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Writing Tips for Professionals

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You already have the one key trait that most professional writers don’t: you know how to sell. That’s more important than knowing how to write. But, since you do have to write quite a bit (emails, letters, thank you notes, presentations, perhaps a blog or posts in social media like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter), being a better writer will help you be a better sales person. Let’s start with a key idea: every written communication is important and worth the extra effort to make it as effective as possible.

Once you start doing that, it becomes a habit. How to proceed?

Objective, Audience, Look

Think your message through before you start typing. Why are you writing it? What do you want to happen? Stick to the point (the “why”) and steer your audience gently in the direction of what you want to happen. Visualize your audience. That’s easy if you’re writing to one person but what if you’re sending an email to 150 people? Think of one of them as a stand in for the group and write one-to-one to that person. If, at first glance, your letter or email looks like a solid block of black type, people won’t even try to read it. Make it airy and easier to read with indents, double space between paragraphs, varied paragraph lengths. Choose a typeface large enough for an average 50 year old to read effortlessly. In print, and increasingly online, a serif typeface (letters with little feet at the bottom) is easier to read than a sans-serif face like this one. Length? That depends. Basic communications should be short. Making a proposition (asking for a meeting or opportunity to quote, introducing a new line of business, etc.) or a blog post can run a lot longer, as long as you have something to say that interests your audience. And as long as it’s easy to read. Actually writing You’re not writing about yourself. You’re writing about your reader(s). Everyone listens to WII-FM, which stands for What’s In It For Me? Do your homework (research) in advance so you come across as an expert, which you are. This sounds odd, but don’t try to write. Instead, imagine that you’re sitting in a coffee shop speaking face to face with your audience. You must get your audience’s attention right away. Many of the people who write effective direct mail letters for a living use the AIDA approach. A = Attention, I = Interest, D = Development, A = Action. Then let it all hang out. Get everything you want to say into a first rough draft. Only content matters at this stage. Edit and rewrite several times, reorganizing for flow and clarity. Good writing is the result of good editing. If you can delete a word, a sentence, or a paragraph without affecting the flow or meaning, then delete it. Read your final draft out loud. If you find it clunky or tedious, it’s clunky or tedious. Your final version should flow effortlessly. When you think you’re finished, do these three things: 1. See if your written piece will work better without the first two or three paragraphs. There’s a good chance it will. 2. Show it to a couple of people whose opinion you respect. Ask if they understand it. 3. Put it away for a day, and then review it one more time.

Nitty Gritty: Little things mean a lot

Simple words work better than fancy words. It might help to remember the famous opening line of A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. 12 common words, each with just one syllable. Typos, along with spelling and grammar errors, can kill an otherwise great communication. Your computer’s spell check doesn’t catch everything. If you want to write “mile” but accidentally type “mild” the spell check will let it go. The most common mistake? Using its and it’s incorrectly. Its = the possessive of it. (We don’t write her’s, our’s or their’s) It’s = it is. Underlining, bold, ALL CAPS and italics are emphasizers that make key points stand out but when everything is emphasized, nothing is. If you’re signing a letter, do it in blue ink. A handwritten short P.S. below your signature can draw attention to a key point. And you know this one very well: Always ask for the order or action. When you get good at this, it’ll become a lot easier. It’s fun being an expert and writing well about it.

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