Grab your reader’s attention with your opening line. You don’t have much time. You have about eight seconds before your reader’s mind wanders off on some tangent. Your first few words must sell the reader on reading your whole message.
Effective business writing doesn’t beat around the bush. Get quickly to the point. Don’t waste your readers' time by making them pore over useless verbiage to find your message.
You probably have a good reason for writing. You need to inform or influence somebody. In either case, you’re better served by not wasting your readers' time. So grab them by their lapels and sell your socks off.
This isn’t the place for platitudes, fluff, and glittering generalities. Just the facts will do. You aren’t being paid by the word; the less time it takes to read your piece, the more time your reader will have to give serious consideration to your message.
Mark Twain joked once that he didn’t have time to write a short letter, so he wrote a long one instead. The interesting thing: it’s no joke. It takes more time and effort to write short than it does to write long. But in business communications, short is better. It’s faster to read. It’s easier to understand, and it’s easier to remember.
Avoid the biggest mistake most writers make. Even good writers make the mistake of trying to cram too much into their writing. Big words. Intelligent ideas. Intimidating grammar. It’s as if they’re saying, “If I can’t impress you with one thing, I’ll do it with something else.”
We usually start out with a single good idea or subject. But before we’ve written very many words, our creative mind is pummeled with great ideas. Tempted by the beauty of our own thoughts, we’re lured down roads we shouldn’t be traveling.
Then unrelated ideas seep into our writing. Before long we’re mired in a verbal bog and can’t get ourselves out.
What are we to do about it?
First, start with a good idea that you’ve looked at from all angles. If you can't write it down, you haven't thought it out.
Second, when you begin writing stick to your idea. Don’t allow stray thoughts and information — no matter how tempting — to intervene.
Third, remind yourself to say one thing, and one thing only.
If you stick to a single idea, your writing will be stronger, whether you’re writing a query, a sales letter, a memo, a speech, a personal note, or even that how-to book you plan to write one of these days.
Keep asking yourself: “What is my main idea?”
In business writing, the main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing.