In 2017, a missing Oxford comma irrevocably changed the outcome of a court case concerning labor legislation, and it ultimately cost Oakhurst Dairy $5 million. In the early 2000s, an internal miscommunication at General Motors about a dangerous fault in the Chevy Cobalt cost the company over a billion dollars and may have contributed to the loss of many lives.
While the circumstances are rarely so dire, the lesson is clear: Business communication— primarily written communication—matters more than most people think.
The best way to avoid costly mistakes and improve communications within your organization is to establish solid business writing guidelines for you and your team to follow. In addition to rules that may be unique to your brand or industry, you should consider the following:
- Master the fundamentals first
- Lead with the most critical information
- Use active voice
- Choose your tone with care
- Consider your form of communication
- Tailor your message to your audience
- Balance conciseness and specificity
- Be consistent
- Clarify expectations and next steps
These guidelines will contribute to business communication’s overall quality and efficacy on individual, team, and company levels.
Crucial business writing guidelines your team should follow
Let’s take a closer look at why you should include each of these business writing guidelines—and tips for applying each.
Master the fundamentals first
Written communication free of grammar, punctuation, and word choice mistakes naturally makes a more professional impression. Improving these areas also enhances clarity by minimizing the chances of a misunderstanding (like the one that happened at GM) or a costly mistake (like Oakhurst Dairy’s missing comma).
- Always proofread written documents before sharing them. Grammarly Business allows you and your team to identify and correct complex spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.
Lead with the most critical information
Every communication has a purpose, and that purpose should be clear from the very beginning of your text. This allows your audience to read and respond more quickly, streamlining workflows by minimizing time readers would otherwise spend trying to decipher a poorly constructed message.
- When you review your draft, reread only the first few sentences of your message. Is the primary purpose of your message clear without the context of the rest of your draft? If not, you may need to do some revising.
Use active voice
Passive voice unnecessarily lengthens sentences and can create confusion, often making it unclear who is (or should be) performing an action. This is especially problematic in business communications, where the right people must get the correct information on time.
An active voice promotes conciseness, improves clarity, and projects confidence in your communications.
- Review the differences between passive vs. active voice. You can also use Grammarly to check for any passively phrased sentences that may need restructuring.
Choose your tone with care
Choosing the right tone can significantly impact your message’s efficacy, whether you are hoping to convince a CEO to adopt a new strategy or asking donors to increase their contributions. As such, choosing the right tone for the situation—and the audience—is vital.
- As a general rule of thumb, business communications should balance formality with empathy to keep things professional while promoting real human connections. Grammarly’s tone detector can help ensure the tone you convey matches the one you intend to use.
Consider your form of communication
Whether you’re trying to communicate internally or externally, it is important to consider the proper methods when choosing a form of communication. This will dictate how well your message is received. A company health report, for example, might be shared internally via email, whereas a new product announcement might be posted on your company blog.
- Review business communication basics to determine which methods are best suited to which circumstances. A good starting point is to determine your message’s length. A long statement, for example, will automatically rule out specific methods such as texts, instant messages, or social media posts.
Tailor your message to your audience
It is essential to tailor the content of your message to the individual(s) who will receive it. This improves engagement and efficacy, as your audience will be more receptive to a message that speaks to their needs and preferences instead of just reflecting your own.
- Try framing your message in terms of your audience’s priorities. Avoid industry-specific jargon when writing to individuals that may not be familiar with it. When possible, mirroring your audience’s communication style can also help facilitate clear, effective communications.
Balance conciseness and specificity
Time is a valuable resource, especially in the business world; conciseness is key to avoiding wasting it. At the same time, you should always ensure your message contains all of the details your team needs. Striking this critical balance promotes efficiency and confidence within the group—team members always feel more empowered when they have all the information they need to succeed.
- When reviewing your work, remove any sentences or sections that do not contain relevant information. Look also for exceedingly lengthy sentences with a convoluted structure. A digital writing assistant like Grammarly can help you and your team quickly and efficiently identify and revise them.
Consistency within a single document makes it easier to understand and follow and establishes you as a reliable individual authority. Consistency across communications—both internal and external—establishes your brand as an authority, inspiring the trust and loyalty necessary for sustainable growth and success.
- Review your and your team’s writing to ensure that you follow the same stylistic rules from one paragraph and one document to the next. Pay special attention to unique branded terms that normal spellcheckers may correct erroneously or miss entirely—or use Grammarly to create custom style guidelines to help.
Clarify expectations and next steps
When communicating with employees, clarifying your expectations improves productivity and performance, as workers will always know what they need to do next. Similarly, customers and clients will appreciate the convenience of having their next steps laid out for them and will likely complete them.
- Always include a clear call to action when possible. You may want to make it a paragraph of its own, separate from the rest of your message for maximum visibility. Define what response you hope, or expect, to see, including how to carry it out—and if no response is necessary, be sure to clarify that, too.
Implementing new guidelines for written communication
Once you have determined all of the necessary business writing guidelines, the next step is to organize this information to be shared and understood easily. In most cases, the best way to do this is to create a new brand style guide—or update an existing one.
Steps for updating or adding to existing guidelines:
- First, comb through the most recent version of your brand style guide to see what needs to be removed, condensed, or reorganized.
- If multiple style guides exist, this is the time to look for ways to combine them into a single resource.
- Once you have trimmed all irrelevant or unnecessary information, then add any new guidelines you need.
- Double-check your final draft for any mistakes or possible areas for improvement. Make sure it follows its own rules.
Steps for creating an entirely new set of guidelines:
- First, determine all of the rules you wish to include, including any unique brand guidelines as well as the fundamentals listed above.
- Then, consider how best to organize it. For example, if your brand uses a wide range of communication channels—and has specific guidelines for each—you might want to organize by channel-specific rules, with more generally applicable rules listed up front.
- Consider including a table of contents at the beginning for easier readability.
- As above, review your final draft to ensure you’ve adhered to the same rules you outlined in your guide.
Finally, once your guidelines are wholly finalized, be sure to make your guide readily accessible to all team members. You may want to host a meeting or training session (or several) to review and discuss changes and ensure all team members are on the same page.
How to accelerate the adoption of new writing guidelines
Change can be difficult, and it may take time for your team to fully adjust to new business writing guidelines—particularly if they have had none to follow in the past. You can facilitate a speedier, easier transition with the right technology.
Grammarly is a virtual writing assistant whose innovative style guide makes it easy to check any written documents against customizable internal guidelines. In addition to identifying possible spelling, grammar, and diction mistakes, Grammarly can also check for correct use and spelling of branded terms, such as unique product names. Grammarly’s tone detector provides additional support in analyzing tone and providing suggestions as necessary for improvement.
The ability to instantly analyze and quickly improve your team’s written communications can reduce writing time by 50% and editing time by 66%—all while improving the quality of your writing by up to 72%.
Whether you’re implementing new business writing guidelines or upgrading an outdated style guide, Grammarly can help. Our AI-powered writing assistant can instantly check written communication for correct tone, grammar, and more. Grammarly can also be integrated with several writing platforms. Contact us to get Grammarly Business for your team today.