Have you ever wondered why some people can make millions writing books, and others can’t complete a simple business letter worth reading? Sure, natural talent probably accounts for some of their writing success. But even the best-selling authors achieve their level of success by devoting serious time and effort to perfecting their craft.

As a busy professional, you’re probably more interested in finishing that e-mail than reaching the best-seller list. And while your business requires plenty of communication, you probably don’t have time to practice and perfect your writing skills.

Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve. By following these five guidelines, you can make your writing more effective.

1. Keep It Simple

Make your promotional copy, letters and emails more reader-friendly; organize your ideas in a simple, logical format. You don’t have to outline every point you want to make, but spend a few minutes jotting down your ideas and planning the most effective order to present them. Some people like mind maps, others prefer lists. Any format is fine, as long as it works for you.

Once you have your ideas down, you can organize them.

Open your piece by capturing your readers’ attention. Answer the question, “What is this about?” If you’re introducing prospects to a new product, tell them that. If you’re writing to tell them about the new business you’re excited about, get right to the point. Focus on your readers’ perspective, avoid long narrative beginnings that might lose their interest.

Then use the middle (or “body”) of your piece to identify your main points. Depending on the purpose of your piece, order your points by priority or chronologically.

Finally, end your piece on a positive note.

2. Don’t Think Too Much!

Taking your time and planning every word won’t actually improve your writing. In fact, quickening your pace has a number of benefits, especially in the first draft.

First, writing fast captures your natural voice and personality in every sentence. That means your words will sound like you, which is important in making your message effective.

Speeding it up will also help alleviate your fear of making mistakes. If you continuously second-guess your sentence structures, word choices and grammar, you’ll never finish your first paragraph. That’s what editing and revising are for.

“First draft?!” Yes, your first draft—get used to this idea! Every writer knows the importance of going back over your work to eliminate errors and revise your words. And with business writing, you risk losing credibility and professionalism if you make mistakes.

You want your readers to understand the message you’re putting on paper, so make sure you can understand it yourself! Even the most experienced writers know if you want to create decent work, the editing phase is crucial.

3. Write Less

By “write less” I don’t mean write less often—I mean write fewer words. Shakespeare once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” (And if anyone should know, it would be him!) What exactly did he mean? Simple: tighten up your language: leave out every word that doesn’t add meaning to your message. Apply the famous rule from Strunk and White’s Elements of Style: “Omit needless words!”

If you want your message to come across on paper the same way it sounds in your head, then eliminate all the awkward, wordy phrases that don’t make your message any more meaningful. For example, replace “due to the fact that” with “because.” Substitute a simple “if” for wordy “in the event that.” (And delete any “in my opinion”—your reader already knows this is your opinion!) Such simple changes will make your message clear, less verbose and more professional.

4. Don’t Hold Back

Whatever it is you’re writing, you obviously have a reason for doing it. Maybe you want to tell your friend about your new business, or share the benefits of a new product with a prospect. Whatever your reason, make it clear to your readers. Otherwise, they won’t read past your first sentence.

Be direct; use strong verbs and make powerful points. If you’re trying to sell your services, tell your readers how you’re different from the competition. If you’re looking for support, tell your readers how they can help; don’t make them figure out what you want. Tell your readers why they need to read your piece, what’s in it for them, and what action you want them to take.

5. Take a Break

Depending on the urgency of the project, give yourself a break from every piece you write. For example, write your rough draft in the morning, then reread and revise after lunch.

For shorter pieces, the best time to take a break is after you complete the first draft. When writing longer pieces, break after completing each section.

This allows you to return to the piece with fresh perspective and objectivity. You’ll more readily see errors, gaps in information and organizational challenges after taking some time away from it. Even if you’re on a deadline and can spare only ten minutes, go take a walk! Your writing will be better for it.

Better Writing in the Future

There you go: five steps to effective writing. 1) Organize your message into a simple, logical format. 2) Don’t stress over every word: write freely and quickly through your first draft. 3) Eliminate wordy phrases to keep your message concise, and 4) tell your readers exactly what you want them to gain from every piece you write. Finally, 5) take a break from your work so you can come back to it with a fresh perspective.

Improving your business writing doesn’t have to be difficult. When you use these five easy methods for better writing, your work will be more effective—and you’ll see big results from little effort.

MELINDA COPP is an Editorial Specialist for
Cameo Publications, an editorial and publishing services
and consulting firm for professional speakers and
business leaders.