The (Not So Simple) Business of Business Writing

by Preeti Bansal

Years of trying my hand at different forms of writing (yes there are academic, technical, personal, creative, etc., etc., etc.), and failing at some and not doing so well at others, I sort of developed an affinity towards, a knack for, and created a niche in, ‘Business writing’ (I think my 6 years of work experience in Corporate public relations might have something to do with it though).

While the vocabulary used for all these types of writing might be similar (except for industry-specific jargon), they differ greatly in their tone, their format, and most importantly in their purpose. 

As a business writer, my intent is more to express an idea than impress the audience with the imagery I can elicit or to bore them with long cumbersome sentences. The goal is to get the message across clearly and simply. No nonsense, no beating around the bush, get straight (maybe not straight away) to the point.

I am sure people have their own process that they have developed and follow as a business writer, but today I am sharing a few learnings/tips & tricks from my own experience:

  1. Pay attention to not only the needs of your reader but to the person giving you the brief

Of course, any sort of business writing, be it a thought leadership article, blog, or newsletter, is for a target audience. And you must write keeping your audience in mind. But, as a business writer, you also need your writing to be authentic, and to reflect the voice of the business or the business leader you are writing for. CEOs & MDs have a certain style of communicating particular to them. It’s not only about using a ‘formal tone of voice’, for me business writing is about capturing the essence (as closely as possible) of the organization or the person I am writing for.

How do I do that?

I pay very close attention to the words used when a brief is shared. I follow that up by going through any past interviews or videos available to gather a sense of their style. Next, I read up as much as possible to get an understanding of sector-specific phrases, language, tone, and technical terms to emulate the brand or the person in my work.

While writing a thought leadership article for the MD of a leading Indian venture capital firm, I would pay close attention to the phrases she used while giving a brief. Using phrases like “neural network” or peppering the article with the personal incidents shared by her (you need to find a way to weave them in meaningfully and logically), made my writing, and the final output much more genuine and interesting. 

   2. The importance of research is next to none

Business writing is first and foremost about sharing facts. It is not fiction. And facts not backed by data and hard evidence have no veracity. So do as much research as you can and then do some more (I tend to be carried away while in the research stage and have to put a hard stop at the time I spend on it).

You cannot just state that there is a ‘lack of diversity in venture capital’ without backing it studies that prove this thesis (see how I have hyperlinked the fact to the source).  This helps in:

  1. a)     Avoiding plagiarism
  2. b)    Shows the leader’s/organisations deep understanding of the topic at hand.
  3. c)     Give irrefutable evidence for your ideas, arguments, and opinions.

The internet is a treasure trove of studies, reports, and surveys on unimaginable topics.  Linking your argument on a topic to a completely unrelated study adds an interesting (and fun) twist to the write-up. Plus, it saves you from sounding like you are droning on and on like an insufferable know- it- all. I have used this tactic successfully countless times;  for instance, citing research that compares the impact of cigarettes on health to make a point about the impact of the rising incidence of mental health issues. The article was about the importance of strong mental health in the workplace.

  1. The ‘B’ is for ‘Business’, not ‘Boring’

I know that the business of ‘business’ is serious business, but the business of ‘business writing’ does not have to be. We have an endless source of analogies available to us in our movies, literature, history, music, and current affairs to draw upon. Use it unashamedly and unabashedly. I certainly do. 

Who stops you from talking about the setting of the movie ‘Dangal’ or ‘Sultan’ when writing a piece on the vernacularization of Digital India? Or from comparing the poor representation of women in STEM to the dismal representation of women superhero characters in DC comics. 

Using references from pop culture or movies makes your writing much more relatable and easier to understand. You are still writing for your business and for a business audience, but without being boring.

4. The low hanging and the high-reaching fruits (of labor) 

The expert advice about keeping it simple, getting to the point quickly, using an active voice, and starting with a sizzle, is a given. These are the low-hanging fruits of business writing. These will help you write a good article. But for great business writing, be it a presentation, press release, speech, or concept note, you need to aim for the higher branches, and truly enjoy the fruits of your labor.

(Original content for Unlock Impact; published 28 Sep, 2022)

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