“We are in client service, but the written communication is a disaster” wrote a manager in need of help for her team. Requests for business writing help and workshops for CPA firms are at an all-time high.
Interestingly, of the requests I’ve received in the last few months, 75% were for help with someone else’s writing issues. To help you on your quest for quality communications, here are some of the most common mistakes, and how you can help your colleagues make a better impression.
Top 5 Business Writing Mistakes
Number 5: Spelling and grammar errors
Here’s a real life scenario that you don’t want to have: I received an email from a Top 10 firm with an attachment that included directions their office. Recipients were told to “walk all the way pass the parking ramp.” Unfortunately spell check can’t help you there. This was the second case of the “silent t” on that word I saw in just two weeks.
How to help: Remind colleagues why business writing is important: It’s the electronic face of your firm. Everyone makes typos and errors (even you), the key is to watch for recurring issues that can be fixed with gentle education and correction.
Speak up when you see the same errors happening again and again, and don’t take it personally if they point out your problems in turn. Like spinach in your teeth, it’s better to be in the know.
Number 4: Message has the wrong level of detail
A senior once sent a 200 word email asking essentially “Was this message intended for a different recipient?” a 2000% increase in words, mostly unnecessary. Partners routinely send out the one-word “thx” emails, expressing their heartfelt appreciation for a job well done.
How to help: Make good writing a priority a priority at your firm. This can be done through proof reading mandates, exercises, offering to be someone’s writing mentor, or starting a writing club at your firm – call it Typemasters.
Number 3: Inappropriate tone
Some people don’t take a breather before sending an emotionally charged email. Others make light of a situation that is more serious to the reader than to the sender, or use language that’s subtly condescending. Tone is hard to convey and easy to misinterpret with written language.
How to help: Review messages with the writer and discuss how the reader may, or may have, interpreted it. Focus on the purpose of the communication and the importance of the relationship.
Number 2: Message lacks strength
This is a big area of opportunity for those looking to add power to their messages. Many times accountants and other professionals use sophisticated terms and adverbs to look intelligent in email or in more formal communications. E.g. “Per review of your most recently completed current file sections, it appears that some of our discussions and my review comments on previous engagements regarding organization, neatness, and documentation of completeness, have not had the impact that I had intended.”
How to help: Practice stripping away unnecessary words in a message to regain strength without losing professionalism or courtesy: “Our discussions, and my review comments regarding organization, neatness, and completeness of your file sections, have not had the impact I intended.”
Number 1: Message was written instead of spoken
Here is where I would drop the mic. Except that I’m writing this piece, not speaking it to you. We write a lot these days, but picking up the phone or meeting in person is often a much better vehicle for communication.
How to help: If a message is taking too long to compose because it’s hard to choose just the right words, you need to add some vocal color to the situation. Encourage team members to write less and talk more. It’s more efficient and effective which add up to better client service.
If you’re interested in improving your business writing beyond reading these five tips:
- Check out the Top 5 Tips to Cut the Clutter out of your writing
- Read Grammar Girl’s Proofreading Tips
- Practice these skills and more through Business Writing Workshops.
Great progress can be made in a short period of time through practicing good writing habits!