Probably the best business writing secret I’ve ever discovered is this: be professional.
If you aim to be professional, a whole lot of other stuff falls into place.
Check this out.
There are just a few simple rules.
Rule #1 – Professionals are direct, brief, and to the point
A professional is laser focused. The reason you are writing is to communicate a point.
Get to the point.
Until you have that point clear in your mind, don’t write.
Or, write a whole bunch of stuff until the point is clear to you. Then, keep that sentence and delete the rest.
Either approach works fine, as long as you land in the right place.
Here are two examples:
Not so professional:
“I’m writing to follow up on the project. We had our status meeting today. While a lot of great work has been done, we are not on target for all major milestones. Dan explained that there was a problem in an area his team was working on. They identified an incompatibility between two components. Unfortunately, the manufacturer is not going to be of much help…”
That’s nice and formal, and polite. It gives some context.
But it’s also boring and wastes a lot of time (and wasting a lot of time is not on the professional’s agenda).
This is better:
“The project is delayed because parts A and B won’t work together. We have two options…”
See how much clearer and to the point that is?
And did you notice that after the point, we move on to a very forward-looking view.
Which brings us to the second rule.
Rule # 2 – Professionals are looking ahead
The professional is like a shark. Always moving forward. Because business is in constant motion.
What are we facing? and What should we do? Are the important questions.
Too often, we can have a tendency to freak out about something that went wrong. The professional knows that bumps in the road are normal and doesn’t focus so much on finding fault or placing blame.
The goal isn’t to be perfect (except when it is, like say surgery). More often, the whole point is to move toward the goal, always learning and adjusting along the way.
Professionals keep an eye on the big picture. And they clarify the path toward the big goal.
Which brings us to the third rule.
Rule #3 – Professionals identify next steps
What happens next?
That’s the focus of the professional. It doesn’t matter if they are in a formal leadership position or not.
Professionals present options and opinions. That’s how things keep moving forward.
I mean, it’s nice when your mechanic is done examining the car and tells you what the problem is.
It’s great when someone briefs you on a project.
And it’s helpful when you understand a new business opportunity.
But the question is always, “so what?” Meaning, what should I do about it and what is your recommendation?
The professional anticipates this and makes that answer part of the message.
Bringing it all together
Those three simple rules will cover a lot of ground. And, as you can see, they are a function of clear thinking and having your act together.
That’s what being professional is all about.
Being professional in your writing will go a long way toward helping you be as effective as possible. It will also help shape your image in the eyes of those you work with.