Business Writing for Startups

Day 26 of #30DaysOfStartingUp

Over the past few weeks, I have done a fair amount of editing, mainly for my newsletter and my cofounder’s newsletter. This past weekend, the amount of editing I did increased even more because we are applying to y combinator accelerator and are writing our application! I want to share my learnings on writing in the context of startups.

The conclusion goes first, followed by proof.

At school, we are taught to write arguments first and then the conclusion. In startup business writing, it should be reversed: conclusions should go first, then support it with proof.

If they ask how much revenue your startup can generate. Answer with the number first. Then back it up with market size, product merits, and estimated growth rate. It is more concise and easier to read. 

Be aware of “tautology.”

Tautology means saying the same thing twice in different words. It is generally considered to be a fault of style. A few examples of tautology:

  • Remember when 4G cell phones were a new innovation?

  • Be careful; there is a lot of frozen ice on the road!

  • In my opinionI think he is wrong.

  • I loved reading Sam’s autobiography of his own life.

To tautology’s defense, they sound natural verbally. It sometimes serves a purpose: emphasizing what you are saying. For example:

  • He always over exaggerates.

  • I know it’s true because I heard it with my own ears.

But in writing, I love to trim it down. In our YC application, I originally wrote:

We embed bite-sized educational content that teaches users design principles.

Then I realized if it is teaching somebody something, it is by default educational. So I edited it down to:

We embed bite-sized content that teaches users design principles.

Then I found a hidden tautology. Can you spot it? 

Answer: It is implied that our content is created for our users. So I edited again:

We embed bite-sized content to teach design principles.

I think tautology is a common mistake in business writing for startups. We have an impulse to emphasize how great our product is. Love makes us blind! Our writing becomes hyperbolic, and the things we emphasize don’t leave an impression. 

I hope my learnings are helpful! Could you share some of your learnings? How can I improve? What books or online courses do you recommend? 

I will write more about our YC accelerator application if we progress further. Stay tuned!