Business Writing: Why Looks Matter

Yes, it’s true. When it comes to looks, business writing is about as deep as a puddle.

But before you get too excited about making your document look beautiful with visuals, full disclosure: Emoticons don’t live here. There will be no picture books. No charcoal sketches. No watercolors. But do not fear, not all hope is lost.

Before we get down and dirty, if you’re new to this series, check out Parts One and Two.

Aaaand we’re back.

When appropriate, you can add a graph, chart, table, or screen shot. However, when we talk about visuals in business writing, we’re mostly talking the actual look of your document. If you’re writing a procedure, is it in a table? Are there section headers? How are you formatting your headers? How are you using bold, italics, underlines, and fonts? So many questions, so little time!

Styling and formatting are very important in a document. Imagine you’re a phone representative for a toy company. You’ve recently returned from lunch. Maybe you had a turkey sandwich or a Caesar salad. Either way, you’re counting down the hours and you’re ready for a nap. Someone calls asking how to put together the new XYZ Robot 3000. You have no idea how to put one of these robots together. But you do have a handy-dandy procedure that you can follow (thank your local writer).

If your procedure is structured in large paragraphs with small text, you’ll be pulling out your hair, and so will the caller. However, if you open up your procedure and what you see is a beautifully numbered document with short sentences, and bullet points with minimal language, you will be able to effectively help the caller and there will be no hair-pulling. So, writers, here’s the first thing to remember: Avoid using big chunks of instruction/wording in your documents.

Now, let’s talk lists. You be the judge. Which is easier to read, A or B?

A:

Turn water on, rinse dishes, scrub off dry food, place in dishwasher

B:

1.     Turn water on
2.     Rinse dishes
3.     Scrub off dry food
4.     Place in dishwasher

If you said B, good on you! Where possible, replace sentences in your documents with bulleted or numbered lists. 

No matter what type of document you’re writing, you want it to be as clear and concise as possible. Don’t lose sight of your main point. Stay away from coloured text and enhance readability by utilising formatting tools to create a clean document.

By the way, the most creative answer to the question in last week’s blog came from Chloe, who was planning to apply the four steps to right an injustice! Check it out in the comments here.

How will you use what you’ve learned so far in your everyday life or job? Still unsure how to apply everything you’ve read? Stay tuned for our next post in this series: “Business writing: What’s in it for me?”

Happy writing!

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Desirae Roosa is a technical writer by day and an aspiring author by night with an unhealthy addiction to the BBC. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.