Lesson 3: Getting Your Message Across
In this lesson, we’ll be discussing the different ways in which business letters can be made short but sweet.
- To discuss how to communicate when writing about matters of business.
- To enumerate the different ways in which you can make your business documents clear and concise.
Quick Navigation through the Lesson 3:
- Cut the metaphors
- Use simple language
- Omit unnecessary words
- Use the active voice
- Use easy-to-understand font
- Write in a language understood by both parties
- Restrain your emotions
- Be specific
- Pay close attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling
In our last lesson, we discussed that the main goal of business writing is to communicate a specific message. We also learned that this can be, among other things, to advertise a product, update a client/investor or convey appreciation for the addressee’s involvement in your business. In this lesson we’re going to be taking up a few tips with regard to how we can write our business letters so that they’re easy to understand and get right to the point. This lesson will help us write business letters that are a joy to read because they’re not confusing and don’t dilly-dally. The faster you get to the point, the more your clients will appreciate it: business people are usually very busy and it helps everyone save time if your letter is short but informative.
1. Cut the metaphors.
Metaphors are great for creative writing but shouldn’t be used (or should be used minimally) in business writing. Because metaphors often relate two things which are usually dissimilar, they can be quite confusing and might cause your message to get lost in the translation of the figure of speech. As a general rule, try to omit any metaphors and try to state your goal matter-of-factly.
For example, when writing a letter to someone under whom you’d like to be an apprentice, instead of saying:
I write to you as a young padawan writes to a Jedi master—asking for guidance, seeking direction and desperately thirsting for knowledge of the force.
It might be better to say:
I am writing to you in the hopes of being accepted as your thesis mentee.
Using the metaphor allows for a lot of confusion: the person in question may not be a Star Wars fan and might not have any idea what you’re talking about—and because it’ll take a significant amount of time to watch all of the Star Wars movies, they’ll probably end up setting your letter aside.
On the other hand, getting right to the point gives the recipient of your letter more time to think things over and see whether or not your request can be accommodated.
2. Use simple language.
While it’s good to have a wide vocabulary, using large words to convey simple sentences can be taxing. It obfuscates your point and your recipient will end up confused as to why you decided to use the big word instead of a simpler one which is available and more easily understood.
For example, when writing the description of a product in a brochure, instead of saying:
This new eu de parfum we’ve decanted is reminiscent of petrichor: its top note was made to identify with deep melancholia while the base note was designed to convey a kick of spice.
It might be better to say:
Our new perfume was inspired by rainy weather and the different sentiments which come with it—the top note is vanilla and the base note is cinnamon.
The first sentence uses words which blur what you mean to say—most people might not know what petrichor (the smell of rain on the dry earth) means. Also, the use of jargon (e.g. decant) keeps the writer from identifying important things about the perfume being described like the top note or the base note. Instead of listing down the ingredients, the sentence describes further abstractions which confuse the reader: how does melancholia or a kick of spice smell?
3. Omit unnecessary words.
One of the most detrimental things in business writing is redundancy. If you insist on making your body of text lengthy, you may unnecessarily re-state certain points. This will irritate and confuse your readers. Below is an example of a lengthy, redundant body of a business letter:
We would like to propose a small conference which will tackle the different brands which we plan to grow this year. This will help us better synchronize our goals and plans. We think that instead of a big gathering, a small one would be key so that all of our brands can work together and sync our goals and plans.
The example above uses a lot of words when in fact the statement could’ve ended at the second sentence. Adding the third statement and reiterating everything that was already said makes the whole thing tiring to read.
4. Use the active voice.
The active voice makes for a more dynamic and shorter sentence. This makes your letter easier to read and more interesting.
In the active voice, the subject is the do-er of the action—for example, in a company newsletter it would be better to write that Jenny won employee of the month rather than The employee of the month award was won by Jenny. The latter is longer, more convoluted and more tiring to read.
It is best for business documents to be typewritten because this makes it easier to read. Legibility of handwriting differs from person to person and can be the cause of a lot of misunderstandings. Also, typing allows for easier compliance with the standards of business writing (e.g. margins, word count, etc.).
6. Use easy-to-understand font.
Like we stated in the previous point, the whole goal of typing business letters and documents is to make the text easy to understand. While a fancy script font might be fun to see on a wedding invitation or a party banner, it doesn’t necessarily look so good on a business letter which needs to be read quickly and at a glance. Practical fonts include Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri and Verdana.
7. Write in a language understood by both parties.
This is key in business communication. The language you use in the letter or document should correspond with both the language you’re comfortable in and the language which your audience understands. In matters of international business, most letters are written in English because is it widely understood and easier for translators (when needed) to translate. In the case of brochures, different versions of the text (as with manuals for gadgets) can be set in different language to help a wider variety of people understand what is being said about the product.
8. Restrain your emotions.
Even if the subject you’re writing about is exciting, learn how to curb your emotions. Refuse the urge to add a lot of smiley faces or unnecessary punctuation marks (e.g. this business venture is so exciting!!!!!!!! Hierh;iawhe;rihuweih!!!! or This product will make your face super smooth J J J); this looks unprofessional. A better way to do this is through clearly conveying your emotions through words, ending them with periods—using our previous examples we could instead say This business venture will benefit both of our companies and could lead to exciting new developments. or This product has been reviewed by a number of celebrities; it makes smoothens the skin using micropore technology.
9. Be specific.
Because one feature of business letters is that they’re polite and very respectfully written, a lot of the time we forget to specify what it is that we’d like from this transaction. Don’t forget to say exactly what it is that you are asking for. For example, someone writing to the bank for a loan might spend so much of the letter talking about their qualifications as a high-income executive that they might forget the actual request for a loan.
In the case of business advertisements or product descriptions, sometimes you can get carried away talking about the different pros and cons of the product that you might forget to describe the product itself.
10.Pay close attention to grammar, punctuation and spelling.
This is key as a lot of words (e.g. effect and affect) can change meanings with just the alteration of one letter. Before sending your business letter, always make sure to proofread so as to avoid confusion and mistakes.
In this lesson we were able to discuss a couple of tips which will help us get our message across faster and more accurately. We were able to identify certain dos and don’ts when it comes to communicating clearly in business letters.
Next up we’ll be talking about the importance of grammar and punctuation in business letters and other business documents. We’ll also be enumerating a couple of tips that you can take to ensure that your business text is always written flawlessly.