Marnatali,

      Thank you for coming and welcome here.

      Thank you so much for bring this up about car insurances. If I’d had more time researching my post I would have investigated some more and put some examples such as this one. You really proves my point here with car insurance.

      Thanks for your valuable feedback.

  • Memtali says:

    Sylviane, companies don’t want to pay for staff to answer customer queries. The clearer their websites and documentation the less people will need to call them. Do you realize that they tell you to try and find answers on their websites even when you are waiting on the phone for the next customer service assistant.

    • Sylviane Nuccio says:

      Hi Memtali,

      I know and I think that’s really crazy when they so much want to send you on their website for every answer. There’s going to be some times when you really need to have a clear (yes or no answer maybe) to your question. Not every answer is on a website, and at times they feel that they are being very thorough with their Q & A, but they aren’t.

      Thanks for your feedback.

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