It occurred to me that writing B2B blogs is not so different than business writing in general. I went online and searched for “better business writing” to compare my professional blog writing advice with experts focusing on business writing. Sure enough, most of the same tips apply.
This article is for you if:
- You’re a manager or employee: Effective writing skills will help you more effectively convey your thoughts, be influential, and increase your credibility at all levels of the organization—maybe even increase your likelihood of a promotion.
- You’re a marketer or product manager: Even if you’re title is not “writer,” as a marketer you know how important strong communication skills are. Plus, you may be tasked with writing blogs (like it or not!).
- You’re an in-house or free-lance writer: You may have a background in writing, but not be experienced in the larger business world, such as interacting with high-level supervisors and executives. If you’re great at writing blogs, the rules below can help you excel in writing for other purposes.
Review the business writing practices below, and learn how you can further improve you’re writing—and your career.
Here is a summary of three articles I looked at:
How to Improve Your Business Writing, by Carolyn O’Hara for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network
The author starts by saying: “Overworked managers with little time might think that improving their writing is a tedious or even frivolous exercise. But knowing how to fashion an interesting and intelligent sentence is essential to communicating effectively, winning business, and setting yourself apart.”
This advice for business peoples applies just as easily to bloggers. Whether you are a general marketer, in-house writer, or freelancer, most of us have little time to spare (although writers are fortunate in not finding writing neither tedious nor frivolous!). O’Hara also quotes Kara Blackburn, a senior lecturer in managerial communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management: “You can have all the great ideas in the world and if you can’t communicate, nobody will hear them.”
All of the items below come directly from this article on business communications, but with my own descriptions. Where the author’s original descriptions talk about business reports, presentations, emails, proposals, and memos, my wording focuses specifically on blogging.
The tips below show that many aspects of effective writing are identical for blogs articles and business communications:
- Think before you write: Don’t start prematurely. Before you start, be certain about what your audience should know, think, or do as a result of reading your blog.
- Be direct: A good lead sets you up for success. Succinctly present your main idea first to save your reader time, and provide a brief description of what the article is about. A short paragraph consisting of a few sentences will usually do the trick.
- Cut the fat: Cut sentences and words that don’t add to your point. For a short blog, your editing may need to be brutal. Some examples from O’Hara’s article include deleting prepositions (point of view becomes viewpoint); using contractions; and replacing “–ion” words with action verbs (provided protection to becomes protected).
- Avoid jargon and $10 words: Stay away fromindustry-specific buzzwords and acronyms as much as possible. Consider also avoiding “trendy” business terms, such as actionable, core competency, and impactful. When given a choice, choose the short word over a longer one.
- Read what you write: Review your piece to be sure it’s clear and well-structured. In addition to asking for feedback from co-workers, reading your blog article aloud will reveal a host of problems, such as awkward phrases or incomplete sentences.
- Practice every day: Read daily and mimic the style of well-written material (a Wall Street Journal article or a successful industry blog). Pay attention to word choices, sentence structure, and flow. Don’t skimp on time for editing and revising.
Introducing the 10 Cs of business writing, Course Preview: Business Writing Principles, taught by Judy Steiner-Williams, Senior Lecturer at Kelley Business School)
Judy Steiner-Williams leads a course found on Lynda.com from LinkedIn Learning, in which she shares her “secrets to effective business writing and crafting messages that others want to read and act on.” I’ve discussed many of the areas found here, particularly in the article The 5 Most Important Rules to Increase the Visibility of Your Blog Post. While “10 C’s” is a little cutesy, the rules are right on point. Once again, I’ve adapted the descriptions to apply to writing a blog article.
Here are Steiner-Williams’ rules, which I’ve summarized and translated to a blogging focus, from the video introducing the course:
- Complete: All necessary information is included so that the reader doesn’t have to ask follow-up questions to understand the article and put it in context.
- Concise: The article contains the fewest number of words possible so your reader doesn’t have to wade through superfluous information.
- Clear: The reader can easily make sense of your message; your content and word choices are audience-centric, taking into consideration what the reader does and doesn’t know.
- Conversational: Write for humans, not for search engines.
- Courteous: Keep a positive, undemanding tone and focus on the reader’s interests, showing how he or she benefits from the information.
- Correct: All elements are accurate, giving the reader confidence that the information was carefully prepared.
- Coherent: All the ideas in the piece are connected and flow easily, ensuring that the reader doesn’t become confused or flustered.
- Considerate: The appearance is appealing and easy to read, with sub-heads and lists that guide the reader through the article and helps them find the information that most interests them.
- Concrete: Specifics are given as appropriate, without vague or meaningless words.
- Credible: Valid sources and/or hyperlinks are included.
Here are 2 more Cs of my own:
- Check: Whenyou edit your article, check to see if all C’s above are included.
- Clarify: If some C’s are missing, go back and clarify anything that doesn’t make perfect sense or is incomplete.
12 Tips for Better Business Writing, by Dustin Wax
Employees today are expected to do more with less—which means doing things outside of your comfort zone. In Dustin Wax’s introduction to this article, he discusses that most business people are called upon to write many types of communications—traditional memos, emails, proposals, training materials, grant proposals, and more. However, writing skills are not a major focus in most undergraduate and graduate programs.
Here’s the problem: job descriptions for marketers often include some writing tasks, but blog writing may not have been part of the original set of job responsibilities—but was sprung on them later, with little to no training. However, if they are good business communications, those skills will serve them well, especially if they go the extra distance to learn good blogging techniques.
Some of Wax’s tips are duplicates of the rules provided in the first two articles (“less is more,” “avoid jargon,” and so on), so I’ll just include the ones that haven’t been covered yet. Again, these items come from Wax, but the descriptions are mine:
- Write once, check twice: This is similar to “Read What You Write” in Article 1, above. But it allows me to talk about it in a different way. Being seen as a credible expert is critical to being a successful blogger, and mistakes erode credibility and the perception of expertise. Readers will judge you for small things, such as grammar errors and typos. They will judge you even more harshly for a poorly written or inaccurate article. Even a single bad article can do damage. Take time to proof each article several times—always. Then set the piece aside for a few hours or until the next day and proof it again. For more tips on mistakes to avoid, read The Dirty Dozen: 12 Big Writing Mistakes That Can Sink Your B2B Blog.
- Save templates: Dustin is referring to templates for business documents such as emails and memos. Good templates are also valuable for blogs, but in a different way. I would correlate templates with standard types of blogs, such as lists, top 10s, Q&As or one of the 73 blog types shared by Optinmonster. The trick is to identify which blogs have performed well. Then you can save time by re-running a successful blog or repurposing a blog by covering similar content using a different format.
- Be professional, not necessarily formal: This seems to be a repeat of “Conversation” in the 10 Cs of Business Writing article. However, I’m going to look at “be professional” in a different way. Remember that once you put your blog article out there, you can’t take it back. As Wax says, don’t “circulate anything that you wouldn’t feel comfortable having read into the record in a public trial” (or in front of your mother).
- Remember the 5 W’s (and the H): Being audience-centric means caring about your audience. One of the first blogging rules is selecting a topic that answers a question that is important to your readers’ lives and careers—how can you make them more productive, successful, knowledgeable, or influential? Relating the 5 W’s and the H to blogging, ask who you are writing for, what they want to know, where and how it applies to them and their business, and why it is important. Just like you want to check that the “10 Cs” above are covered, check for the 5 W’s and the H.
- Call to action: Your blog services a purpose. You want to be a thought leader. Or you want to call attention to a product line. Or you want the reader to download a white paper. Be clear about what action they should take right now—and make it easy for them with a CTA (call to action) that is well placed and visible.
- Don’t give too many choices:We can apply this issue to the CTA discussed in the previous bullet point. Have one CTA (or two at the most) so the reader isn’t confused by too many choices. Often, multiple CTAs will cause people to become distracted and abandon before clicking on anything.
- Hire a freelancer:Writing takes practice. Some people decide (unwisely) that it’s not a skill they want to hone because it’s frustrating or it’s too time-consuming. However, even with practice, most people will not become writing experts. Even if they are good writers, internal marketers, or small business owners who must write blogs themselves have other high-priority responsibilities. In the long run, it can make more sense—and be more cost-effective—to hire an experienced, qualified freelance writer who understands the ins and outs of effective blogging.
Yes, blogging serves a different purpose than a memo, a report, or a presentation. But writing an effective blog article requires many of the same skills. However, it takes time, lots of time to write an original, high-quality article—the key to good performance. Boston-based Westebbe Marketing uses the best blogging practices to meet your marketing goals. Contact us at (617) 699-4462 or email@example.com today.
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