The Top 5 Business Writing Mistakes

03/18/2015 09:21 am ET | Updated May 17, 2015

With fewer and fewer of us talking and more and more of us writing, it pays to write well and fast. Here's how to avoid some common mistakes as you move from face-to-face and phone conversation to almost exclusively written communication.

1. Starting Too Early: I admire people who get a "jump" on tasks and settle down to a project before a deadline looms. But let's back up and define writing as more than putting words on the screen or paper. In fact, the toughest part of writing is thinking. When your thinking has been insufficient, and you sit down to draft too early, what often drips from your fingertips is drivel.

Think first; then write.

2. Doing a Brain Dump: Some writers have a tendency to be "comprehensive." By that, they mean to write everything related to the subject that anyone on their distribution list might need or want to know. In doing so, they bury key ideas for other people. Ideas that are irrelevant, irritating, and illogical in the organization of the entire document appear to some readers as a hodge-podge that you were incapable of sorting rather than your attempt to be comprehensive.

Organize your information for the identified, specific readers. Then provide a source or link to find additional information for interested readers in exceptional situations.

3. Writing From Your Own Point of View: "Our department is currently preparing our pre-launch campaign for our route drivers and will be bringing them into headquarters during the next two weeks to give them a preview of our year's marketing plans. In doing do, we noticed that we do not have collateral materials and pricing on your product lines. We need those within the next 5 days so that..."

Do you notice that everything in this previous statement is focused on the writer's needs? Our department. Our pre-launch campaign. Our route drivers. Our year's marketing plans. We noticed that we do not have.... We need those. Frankly, readers don't care all that much about you. They care about themselves and what they want and need. You can revolutionize the response to your writing by analyzing and focusing on what's of interest to your reader.

For example, here's a redo of the previous appeal: "Don't be left out of the pre-launch marketing campaign when the route drivers come to headquarters during the next two weeks. Get your marketing collateral materials and pricing on all your product lines to us within the next 5 days so that we can ensure that you'll be included in the line-up. Our route drivers will be hearing a preview of our year's marketing plans."

4. Leaving the Reader With a "So What?" Grimace: Whether you're writing an email, a proposal, or a report, the document shouldn't leave the reader thinking, "So what? Why did you tell me this? What do you want me to do?" The next action should be clear. In fact, even most popular social media posts point people to a next action: Look at this video. Listen to this interview. Read this article. Reflect on this quote and change your mindset.

5. Failing to Edit: Even the biggest celebrity movie stars have to do retakes. Their directors include files of the "outtakes" online for the DVD version. Even authors of the biggest blockbuster bestselling books have editors. It only stands to reason that business writers would recognize the need for editing their work before it goes out to a client or list of coworkers. Unfortunately, many don't. They draft, they scan, they send.

Nothing helps you catch writing weaknesses like a cool-off period. Overnight is good; a couple of hours will do. Look for gaps in logic, buried ideas, disorganized details, missing information, wordiness, format flaws, style matters, and grammar mistakes.

Which of these writing problems causes the most concern--and miscommunication--in your organization?