One of the biggest struggles with transitioning into the adult-working, professional business world is writing. In my opinion at least. I don’t want my professional colleagues to think of my like this picture: “wow did a child write this report?”. Sadly, I’m someone who’s writing is definitely not the strongest of her skills that have been taught through 12+ years of education.
You start out in elementary school writing about activities in your day and things you’re looking forward too in the near future. Learning how to change adjectives from past to present to future tense. Easy. Then in middle school years you learn how to cite quotes from novels and begin to write about your opinions. Piece of cake. Next comes high school; where the driving focus is to analyze and think critically and be able to dive deep into the meanings of sentences and properly cite your sources in MLA or APA formatting. Okay, great. Then college comes and the majority of your writing essays are ongoing extensive research papers that stretch out over the duration of a semester. Yeah, those are challenging but we get them done.
That’s where many millennials stand today, including me. But, soon, (or you’ve just begun it) comes post-college life. And, if you’re a business major like me, the chances of you ever having to write another research paper about elephants in Africa are slim to none. But you know writing is going to be crucial for your job, whatever it may be. That’s when I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I know writing is going to be super important, but with everything I’ve been taught so far, it’s hard to adjust your tone and style of writing to one that is professional but not boring or stuffy. You need to be authoritative but not disrespectful, concise but have enough detail to get a point across. It’s a delicate balance, but not impossible. I’m here now to tell you about some tricks to walking this line between unique and professional.
To keep it simple, the useful basics are broken down into two major categories: Rhetorical awareness and User-centered Design. Rhetorical awareness is persuasive writing and User-centered design is tailoring your work to fit your audience. So just remember, your end goal is ALWAYS to persuade your audience. It’s always applicable. Financial report? You’re persuading your boss to take a direction of action based on your calculations. PowerPoint presentation? Maybe you’re persuading your potential client why your company is the best to work with. You’ll always have an audience and you’ll always be convincing them of something.
When it comes to writing persuasively, I think the most important aspect if to find a voice that is authoritative and respectful (of your all important audience). This article from PrintWand, an advertising printing business, tells the important difference between active and passive writing, and pros and cons of each. It warns that passive voice, meaning the subject of the sentence is receiving an action, can often sound pretentious and convoluted. Versus active voice, where the subject of the sentence is performing an action. My advice along with this article is to have active voice at the beginning and end of your writing. It tells in a authoritative way what you intend to write about and, at the end, finishes by reminding the reader of the purpose of your writing.
Now, onto your audience. As mentioned before, it’s the other major category for effective business writing. But, how do you go about identifying that audience? This article, although it’s written for freelance blog and novel writers, I found it can be applicable to business writers. The piece of advice I found the most applicable is that about how to find the appropriate tone. First off, you can do some research and find out what kind of person(s) you’re writing for. If that’s not enough, Google the industry and kind a common style of writing. Tailor yours to reflect that style.
Now I know it’s easier said than done to always persuade your audience, this kind of writing will take practice. Start now! Try it out, especially in networking emails. The power of networking is amazing and it’s always happening. You might not be writing financial reports quite yet, but you definitely have already started networking. This last article from Levo has great tips on how to write a great networking email. After a little practice, you’ll be like the kid in the picture at the beginning; a young adult in a workplace smiling because you’re writing like a business professional with 40 years of experience.