In a digitized professional world, vital communication often takes place via e-mail and social media. The effect of said technology on the written word has been paradoxical: the internet has at once elevated the importance of written communication while loosening our writing standards.
When it comes to business writing, fluid prose and grammar are nonetheless paramount. Your writing is a reflection of you and, thanks to the internet, in may be the first impression – and in some cases, the only impression – someone will have of you.
Not long ago, I pitched an idea to a magazine, signed a writer’s contract, wrote and revised the article and received payment without ever meeting the editor or hearing her voice on the phone.
With this anecdote mind, here are some tips for making your written web presence memorable and effective.
Purge the Following Words/Phrases from Your Writing:
- A Lot, Many, Plenty and Several – Avoid these words and phrases when quantifying. They are vague and do not contribute to your cover letter/resume/business pitch. Be specific; how many is many?
- Utilize – This word suggests that you are trying too hard to impress; stick to “use.”
- I wanted to… – Too often I see friends and colleagues begin e-mails with “I wanted to ask” or something similar. Because you are writing in the present, it’s awkward to open with a phrase in the past tense. A better way to begin is, “I am writing to inquire about….”
- Very and really – Used to create emphasis, these words actually muddle your message and are really not very effective. (See what I mean?)
Befriend a Thesaurus
Repetition can be an effective poetic device, but when it comes to day-to-day writing, the same word over and over again in the span of a few paragraphs can make your message sound mundane. This is where a thesaurus (dictionary of synonyms) comes in handy.
There is, however, a caveat: your reader can tell when you use a word that you do not really understand the meaning of. Avoid using terms that you do not fully grasp in an attempt to amp up your writing; it has the opposite effect. Instead, research how the word in question is used in various contexts and incorporate new words into your repertoire gradually.
Denotation vs. Connotation
A word’s denotation is its dictionary definition; connotation refers to the secondary meanings words acquire through associations. Words can have similar denotations, but significantly different connotations (i.e. slim vs. skinny; cheap vs. frugal). Be sure you understand both the denotation as well as connotation of the words you use.
You will be surprised how conveying your thoughts in 140 characters or less sharpens your writing abilities. Being clear, concise and to the point is an asset when it comes to written business exchanges.