Business Writing

Business writing is an essential part of most business interactions. Not all business can be conducted verbally, and verbal discussions usually have to be followed by a written form. Without the written word to back them up, business transactions lack permanency. Good business writing allows businesspeople to communicate effectively. It can avoid misunderstandings and propel businesses toward success. Effective writers appear knowledgeable and professional.

There are three criteria for good business writing: content and purpose; organization and style. Content and purpose include having something worthwhile to say and providing information that is interesting, clearly presented and well-developed. Strong writing builds its arguments on sufficient and compelling evidence. The content should be persuasive and accomplish its purpose. The entire piece should stick to its point.

Organization refers to a logical and consistent structure. Writers should emphasize main points and important ideas. Main ideas should also be easy to find. Minor ideas should be clearly stated as such and de-emphasized.

Well-organized business writing should include smooth transitions among ideas, sentences and paragraphs. Each paragraph should start with a topic sentence that expresses the main idea of the paragraph. Ensuing sentences within the paragraph should follow that main idea. For style, the language of a business document should be fluent, concise and clear. The vocabulary should be accurate and precise. The tone should be consistent throughout the document. To improve readability, sentences should vary in length. Excellent spelling and grammar are essential.

Business writers always write with a purpose. Recognizing the purpose of the document can help formulate a writer's thoughts. One of the most common reasons for business writing is to present recommendations, decisions or ideas. Another typical purpose is to explain something, either to colleagues or to an audience outside the business. Other times, business writers aim to persuade someone to agree with them or join them in an undertaking.

There are six major types of business writing, each of which requires different skills and techniques. The types are:

• Business letter

• Memorandum

• Proposal

• Report

• Minutes

• Writing together

Writers of all types of business documents should learn about their audiences and direct their tone and style to those audiences. They should choose the appropriate level of detail and find good evidence to back up their words.

Business letters follow a specific format, beginning with the heading. Writers should familiarize themselves with standard headings, including date and format of the recipient's name and address. Letters are generally not longer than a page or two. The first paragraph should clearly state the purpose of the letter. Letters should end with a request for what the writer wants, such as a follow-up phone call.

A memorandum (memo) is the most common type of business writing. A memorandum is internal, and it is used to communicate to co-workers. Memos can assign responsibilities, request information, instruct employees or announce plans and decisions. The title of a memorandum is important as it orients the reader and determines how the memo will be filed. Memos should be short and cover one topic only. Memos always begin with a statement of a central point. Lists and charts can help demonstrate the central point of a memorandum.

A proposal is written to persuade someone to take a certain course of action and can be internal or external. A proposal begins with an introduction that states the central idea of the document. The introduction summarizes the problem or need and suggests a solution. The body of a proposal clearly describes the scope of the problem or deficiency and continues with the reason the writer has chosen a specific solution. It explains the benefit of the proposed solution and the method the writer intends to use to achieve the solution. A timeline of action, as well as a cost estimate, should also be included.

Reports are similar to proposals in that they present ideas, but, unlike proposals, they are not designed to persuade others to act. Reports inform about issues, accomplishments or activities. Types of reports include research reports, progress reports, annual reports or audit reports.

Meeting minutes communicate what happened at a meeting. Depending on the organization, minutes can contain many or few details, but they always summarize the main points of the meeting. Minutes should focus on ideas and note the outcome of discussions rather than details of the discussions.

Business writers often face the challenge of writing together with colleagues. Actually sharing the writing task can be onerous, so distributing tasks is beneficial. Before starting the task, colleagues should decide who is doing the research, who is writing various sections and who is editing. Organizing the work structure will help the work flow and will result in a well-written document.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The AMA Handbook of Business Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Style, Grammar, Usage, Punctuation, Construction, and Formatting
Kevin Wilson; Jennifer Wauson.
AMACOM, 2010
Words at Work: Business Writing in Half the Time with Twice the Power
Susan Benjamin.
Perseus Publishing, 1997
Writing at Work: A Guide to Better Writing in Administration, Business and Management
Robert Barrass.
Routledge, 2002
The Skill and Art of Business Writing: An Everyday Guide and Reference
Harold E. Meyer.
Quorum, 2002
Writing Workplace Cultures: An Archaeology of Professional Writing
Jim Henry.
Southern Illinois University Press, 2000
Writing on the Front Line: A Study of Workplace Writing
Mabrito, Mark.
Business Communication Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 3, September 1997
Persuasive Business Proposals: Writing to Win More Customers, Clients, and Contracts
Tom Sant.
AMACOM, 2004
Worlds Apart: Acting and Writing in Academic and Workplace Contexts
Patrick Dias; Aviva Freedman; Peter Medway; Anthony Pare.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999
From Workplace to Classroom: Teaching Professional Writing
Mabrito, Mark.
Business Communication Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 3, September 1999
Reshaping Technical Communication: New Directions and Challenges for the 21st Century
Barbara Mirel.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Researching a Common Ground: Exploring the Space Where Academic and Workplace Cultures Meet"
Competitive Communication: A Rhetoric for Modern Business
Barry Eckhouse.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Classical Argument and Modern Business"
How to Sharpen Your Business Writing Skills
Nan Levinson.
American Management Association, 2000
Professional Writing Skills: A Self-Paced Training Program
Janis Fisher Chan; Diane Lutovich.
Advanced Communication Designs, 1997
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