As businesses become more international, so must our writing. Fortunately, good business writing skills transfer very well to global audiences. Here are a few helpful tips for writing for a global audience:
1) Avoid academic or technical writing styles
Academic and technical writing styles are very information dense. The sentences are long, they contain a lot of information, and there is often technical language that may be hard for the average person to understand. Compare an article from your local newspaper to an academic journal article or a technical manual to see the difference. To effectively reach your global audience, write in a more straightforward style. The next few tips are good examples of how to do this.
2) Use lists
Numbered or bulleted lists are much easier to understand and respond to than paragraphs. Whenever possible, put information in a list. Anchor each item with strong, clear vocabulary to get your point across
3) Choose the right words
Did you know that for every native speaker of English, there are (almost) two non-native speakers? I find this statistic incredible – approximately 2/3 of the people who speak English learned it as a second language! Of course, English varies widely depending on where it is being spoken, so you want to choose words that are internationally recognized. For example:
- Strange is more commonly recognized worldwide than the very American weird.
- Friend is used more widely than synonyms like pal, chap, mate, etc.
- Change your money is far more common than to get change, to break a dollar/20, to cash a check.
The best way to figure this out is to listen to the way English is used in different places. Another good practice is to think about the words you use and whether they have a more specific synonym. Which leads us to…
4) Be as specific as possible
Choose words, particularly verbs, that mean exactly what you want them to mean. A good of example of why this is important is phrasal verbs (verb + preposition = a different meaning). For example:
- Blow up vs. Explode. These two mean the same thing, but a non-native speaker will often read blow up literally, and imagine someone blowing air up. So, a sentence like “The stock price is going to blow up!” might be completely nonsensical. Explode is a much better choice.
- Run into vs. Meet unexpectedly Again, these two mean the same thing, but run into could be taken literally. So, it would be better to say, “I met John unexpectedly at the restaurant last night.” Instead of “I ran into John at the restaurant last night.” It may seem like a small difference, but in the context of a longer conversation, it could be quite confusing!
- Talk into vs. Convince. Here, the into is what’s confusing. Into usually connotes a spatial change, but talk into involves a change of opinion. Convince is a much clearer choice. For example, “We have to convince them to lower their price.”
Phrasal verbs are rampant in English (here is a dictionary: http://www.englishpage.com/prepositions/phrasaldictionary.html), but there is always one word verb that means the same thing. Use the clearer, more succinct, and more direct one word verb for better business communications with global audiences.
5) Choose the right grammatical structures
I have previously written about business writing grammar, but the general idea is that you want to use easy to understand grammatical structures: present, past, and future simple tenses. These are the first tenses you learn in a foreign language, so they are fairly widely understood. Similarly, do not rely on grammar to explain time relationships. Instead, use adverbs, such as first, next, last, to do this job. Like listing, these adverbs are additional cues that help your reader understand what needs to be done.
6) Do not make assumptions
This is the hardest tip to put into practice because we all have a set of cultural assumptions. I will share an example from my experiences to help clarify what this means:
I am an American professor at an American university. As such, I expect my assignment instructions to be followed. I work with international and immigrant students, so I always give very explicit instructions. Semester after semester, I was getting a handful of papers that blatantly ignored those detailed and painstakingly crafted instructions. I finally talked to some other teachers who had taught abroad and asked them what I was missing. Apparently, there are some places where you are expected to do something other than what the instructions specify. This was a total light bulb moment for me. I am now very clear about the fact that my instructions are EXACTLY what I expect in the final papers and that my students should not deviate from them. Simply stating this has helped tremendously (both in the students’ work and in my frustration levels).
My expectations in the above scenario were actually culturally based assumptions – I mean, the teacher tells you what she wants, and you do that, right? Not always!
We all have cultural assumptions about many things – time, money, relationships, work schedules, vacation, meetings, etc. – and it is hard to see beyond them sometimes.
If you enjoyed these 6 tips make sure to check out our complete list of 87 business writing tips.
As you can see, the items above are all elements of good business writing, but they are particularly important with global audiences. Short, clear, direct sentences help your reader to respond in a timely manner. Instructional Solutions offers business writing courses that can help you to achieve this type of writing.