Bugbears to avoid in business writing

Written business messages dominate today’s workplace, so it’s no surprise that various media publish yearly lists with tips

Bugbears to avoid in business writing

Bugbears to avoid in business writing

Written business messages dominate today’s workplace, so it’s no surprise that various media publish yearly lists with tips, such as:

  • Write for your target audience
  • Write clearly and concisely 
  • Check your punctuation and grammar

Yes, these are the ‘well-known’ bits. They’re good. But the lesser-addressed bits can be just as important. They can cause frustrations to be vented too.

A myriad of problems arise now we’re virtually all writing 

Gone are the days when ‘writing’ seemed to mean traditional writing: documentation, meetings notes, formal PR etc. Today, just about everyone has to clack on a keyboard at some stage. 

Though they may not realise it, their writing’s involved in business performance and PR to some extent or other.

So what’s in my list of seven often-unaddressed bugbears?

Well, some are raised by companies’ customers, some by colleagues. Let’s see how many you see, maybe even on a daily basis.

‘The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing’

Customers are understandably infuriated when emailing one person in a company as told to do, and nothing’s happened. When following up they’re often told to start the complaint from scratch with someone new. 

Internal colleagues can be irritated by similar scenarios. Or additional ones, such as finding a meeting room hasn’t been booked for a meeting and the right attendees don’t turn up because they haven’t been invited!  

Ineffective writing is so often to blame.  And there’s a tangible cost, on the many levels of inefficiency. 

‘We keep our corporate writing formal, and bright young things deal with our social media’

It’s great, companies understand the need to recruit people who write effective posts, to lure readers’ attention – and keep them enthralled.

But the friendly, engaging tone that works so well for social media shouldn’t just stop at social media. It needs rolling out organically in the organisation’s entire corporate communication. Otherwise it’s confusing to readers and undermines brand. Readers can think what happened to that friendly person who dealt with my query online. Why is the rest of the organization’s communication so cold, so impersonal? 

Where’s the consistent communication of the organisation’s values? 

Follow a (do-able) brief 

So often people annoy by not following a brief. The report or campaign or whatever, will be off track. Sometimes it’s from not reading the brief adequately. Skim reading is a huge problem in a time of short attention spans. Effective reading matters for effective writing.

Or maybe a boss didn’t write instructions clearly. It happens. So staff need to ask before acting. Also, maybe the boss didn’t check with staff that the brief was do-able. Also a mistake. 

‘Don’t confuse me with stream of consciousness emails/instant messaging’

What a bugbear this is. It might be that the subject heading ‘Meeting on 26 March’ is used over and over. Perfect sense at the time, but umpteen meetings later, and at year end, oughtn’t someone have refreshed it? 

And context? That’s another classic. Miss it out, let that key message lie hidden in swathes of conversational banter and just see what happens. Or more to the point, see what doesn’t happen.

The black hole of inaction – another no-no in ineffective e-mail and instant messaging 

This is a slightly different take on the previous bugbear. People get annoyed when written messages are passed on and the writer assumes the matter will be dealt with: ‘job done’.  No, nothing should ever be assumed. Primary owners of a problem need to check it’s worked.

‘Why have I been copied in?’

What an irritant this can be. Cc’ing someone should be for a valid, stated reason. So often it’s not. 

People complain on a number of levels if it’s done on autopilot, so to speak. It may be to your face, or even more often it may be unseen reactions such as : ‘No! Don’t litter my already overloaded in-tray!’ Or ‘ Why am I copied in? Have I done something wrong?’ and so on.

Rudeness in all its guises 

Sadly this is a bugbear we all encounter, even on a daily basis, as a result of others’ business writing. What’s so  sad is that sometimes people who are the friendliest in person, come over as rude in their writing. And rudeness can also be a result of those we’ve attempted to communicate with failing to respond.

Here’s a starter list of points frequently raised:

  • Getting recipients’ personal details wrong 
  • Not acknowledging writers’ messages
  • Not keeping people in the loop 
  • Not replying systematically to all points raised
  • Not empathising in difficult circumstances

Your takeaway message – First identify, then avoid business writing bugbears  

I’ve enjoyed compiling this list. But it’s not enjoyable when these bugbears affect your business. Which annoyed you most? What would you add? 

Spread the message. It may be going too far to ‘spread the love’ but coming over personably in written messages is a must. And writing isn’t just judged in your physical workspace. Messages can be forwarded digitally to vast audiences, with their own opinions.

So every word must work. Each can affect the bottom line and reader perception of your business writing efficiency, in all its aspects. 

Fiona Talbot
Fiona Talbot

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