Business Writing Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

getty_business_writing-170902508.jpg
"Good writing is good business," says Wilma Davidson. "Your business writing can serve as persuasive evidence of your competence, your personality, your management style" (Business Writing: What Works, What Won't, 2015). (Paul Bradbury/Getty Images)

The term business writing refers to memorandums, reports, proposals, emails, and other forms of writing used in organizations to communicate with internal or external audiences. Business writing is a type of professional communication. Also known as business communication and professional writing.

"The main aim of business writing," says Brent W. Knapp, "is that it should be understood clearly when read quickly.

The message should be well planned, simple, clear, and direct" (A Project Manager's Guide to Passing the Project Management Exam, 2006).

Examples and Observations

  • "Throughout the globe, the written word, in both paper and electronic forms, is seen less as strictly a way of archiving the business already completed and more as a vital, creative means of problem solving, collaborating, and actually doing business." (R. Inkster and J. M. Kilborn, The Writing of Business, Allyn and Bacon, 1999)
  • "Good business writing is conversational. Too much office writing gets into a tangle by moving too far away from the everyday words that we use when we're talking to someone. It's a good idea to listen to anything you have written. Then ask yourself whether you would have used the same words if you had been explaining it face-to-face or on the phone." (Terence Denman, How Not to Write: An Office Primer for the Grammatically Perplexed. Quirk, 2005)

    Purposes of Business Writing

    "Business writing . . . is utilitarian, aiming to serve any one of many purposes. Here are just a few purposes of business writing:

    • To explain or justify actions already taken: "Given that situation, we have determined that the best course of action is to reject all current bids and to seek others."
    • To convey information, as in a research report or the promulgation of a new company policy: "Management wants all employees to know that the floggings will stop as soon as we have evidence of improved morale."
    • To influence the reader to take some action: "I hope that you will find that our new, Web-based cash management services can reduce your capital requirements and save you money."
    • To deliver good or bad news: "Unfortunately, the engine fire you reported occurred one day after the expiration of the warranty period."
    • To direct action: "Your team should complete and deliver the product specifications by May 1."

    So the first thing you should ask yourself is, "What is my reason for writing this document? What do I aim to accomplish?" (Harvard Business Essentials: Business Communication, Harvard Business School Press, 2003)

    Business Writing Style

    "Business writing legitimately varies from the conversational style you might use in a note sent by e-mail to the formal, legalistic style found in contracts. In most e-mail messages, letters, and memos, a style between the two extremes generally is appropriate. Writing that is too formal can alienate readers, and an overly obvious attempt to be casual and informal may strike the reader as insincere or unprofessional.

    . . .

    "The best writers strive to write in a style that is so clear that their message cannot be misunderstood. In fact, you cannot be persuasive without being clear. One way to achieve clarity, especially during revision, is to eliminate overuse of the passive voice, which plagues most poor business writing. Although the passive voice is sometimes necessary, often it not only makes your writing dull but also is ambiguous, uninformative, or overly impersonal.

    "You can also achieve clarity with conciseness. Proceed cautiously here, however, because business writing should not be an endless series of short, choppy sentences. . . . Don't be so concise that you become blunt or deliver too little information to be helpful to the readers." (Gerald J. Alred, Charles T. Brusaw, and Walter E. Oliu. The Business Writer's Handbook, 8th ed.

    St. Martin's Press, 2006)

    The Evolving Nature of Business Writing

    "[W]hat we think of as business writing is changing. Fifteen years ago, business writing usually took place in a printed medium—a letter, a brochure, things like that—and these forms of writing, especially the official letter, are very conservative. Business writing originally evolved from legal language, and we know how precise and complex and deathly dull legal language is to read. . . .

    "But then look what happened. The internet arrived, and transformed the way we communicate, and reintroduced the written word as a significant aspect of our lives—our working lives in particular. Now we research and buy things online, we negotiate over e-mail, we express our opinions in blogs, and we keep in touch with out friends using text messages and tweets. Most people probably spend much more time writing at work than they would ever have done those fifteen years ago. Words are back.

    "But they're not the same words. The language of mobiles, and e-mails, and blogs, and even the most corporate of corporate websites, is not like of formal written letters. . . . Because of the expectation of brevity and the ease of getting interaction with or response from your reader, the style of this language is much more everyday and conversational . . .." (Neil Taylor, Brilliant Business Writing, 2nd ed. Pearson UK, 2013)