Activate Run-Ons with WIFM

red pen
Image by Mad African!

The best way to spruce up boring business writing? Activate verb tense, parse run-ons into multiple sentences, and add the what’s in it for me (WIFM) factor.

Yes, some colleagues focus on grammar, but when I edit business text these are the first three things my red pen seeks out.

Inevitably business text crams an overt amount amount of jargon and hyperbole into copy to ensure that it stays “on message” and achieves branding goals.

Business writing seeks to market and inform stakeholders. Over-focus on messaging and positioning hurts that goal, instead fulfilling an internal need to appease executives.

An editor should punch up copy to resonate with stakeholders.

The WIFM component of business copy needs to resonate right out of the gate. Make sure you communicate a WIFM in all business writing, from blog or social update to email or product sheet. If copy doesn’t offer value to the stakeholder quickly, they will stop reading it. Get to the business at hand, and do it quickly.

To be clear, stakeholders don’t want messaging. Features are not valuable. Resolve needs, entertain readers, address concerns. Communicate why stakeholders should care immediately. Empower them if at all possible.

You want readers/viewers/listeners to come back.

Boring stakeholders with difficult English doesn’t help. That means rework long sentences with multiple conjunctions.

If loaded with “necessary” messages, split run-ons into multiple sentences. Otherwise, cut whatever you can. Multiple adjectives, unnecessary phrases, anything that distracts the stakeholder from what matters to them, and how to take action.

Finally, look at verb tense. Activate past and presented tense verbs wherever possible. Look out for perfect verb usage – has walked, have walked, will have walked, etc. Instead try to use the present, past and future verb tense — walk, walked, will walk.

I just read Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur (read my review here), and the book hammered home this last recommendation.

Activate your language. Active verbs make business writing more enjoyable. Activating verbs distinguishes professionals from amateurs.

How do you try to improve business writing?