The Golden Rule of Business Writing

If I could get every business writer to follow one rule, it would be this:

Put your reader first

The fundamental goal of business writing is to transfer a message. That message might be “this is why you should buy our product” or it might be “this is what our team achieved this quarter”. It might aim to drive action or simply to inform. Either way, your goal as a writer is to get that message from your head to the reader’s.

To achieve that goal, you rely on your reader doing two things:

  1. They have to read what you’ve written. Attention spans are short. If your writing is too long, too boring, or too difficult, your reader will simply skim it or skip it.
  2. They have to understand it. If your reader is confused or takes away a different message to the one you wanted to give them, your writing has failed to do its job.

So how can you increase your odds? Follow the golden rule. Put your reader first.

When you use a technical phrase, ask yourself whether it will help or hinder your reader. Before you add information, consider how useful it will be to your reader versus how long or complicated your content already is. Try to view everything you write from the reader’s perspective.

To do that effectively, you’ll need to consider who your audience is. What is their level of technical knowledge? How interested are they in what you’re telling them? Have they asked for the information, or are you competing against every other email or report that’s asking for their time? Ask yourself these questions and then pitch your writing appropriately.

Finally, edit your writing with the reader in mind. Be ruthless, and don’t be afraid to ask someone for a second pair of eyes. Cut anything that isn’t useful to the reader. Revise anything that’s unclear. It doesn’t matter how much you like something – it’s the reader that matters.

If you can create writing that’s consistently read and understood by your readers, you will be far more likely to achieve your goals. What’s more, you will develop a reputation as someone whose emails or reports are useful and worth reading. Put your reader first, and they will return the favour.