By Kimberley Gray.

Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose. OK, this was from a Zurich hotel where the context had been somewhat lost in translation, but it is an amusing demonstration of how incorrect use of language can be picked up by a business reader. In today’s competitive world, every misspelling, incorrect use of language and inappropriate tone is quickly seized and used against us, yet it is a very big problem for business in the UK and is responsible for many misunderstandings, lost contracts and ignored sales pitches.

According to the National Literacy Trust, poor basic skills cost UK industry more than £4.8 billion a year and costs every company employing more than 50 employees £165,000 a year in poor quality control, lost orders and poor communication. I take for granted, my ability to write and communicate effectively, after all, I have been in the writing industry for more than 13 years, yet it is estimated that 10% of the population are dyslexic to some degree. Unfortunately, for many employers, it becomes their responsibility to help their employees overcome any writing weaknesses. Early on in my career, I was fortunate to have a manager who was a fantastic writer and she instilled in me some very early discipline to business writing, which I have continued to use throughout my career.

Know your audience Tailor your writing style and medium to your audience. If you are writing to very busy people, then choose a medium that is short and keep information brief. If you are writing to people that like detail, provide it, and if you’re not quite sure what your audience wants, ask them before embarking on a text-heavy project.

Structure your writing A simple framework, before you start writing, saves considerable time and prevents the text from meandering. Get to the point quickly Grab your audience’s attention within the first paragraph, or you will probably lose their attention completely. Keep focused on the reader – what is most important to you, may not be as important to them. Check the flow Paragraphs should flow. Conclude one subject area before introducing another. Hopping from one topic to another confuses the reader and demonstrates lack of clarity.

Check the tone Make sure the tone is appropriate for the reader and for the medium being used. Always get someone else to look at it Spell check is always useful, but an extra pair of eyes is better. Today’s communication methods are becoming increasingly reliant on the written word and people are using the web and email far more today as their preferred method of communication, yet we must also be wary of over-reliance on the written word. Too often we hide behind email as a primary method of communication, only to find it a culprit in many instances of miscommunication. Just because an issue is flagged up by email, it does not need to be dealt with via email. Issues in the workplace can be far more efficiently handled face-to-face or on the telephone, while defensive emails can throw fuel on the fire and result in hostility. Instead, email should be used to follow up, to identify key points discussed and to outline an agreed action plan for moving forward. I have sincere appreciation for my mentor and believe every organisation should have a writing mentor, who teaches raw, enthusiastic talent about etiquette and styles appropriate for business. If you struggle with effective writing, you should find a mentor who is willing to guide you, alternatively call in someone who has strong writing skills to do it for you. It might cost a bit extra, but it will avoid mistakes that could prove costly for your business.

Kimberley Gray is a freelance PR Consultant.

Previously published in the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce Group’s Business Voice magazine.