Best Practices for Business Writing

Clear, Concise Language is the Key Getting Your Message Across

Business Writing

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Business writing is a professional communication tool (also known as business communication or professional writing) corporations and other professional entities use to communicate with either an internal or external audience. Memorandums, reports, proposals, emails, and a variety of other business-related written materials are all forms of business writing.

Tips for Effective Business Writing

The purpose of business writing is a transactional one. Of course, the content of business writing relates to a business entity but it also relates to a specific and purposeful transaction between the writer and his or her audience. According to Brant W. Knapp, author of "A Project Manager's Guide to Passing the Project Management Exam," the best business writing can be "understood clearly when read quickly. The message should be well planned, simple, clear, and direct."

Fast Facts: Basic Business Writing Goals

  • To Convey Information: Forms of business communication, such as research reports or policy memos, are written to disseminate knowledge.
  • Delivers News: Professional writing is often used to share recent events and accomplishments with both internal and external audiences.
  • Call to Action: Business professionals use writing in an attempt to influence others for numerous reasons from selling merchandise to passing legislature.
  • Explains or justifies an Action: Professional communication allows a business entity to explain their beliefs or to justify their actions.

The following tips, adapted from Oxford Living Dictionaries, form a good foundation for business writing best practices.

  • Put your main points first. State exactly why you're writing the correspondence upfront. One exception to this rule is for sales letters. Reminding the recipient of a past meeting or a common connection you share is an acceptable way to open as it may influence the recipient to be more amenable to your intended aims.
  • Use everyday words. Using words such as "about" rather than "concerning," "expect" rather than "anticipate," and "part" instead of "component" will make your writing less stilted.
  • Know your audience. Unless it's aimed at an industry-specific audience, don't fill your writing with lots of technical jargon. (Specifics can be attached separately.) Adjust your tone to suit your intended reader. For instance, a letter of complaint would have a far different tone than a letter of reference. Finally—this should go without saying—never use derogatory or sexist language, and actively work to eliminate gender-biased language from any form of business communication.
  • Use contractions when possible. Business writing has undergone a shift from formal to a more accessible style so using "we’re" not "we are," and "we’ve" not "we have" is the way to go. Even so, you don't always have to use a contraction. A good rule of thumb is that if a contraction improves the sentence flow use it; if the sentence is more persuasive without it, use two words.
  • Use active rather than passive verbs. Active verbs allow the reader to comprehend quickly and to understand more completely. For example, "The decision has implemented to suspend production," leaves the interpretation of who made the decision to call it quits open. On the other hand, the meaning of, "We've decided to suspend production," is clear.
  • Write tight. Again, using the example above, choosing the word "decided" rather than "made the decision" makes reading easier for the audience.
  • Don’t be a slave to rules in every situation. Again, this is a case of knowing your audience. If your aim is to make your writing conversational, it's fine to end a sentence with a preposition now and then, especially to improve flow and avoid awkward construction. That said, while many businesses have their own in-house style guides, elementary rules for style and grammar must be observed for your writing—and you—to be considered professional. Sloppy writing, poor word choices, or an unearned overly familiar attitude can come back to haunt you.
  • Keep your font choices simple. Stick to a nice, clean type style such as Helvetica or Times New Roman and limit the number of fonts you use in correspondence. Your goal is something that legible and easy to read.
  • Don't overuse visuals. According to sources at Technical & Business Writing, "Graphic displays should make up no more than 10 to 25 percent of the business writing." Too many graphics become confusing and often detract from the message you want to convey. A few, powerful, well-placed graphics will accomplish more to get your point across than something that looks like a bad attempt at scrapbooking.