Tips for writing in the business world

Writing in the business world can be difficult. We have to write Web pages, proposals, emails, policies and procedures and, perhaps, adverts. It can be hard to get going, and create something that’s clear and to the point. Here are some tips to help you get over these difficulties.

It’s not your fault

Let’s start by saying it’s not your fault if you find business writing difficult, because most of us are not taught how to do it at school. At school, we learn how to write stories and how to argue a case. That usually involves building to a big conclusion at the end.

In business, mostly we have to write to:

  • persuade
  • instruct, or
  • inform.

Those are different forms of writing.

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Cherryleaf presentation on creating effective content

Just a reminder that Cherryleaf’s Ellis Pratt will be speaking at the Institute of Directors’ June 2015 Members Masterclass on “The written word – creating effective content”.

The written word is one of the key ways we communicate with others. Whether we’re telling or selling, it’s important we get our message across. Unfortunately, many people find writing time consuming, and it can often be difficult to get started on a new document.

In this session, we’ll look at some of the most effective techniques for creating the types of content created in today’s business world. You’ll discover some of the approaches used by professional technical communicators, copywriters and report writers.

Some of the issues we’ll look at include:

  • Clarity and persuasiveness
  • Getting started and organising your thoughts
  • How to structure documents
  • Getting to the point and being concise

This session is ideal for managers, engineers and other professionals interested in effective approaches to communicating more clearly and effectively in writing.

The IoD invites IoD Members and non-members to share their expertise and knowledge with other members. It will be held at 116 Pall Mall, London, on the 2nd June (18:00 – 21:00).

See:

The written word – creating effective content.

The EU is good for Cherryleaf

Working in a country that’s a member of the European Union (EU) provides many benefits to a company such as Cherryleaf. It’s been straightforward for us to work with customers in France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands and elsewhere. We’ve also found it easy to hire freelancers who have been based in France and Spain.

In comparison, it’s harder for us to trade with companies based in the USA. We can deliver training and other services over the Web, but there are many barriers to doing work physically in the States. The USA requires a valid working visa, which is challenging and time consuming to obtain. In the EU, we can pass through immigration and customs in little time at all, whereas in the USA, the queueing, questioning and fingerprint scanning can take hours.

The single European market means that we can trade in a market of over 503 million people, rather than just the 64 million in the UK. If the country were outside of the EU, it would take 27 new trade agreements to be negotiated just to get back to the position it is in today.

People may complain that the EU sets rules for how much meat is in a sausage, or the type of electric adapter for battery powered cars, but somebody has to set the ground rules for doing business. Our UK customers know that if they have to create products that conform to a certain standard, their overseas competitors have to do the same, too. The rules and standards are going to be set whether the UK is in the EU or not. The difference is that those who are members of the EU have a say in setting those rules.

Barriers that have been removed are easy to forget, because they are not there. It’s important to remember, from time to time, the benefits to companies such ourselves of the UK being a member of the EU.

Why business writing is so difficult

“Everyone is taught to write at school, so surely everyone can write in business?”

Although the quotation above would seem to make sense, the reality is that many people find it hard to write in a business context. They struggle to write clearly, and it can take them ages to produce a piece of content.

It’s not their fault. What we’re taught at school is how to write narratives, that is stories or articles. We’re also taught to argue a case – to use rhetoric to build to a conclusion. We’re taught writing to persuade and writing to entertain.

In the world of business, we often need different forms of writing. We’re often writing to inform or writing to instruct.

In these situations, people want to know what they should and shouldn’t be doing, and get on with their jobs. They want the important information at the beginning, rather than the end. They want to scan and hunt for the information relevant to them, rather than always having to read everything from beginning to end.

Many people haven’t been taught how to write to inform or to instruct, and that’s why many people find business writing so difficult.

Trends in technical communication – the funny airline safety video

The airline safety video is about actions that could save your life, but it can be very dull and mundane if you’ve flown more than once. So airlines are using the third aspect in good design – emotion – to engage with their audience.

The latest video to follow this trend is from Delta Airlines:

Other examples are:

Content as an API – Google’s engineering documentation

Google’s Riona MacNamara presented at the Write The Docs North America conference on “Documentation, Disrupted: How Two Technical Writers Changed Google Engineering Culture“. In the video of the presentation below, Riona explains how she worked with a small team of writers and engineers to build a documentation platform in six months that is becoming a part of the standard Google engineering workflow.

Content as an API – Mozilla Developer Network

Mozilla is an organisation that always seems to be doing innovative things with their documentation. One of the experimental functions it has introduced to its Kuma wiki platform for the Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) documentation is an experimental PUT API that makes it possible to create and update articles remotely.

Mozilla suggests a number of ways it can be used:

You can create a page for your project and update content in certain sections from automated build, testing, and deployment scripts. This can help you keep your community up to date with your project’s progress.

If your project offers documentation alongside source code, you can push HTML renderings into a subsection of MDN. This lets you maintain docs in a way that’s appropriate for your team’s workflow, while still contributing to MDN and allowing localizers to translate the content.

Fro example, Mozilla’s programmers are able to write scripts that automatically generate articles based on contents of header files they’re creating. The API uses HTTP, which means software engineers (and other writers) effectively have the freedom to use the application environment and libraries of their own choice.

Kuma itself is an open source platform written by Mozilla in Python, using the Django framework. Contributors can fork the Kuma repository on Github, make changes to the content, and push the revised content back to the wiki.

It will be interesting to see if this succeeds, and if this type of platform extends further out than its use for developer documentation.