You probably write on the job all the time: proposals to clients, memos to senior executives, a constant flow of emails to colleagues. But how can you ensure that your writing is as clear and effective as possible? How do you make your communications stand out?
This handout explains principles in business writing that apply to many different situations, from applying for a job to communicating professionally within business relationships. While the examples that are discussed specifically are the application letter and cover letter, this handout also highlights strategies for effective business writing in general.
Business writing refers to professional communication including genres such as policy recommendations, advertisements, press releases, application letters, emails, and memos. Because business writing can take many forms, business writers often consider their purpose, audience, and relationship dynamics to help them make effective stylistic choices. While norms vary depending on the rhetorical situation of the writer, business writers and audiences tend to value writing that communicates effectively, efficiently, and succinctly.
If you have been assigned a genre of business writing for a class, it may help to think about the strategies business writers employ to both gather and produce knowledge. A business communicator or writer may use the following forms of evidence: statistics, exploration of past trends, examples, analogy, comparison, assessment of risk or consequences, or citation of authoritative figures or sources. Your knowledge of and relationship to your audience will help you choose the types of evidence most appropriate to your situation.
Who is your audience?
To communicate effectively, it is critical to consider your audience, their needs, and how you can address all members of your audience effectively. As you prepare to write, think about the following questions:
- What are your audience’s priorities and expectations?
- What does your audience need to learn from your document?
- How will you grasp the attention of readers when you are competing for their attention?
- How will you help your reader move through your document efficiently? When is it effective to use bulleted lists, visuals, boldface, and section headers to guide your reader’s attention?
- What does your audience most need to know?
- What is your audience expecting? Is your goal to satisfy their expectations, or do you want to surprise them with a new idea?
- How will you communicate about setbacks? When is it appropriate to spin bad information with a positive outlook? How will stakeholders, customers, or employees respond to bad news?
- In general, how can you tailor the organization and style of your writing to address your audience’s considerations and needs?
Improve business writing skills to increase overall productivity.
At your organization, you may have a few employees who go by the title of “Copywriter” or “Technical Writer.” But these aren’t the only writers at your company. In truth, every single one of your employees is a business writer at work.
That’s because everyone at your company is constantly communicating: writing business emails and direct messages to keep work moving, drafting memos and reports to inform team members, and crafting business proposals, company brochures, statements of work, presentations, and other business documents for work both within and beyond your organization.
All of these genres, and the dozens of others you and your team use to get work done, require writing. By improving the business writing skills of employees across your organization, you can drive expect a few stellar outcomes like:
- Improving the focus and efficacy of presentations, reports, business letters, and more
- Reducing writing time by up to 25%
- Empower your employees (and reap the retention benefits)
Prioritize your writing and reap the rewards.
Professional communication through writing is a valuable asset for your organization. Here are the key areas that highlight the value of improving your business writing and how our courses can help you improve:
Communicate with lasting impact
Through focused assignments, we teach writers from all specialties to improve the efficacy of their writing by increasing both the clarity of their ideas and the tone they craft those ideas in to meet their readers’ expectations.
Through focused assignments and business writing exercises, we teach writers from all specialties to improve the efficacy of their writing by increasing both the clarity of their ideas and the tone they craft those ideas in to meet their readers’ expectations. A key element is that our expert instructors also offer individualized feedback to focus on specific areas for growth that can drive impact—fast—for even the most complex documents.
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Cut the fat
Don’t “use three words when one would do,” says Blackburn. Read your writing through critical eyes, and make sure that each word works toward your larger point. Cut every unnecessary word or sentence. There’s no need to say “general consensus of opinion,” for instance, when “consensus” will do. “The minute readers feel that a piece of writing is verbose they start tuning out,” says Garner. He suggests deleting prepositions (point of view becomes viewpoint); replacing –ion words with action verbs (provided protection to becomes protected); using contractions (don’t instead of do not and we’re instead of we are); and swapping is, are, was and were with stronger verbs (indicates rather than is indicative of).
Avoid jargon and $10 words
Business writing is full of industry-specific buzzwords and acronyms. And while these terms are sometimes unavoidable and can occasionally be helpful as shorthand, they often indicate lazy or cluttered thinking. Throw in too many, and your reader will assume you are on autopilot — or worse, not understand what you’re saying. “Jargon doesn’t add any value,” says Blackburn, but “clarity and conciseness never go out of style.” Garner suggests creating a “buzzword blacklist” of words to avoid, including terms like “actionable,” “core competency,” “impactful,” and “incentivize.” You should also avoid using grandiose language. Writers often mistakenly believe using a big word when a simple one will do is a sign of intelligence. It’s not.
Read what you write
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Is your point clear and well structured? Are the sentences straightforward and concise? Blackburn suggests reading passages out loud. “That’s where those flaws reveal themselves: the gaps in your arguments, the clunky sentence, the section that’s two paragraphs too long,” she says. And don’t be afraid to ask a colleague or friend — or better yet, several colleagues and friends — to edit your work. Welcome their feedback; don’t resent it. “Editing is an act of friendship,” says Garner. “It is not an act of aggression.”
Internal Intentions and External Implications
A purpose statement is primarily used internally to rally employees behind an overarching vision and organize teams. Iterating the business purpose is meant to provide transparency and serve as a roadmap as new opportunities present themselves, and challenges arise. However, the purpose statement informs external needs as well. It serves as the backbone for investor pitches, partnership requests, financing applications, funding requirements, mission statement creation, and franchise agreements. This important document appears in far more areas than business owners and founders tend to realize.
Mature businesses understand that staying afloat requires adapting to market changes. As business plans are altered, the purpose statement should absolutely change as well. The company’s purpose must evolve in response to changing customer needs and expectations, resource availability, competitive landscape fluctuations, and newly arising business opportunities. To stay relevant a purpose statement needs to remain fluid. This living document must be revisited when operations are modified and long-term strategic planning shifts.
The passing of time alone is responsible for changes in business purpose, especially in fast-moving industries like technology. Legacy companies understand this well. For instance, IBM and Apple have learned to adapt to market changes through rapidly evolving advances in technological capabilities and changes in customer demands. Today’s top tech companies are being pushed to excel in arenas that had not even been imagined when they were originally founded.
Even more recently founded companies like Amazon and Google have seen cataclysmic changes to their purpose statements, guiding them through immense market changes. With humble beginnings selling books and media, Amazon has transformed itself into the gold-standard for rapid delivery on every consumer product imaginable, pioneering drone technology use and revolutionizing product logistics. Similarly, Google started as a simple search engine that has now eclipsed every other search engine while expanding into everything from geo-mapping and virtual reality experiences to genomics mapping and state-of-the-art human health aids.
Tools to Aid Your BPI
1. Kanban Boards
Moreover, since the board is available for your whole team, every member can see the processes at a glance and this in turn allows you to take a more collaborative approach to improve your business processes.
3. Mind Mapping
By using a mind map you can organize the findings of your new processes. This can make the processes of relaying new process improvements to your team or stakeholders easier.