Let me start with an admission: I understand that business writing is not the sexiest of topics. But it is undeniably one of the key soft skills for accounting and financial professionals today. Knowing how to communicate clearly, concisely and convincingly can significantly aid your career.
Whether you’re sending a cover letter to a hiring manager, a memo to a colleague or an email to a client, people’s impressions of you are often based on your written communication abilities — or lack thereof.
Crisp, highly focused and error-free writing signals that you’re someone who is organized, knowledgeable and detail-oriented. Conversely, if your communications are long-winded, imprecise or strewn with typos, readers will be left to wonder if you’re equally careless with numbers.
Business writing not your forte? Consider these five tips:
1. Think first, type second
First-rate writing does not happen by accident. Before placing a single finger on the keyboard, take a moment to organize your thoughts and identify the primary purpose of the written communication. Who is your audience? And what do you want people to know or do when they finish reading? Keep those answers top of mind as you write.
2. Write in a straightforward manner
You’ve probably noticed that many people weigh down their written communications with buzzwords, jargon and pretentious prose. This approach only muddles the message. (“Let’s have a quick meeting” is much better than “Let’s mindshare to align and synergize our deliverables.”) Impress readers with your cogent thinking, not your mastery of corporate-speak. Nobody will miss the overused clichés and fancy $5 words.
3. Be concise
In an era of information overload, attention spans are getting shorter. You risk losing people if they have to endlessly scroll to find your main message. When crafting more involved documents, cut to the chase and make the content easy to digest through formatting. Break up large blocks of text with bullet points or subheadings. With email messages, keep them short, relevant and actionable.
4. Proofread, proofread, proofread
In a survey by our company, 76 percent of managers said just one or two resume errors is enough to eliminate a job candidate from consideration. While the occasional misplaced punctuation mark in an email isn’t going to kill your career, frequently making sloppy mistakes can damage your credibility. Review all your written communications for typos, as well as tone and clarity.
5. Remember that practice makes perfect
Invest in your career by taking a business-writing course through a local college or industry association. Volunteer to draft the meeting notes during your next staff meeting or contribute a piece to the company newsletter. Much like muscles, your written communication skills only get stronger if you use them.
Want more of our hot-off-the-press career advice?
Editor's note: This post was updated in 2016 to reflect more current information.