There are many things that can make or break your business copy. Everything you produce is going to impact someone’s opinion of your business. It’s up to you to determine whether that impression is a good one or a bad one.
It might seem like a lot of pressure to look at each piece of copy like it is the blood flowing through the veins of your business – but it really is that important.
Think about it. If you’re reading a company’s website, how seriously are you going to take them if they don’t have proper punctuation and capitalization? Are you likely to buy something without a detailed product description? Would you even consider buying a product when their blog is written in a way that makes no sense and seems stuffed with awkward keyword phrases?
The good news is that these sorts of mistakes can easily be avoided – you just need to know what you’re looking for to avoid the biggest pitfalls of business writing.
Recognize Common Business Writing Mistakes
First, you will want to have a good idea of what the most common business writing mistakes are. You’d be surprised how many businesses make these seemingly common-sense mistakes. If you want to be a step ahead of your competition, start by looking for these errors in your existing content.
- Poor grammar or spelling
- Too much formal industry jargon
- Using unnecessarily complex words
- Vague wording or too little information
Grammar and spelling should obviously be your first stop. It’s surprising how many people still make common errors – like the difference between your and you’re or there, their, and they’re. Ensure you’ve got capital letters in their proper places (the start of each sentence, proper nouns, etc.) and that you’re not using unnecessary punctuation that may trip up your reader.
Once you’ve checked for grammar and spelling errors you will want to ensure that you’re not being too industry formal. People want to know about your product – but they don’t want to hear that it’s the newest “cutting-edge technology” or “top-of-the-line equipment” because that is what every company claims to offer.
Instead, focus on what your product or service can do for the customer – and what sets it apart from similar products or services in your industry. Don’t use a ton of industry-specific words – use words that your average Google searcher who is just learning about the subject could understand.
Lastly, ensure that you’re not using complex or unusual words. Use words that your average reader is likely to know. (For example, I've used “unusual” rather than “unorthodox”.)
Spend More Time Outlining Your Content
We’ve talked before about taking your content from writer-focused to reader-focused. Now let’s take those same skills in knowing your audience and put them to use in creating your outline.
Whether you are writing a novel, a screen play, a white paper, blog post or email the outline is an essential step that shouldn’t be skipped. In fact, you should probably spend more time on your outlines than on the actual writing.
Not only will an outline help you stay focused – ensuring that you’re providing your reader with relevant and important information – but it will make your writing much quicker. This is when you should be researching and deciding how your article will flow. Most of the time, your best bet is to put the most important information at the start of your article. Then, use the rest of your word count to expand on those points.
We followed that same idea with this article. Starting off, we explained what some of the most common pitfalls of business writing are. Now, we’re looking at ways you can avoid those mistakes in your future content.
Benefits of outlining your content:
- Stay reader-focused
- Have a clear direction
- Speed up your first draft
Write Your First Draft Without Fear
Once you’ve researched and outlined your article, blog post, eBook, white paper or other business content, it’s time to start writing. The most important thing to remember is that even a crappy first draft is better than none. You can revise content that is there – but you can’t revise a blank page.
Write your first draft with confidence – if you’ve done your research and follow your outline, it shouldn’t be hard to put the words together. The thing you need to remember is that your first draft should never be your last. This means you shouldn’t put too much pressure on how that first draft turns out.
Don’t worry about avoiding things like grammar and spelling errors in this draft. Don’t think too much about the words you’ve used or the phrases you might have wanted to avoid. Instead, just worry about creating something that you can turn into polished content before you hit publish.
Trim and Edit to Create a Killer Second Draft
There’s a good chance that your first draft is something you’re feeling happy with. Even though you’re probably tempted, don’t call it quits here. You’re not even close to done. Even if you feel like you’re not going to have many changes to make, you should always give your work at least one round of editing.
This is where you’ll start to look for those specific pitfalls of spelling and grammar errors, using complex words or unnecessary industry terms. However, these are not the only things you’re going to want to look for. You should also be looking for sentence structure – does everything make sense?
If you were under or over your desired word count, then this second draft is where you’ll address this concern. Most often you’ll have gone over the word count – in which case you’ll want to trim your content. Remove anything that feels repetitive or provides no substantial value to your content.
Usually, by the time you’ve done this you will have met your desired word count and will have a pretty awesome second draft.
Things to look for in your second draft include:
- Typos, spelling and grammar errors
- Complex sentences and/or words
- Formal industry terms
- Unnecessary/fluff information
Review a Third Time for Accuracy, Consistency and Clarity
This third draft shouldn’t require a whole lot of changes. In fact, you are really only going over it one more time to look for a few key things – accuracy, consistency, and clarity.
Accuracy is the most important thing to consider in any business copy. You don’t want to make any unsubstantiated claims and you certainly don’t want to make a claim on one page of your website and contradict it on another. Make sure that anything you say about your product, service, or industry is something that you can back up with facts. Whenever possible, you should aim to have sources to back up claims.
Next to accuracy, you’ll want to review for consistency. Your tone throughout the article, paper, or book should remain consistent: for example, don’t jump around from first person to third person mid-writing. Similarly, if you used contractions for certain words early on in the article, ensure that you use those same contractions throughout the copy.
Lastly, you should be looking for clarity. There are many ways you can go about this. One of the most commonly suggested is to read your work out loud. Does it sound good? Does it flow well from beginning to end? Or does it feel awkward and clunky from start to finish?
If you’re not so great at reading out loud yourself, you can review your copy on a different platform. If you’re writing in a Word document, then export your content as a .PDF to read it over again. You’d be surprised how much you miss when re-reading that you suddenly notice just from reading in a different viewer.
During this last read-through you should do one last check for the common business writing mistakes. At this point, your grammar and spelling should be solid – you should have trimmed down any unnecessary or complex wording. Overall, you shouldn’t have to change much on this final draft. Chances are, by the time you’re doing reading through your copy a third (or maybe even fourth or fifth) time, it will finally be ready to publish.
Reap the Rewards
It might seem like an awful lot of work – but seeing as almost any piece of online copy could be someone’s first impression of your business, it’s worth the extra effort. Ensuring that every first impression of your company is a good one doesn’t have to be difficult. It just means spending a little extra time to avoid common business writing pitfalls to create great content and generate business.