Shirley's Articles / Business Writing

Top 3 Mistakes Writers Make and How to Avoid Them

Would you like to write effectively and persuasively so that people listen to you, and you get the right response, every time?

In this special report, I’m going to give you the Top 3 Mistakes writers make so you can avoid them and start writing effectively. Whether you’re an admin assistant, a PA, a manager or a managing director, these tools are for you. And the great thing is you can start using them straight away.

All these tips are included in my international best-selling book Model Business Letters, Emails and Other Business Documents 7th edition.

“In this seventh edition of her popular book, Shirley has given us a practical reference guide providing all the guidance we need as well as samples we can adapt. The new sections on email, social media and online writing are really useful too.”

– Stephen Choo, PhD, Director and Regional Head of Insight, ASEAN, Hay Group

Mistake #1: Writing in a totally different style to how you speak

So many people tell me, “This is what I’d write but I wouldn’t say it. And this is what I’d say but I’d never write it.” This is the biggest mistake you can make. You’re thinking and speaking in one language, and you’re writing in another. This doesn’t make sense.

We should be writing as though we are speaking.

We connect with the world today largely through email, web sites, blogs, texting, and social media. With all these channels we have only bare facts, without tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, or pauses. We really must stop using the boring, template language that has been around for decades. The key today is to write in a natural style, as if you are having a conversation.

When you are composing any message in future, ask yourself: “If I was speaking to the reader, would I say this?” Remember: If you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it.

Business Writing Rule #1: Write naturally, as though you are speaking

Mistake #2: Writing in a very old-fashioned style

Are you still using expressions like “Please be informed,” “Kindly be advised,” “for your reference and perusal”, “Enclosed herewith please find” and “With reference to your above-mentioned order”?

Including stuffy formalities like this in business writing serves only to obscure the meaning, and makes sentences intolerably long. The reader often ends up reading over and over again to get the real meaning.

Look at this comparison of writing from yesterday and today.

Yesterday: Please be advised that a meeting of the Annual Convention Committee will be held on 24 February (Thursday) at 9.30 am. Approximately two hours will be required for this meeting. Attached herewith is the meeting agenda for your reference and perusal. Kindly inform me of your availability at your soonest.

Today: I’d like to hold another meeting of the Annual Convention Committee on Thursday 24 February from 9.30 to 11.30 am. The agenda is attached. Please let me know if you can join us.

Yesterday’s writing is passive and wordy, and it sounds really dull. It puts a distance between you and the reader. The way it is written also slows down understanding.

Today’s writing should be more conversational, and it should reflect your own personality.

Business Writing Rule #2: Write for today, not for yesterday

Mistake #3: Thinking it’s enough to simply get the message across

Are you thinking, “What does it matter how we write as long as we get the message across?”

Well, think about it. Just as you make an impression when you speak to someone face to face, you also make an impression when you write. Very often your email is the first contact you have with many people, so isn’t it important to make a good impression?

In writing, readers can’t see or hear you, so people will judge you based on what you write and how you write it.

In today’s fast-paced, high-tech, communication-crazy world, it’s really essential to come across as a human being. If you insist on using old-fashioned or redundant jargon, you will obscure the real meaning and will not be adding any personality of your own. Make your writing positive, stimulating and interesting, add some feeling and a personal touch. Help people get to know the person behind the message.

Poorly written messages reflect badly on you and your organisation, and they may give a negative impression. Business efficiency will be lost, as well as opportunities to connect and to build real relationships with clients, colleagues and collaborators.

Good writing is receiving increasing recognition as an essential business skill. Good writing will give you a huge advantage in today’s business world. Good writing can help you to work more efficiently, build credibility, improve relationships, influence others, win more clients and achieve your goals.

Give yourself an edge in this very competitive world by getting to grips with effective writing now, before it’s too late!

To help you, I’ve put together a checklist of reasons why your writing style may not be working as effectively as it should.

This checklist also contains my top 10 strategies for improving the business writing style throughout your organisation.

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Shirley is an international bestselling author. She has established herself as a leading authority in email and business writing skills. Her international bestseller Model Business Letters, Emails & Other Business Documents 7th edition sold over half a million copies worldwide and has been translated into 17 languages. Her book Email Essentials reached #2 in the USA for publishers Marshall Cavendish International. Find out more about Shirley at

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