By Goke Ilesanmi
There are four different skills of communication. These are listening, reading, speaking and writing. Listening and reading are technically referred to as “receptive skills” because they are about assimilation; while speaking and writing are called “transmitting skills” because they are about articulation or dissemination. Mastery of all these skills is very important. But our main conceptual attention here is on writing skills, given the thematic focus of this discourse.
Business writing, especially for external communication to customers, suppliers, investors, etc., needs to be handled professionally. This is because when it is done properly, it will enhance corporate image, boost business, among others. But when it is done otherwise, the impacts can be so unpleasant. We will therefore examine some of the essentials of effective business writing here.
Good and effective business writing must have the following qualities: conciseness, completeness, correctness, clarity, consideration, courtesy, concreteness, etc.
Conciseness: Conciseness refers to the idea of being brief and direct to the point. You avoid redundancy, wordy expressions, repetitions here. However, being brief does not mean that completeness must be compromised.
Completeness: Completeness involves giving the recipient all the information needed. For example, if a (prospective) customer has written to you to know some things about your product(s) or organisation, you have to include the answers to all his or her inquiry in your reply.
Correctness: A business letter, for instance, must be correct in information, style/tone and structure. That is, you use the right language, format and factual information.
This is one of the most important attributes in business writing. It involves more than freedom from errors. A writer’s credibility depends on the accuracy of the message. If a writer misleads readers, his or her credibility will be eroded.
Clarity: Here you avoid ambiguous statements such as “Give us more brilliant staff of yours”; “Supply us more expensive Tantal”, etc. which reflect double meaning. For example, “Give us more brilliant staff of yours” in a situation where some have already been sent by a service company can either be interpreted as “Give us staff that are more brilliant” or “Give us more of your brilliant staff”. The same applies to the second example.
Avoid a complex choice of words and lengthy sentences. Avoid using words that have more than a meaning such as “referee”, “coach”, etc., in a way that can lead to lexical ambiguity. In other words, the context in which they are used should be detailed enough to make their meaning specific. Do not vaguely say “He is a good referee”.
To ensure that you write clearly, first sit down, think about what you want to write and arrange everything well. It is good to acquire good knowledge of grammatical concepts like Tenses, Reported Speech, Word Order, etc., to be able to write flawlessly. Word Order is very essential because the way you arrange your words has a lot to do with meaning in spite of using the same number of words. For instance, “Non-regular supply of goods” is different from “Non-supply of regular goods”; while “Your product quality almost always meets our expectations” and “Your product quality always almost meets our expectations” are different in meaning.
In the statement “Your product quality almost always meets our expectations”, the quality has met expectations many times, while in the second example, that is, “Your product quality always almost meets our expectations”, the quality has never net expectations once but always remains a little to do so. You should try as much as possible to avoid spelling errors. Also avoid punctuation errors, as they can affect meaning.
In a nutshell, a business letter that is not clear can cause misinformation and negatively affect the corporate image of the company writing it. Even though misspellings are not the same as low intelligence, misspellings can mar your business writing at least on paper, e.g., “complaint” instead of “compliant” (Word order). Avoid jargon (technical vocabulary), slangs (expressions identified with a specific group), cliches (over-used words/expressions), etc.
Courtesy: To create or sustain goodwill, good business writing must show respect. Even in the face of provocation from a customer or seller, politeness must not be sacrificed. One of the best ways to do this is to use passive voice and sound impersonal by not mentioning the seller’s name. So you can say, “We write to notify you that most of the goods WE WERE SUPPLIED yesterday are not in good condition” (passive voice and impersonal).
Apart from the traditional notion that passive voice is used for courtesy, courtesy can also be conveyed by sounding impersonal through active voice, e.g., “We write to notify you that most of the goods WE BOUGHT yesterday are not in good condition” (Active voice and impersonal).
The two active and passive voice examples are impersonal and courteous because we do not say, “We write to notify you that most of the goods WE WERE SUPPLIED BY YOU yesterday are not in good condition” (passive voice and personal) or “We write to notify you that most of the goods YOU SOLD TO US yesterday are not in good condition” (active voice and personal). Also you avoid using the second-person personal pronoun “you” in negative comments, hypothetical illustrations, etc.
To be continued
PS: For those making inquiries about our Public Speaking, Business Presentation and Professional Writing Skills programme, please visit the website indicated on this page for details.
GOKE ILESANMI (FIIM, FIMC, CMC), CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Professional Public Speaker, Career Mgt Coach and Certified Mgt Consultant. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.
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