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Three Common Mistakes in Business Writing

Content is still king. According to Arketi Group’s survey of high-tech marketing executives, The Outlook for Business-to-Business Technology Marketing in 2010, content has become the marketing fuel for companies seeking to gain market share and accelerate growth. In the year ahead, companies will focus more on lead nurturing – and captivating, well-written content is vital to any lead nurturing program.

Marketers are planning to spend significantly more on their content marketing efforts in 2010, according to a Junta42 study. Content marketing comprises 33 percent of the total marketing budget (up 11 percent from 2008). With this growing emphasis in content marketing, effective business writing is now more important than ever.

Why then is clear, well-written copy often an Achilles’ heel for many BtoB marketers? In a world of 140-character tweets and automatic spell checks, writing skills can falter over time.

The fact of the matter is people who write well, do well. As stated in one of our firm’s favorite writing books, Writing That Works, your writing is you. Readers who don’t know you—or are getting to know you—judge you from the evidence in your writing. For example, writing “their” when you should have written “they’re,” can make the reader immediately think less of you—and even be a deal-breaker.

While writing must be grammatically correct at a minimum, more importantly, it must cut through to the heart of the matter to get attention or action from busy people.

As content is central to BtoB marketing, we have outlined three common mistakes in business writing, which are paraphrased from Writing That Works:

1. Where is your writing roadmap?
Most people “write badly because they cannot think clearly,” observed H.L. Mencken. You must know how to organize your thoughts into a coherent order and make that organization clear to the reader. This is particularly important in persuasive writing, where your aim is to lead the reader logically to agree with your desired conclusion.

First, know where you are going yourself. Make an outline of major points, placing supporting details in their proper position. Then, whether writing an email or white paper, use your outline to signal the major points for your reader. Number or emphasize each important section (similar to chapter titles in a book) to enhance readability.

End with a summary. Keep in mind that a summary is not a conclusion. Your summary should introduce no new ideas; it should summarize, as briefly as possible, the most important points you have made.

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2. Writing better does not mean writing more.
Three major articles start at the top of the front page of every issue of The Wall Street Journal. The first paragraphs of these articles are never more than three sentences long. Many paragraphs contain only a sentence.

The Wall Street Journal editors, like most journalists, have put into practice this simple principle: short sentences and short paragraphs are easier to read than long ones. They’re easier to understand too.

Curb your hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism. You don’t have to turn your back on the complexities and subtleties of the English language, but prefer the short word to the long one that means the same thing (e.g. “use” instead of “utilize”). Reliance on long words can be a sign that you have not worked out exactly what you want to say.

3. Avoid technical or business jargon.
Harvard paleontologist Dr. Stephen Jay Gould hypothesizes that “most young [writers] slip into using jargon because they are afraid that, if they don’t, their mentors won’t think they are serious.” The pervasive use of professional jargon arises more out of fear than arrogance.

There is always a simple, down-to-earth word that says the same thing as the showoff fad word or vague abstraction. In recent years, leading offenders are “proactive” and “off-line.”

The author of Writing That Works urges us to write the way we talk, but increasingly, people in business seem to be talking the way they write. Please don’t fall victim to this.

It takes time to write well. However, by putting into practice these three common tips from Writing That Works, you can create compelling content that is easily read and retained. If you are looking for writing guidance or assistance—from case studies and collateral to websites and white papers—we’re always happy to help. Contact Arketi at core@arketi.com.


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