Writing for Business

Business woman writing on paper in her office.

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The purpose of business writing is to convey information to someone else or to request information from them. To be effective writing for business, you must be complete, concise, and accurate. Your text should be written in such a way that the reader will be able to easily understand what you are telling or asking them.

A lot of writing for business is sloppy, poorly written, disorganized, littered with jargon, and incomplete. Often it is either too long or too short. All these attributes contribute to ineffective business writing.

Whether you are writing a sales proposal, an email to your boss, or an instruction manual for a software package, there are certain steps you must follow to be effective. Follow these five steps:

  1. Organize your material
  2. Consider your audience
  3. Write down your thoughts
  4. Proofread your material
  5. Edit your material

Organization Is Key

If you don't organize your material it won't flow well and it won't make sense. Writing can be simple or complicated. When writing an email announcing a staff meeting, this is as simple as collecting your thoughts. On the other hand, you'll probably need to develop a complex outline in advance of the finished material if you're writing up the results of a ground-breaking pharmaceutical trial. Whatever the task, without an appropriate level of organization (even organizing your thoughts), you may not include everything you need to or fail to give prominence to the most important topics. Omissions or an incorrect focus will make your business writing less clear.

Know Your Audience

Before you start to write, think about your intended audience. For example, a presentation about your company's new 401(k) program may have the same outline when given to your CFO as well as employees, but the level of details you include will vary. You also need to consider tone. A quick email to your team, reminding them of the annual company picknick, won't have the same tone as your missive regarding your company's annual report.

Also, remember that you will communicate more effectively to your audience if you focus on what you want them to hear rather than on what you are going to say.

A Word About Good Writing

Good writers have different styles of writing. Some prefer to write everything out and then go back and edit. Others prefer to edit as they go along. Sometimes their preferred style varies depending on what they are writing.

As you write (or when you edit) be aware of length. You should use enough words to make your meaning clear, but don't use unnecessary words just to make it flowery. Business writing needs to be clear and concise, not verbose and flowery. Remember, no one in business has time to read any more than necessary.

On the other hand, don't make your piece too short. You must write enough so that your meaning is clear and won't be misunderstood. Imagine if a piece of equipment in a warehouse was labeled "used but good." It would be unclear if that meant the piece of equipment had been used a lot, or that the piece of equipment was no longer new but still functional. A few additional words would have made the meaning clear. Also, avoid using jargon or abbreviations because they can mean different things to different readers.

Proofread and Edit

Regardless of your writing style, all writers need to proofread and edit all written material, even emails. After you're done writing, proofread your work. You may then need to edit it. Proofreading is re-reading what you wrote to make sure all the words in your head made it correctly onto the paper. Because our brains work faster than our fingers, you may omit words, leave off an ending, or use the wrong homonym (e.g., "there" instead of "their"). Proofreading catches these errors. Obviously, proofreading a one-line email is easy and just glancing over it as you type may be enough. However, if you are writing an instruction manual, your proofreading will be more complicated and take longer.

After you have proofread your material, it's time to edit. Sometimes proofreading and editing can be done simultaneously, but it is more effective when they are done sequentially.

The reason you edit is to fix or change what you wrote in order to make the material sound (and read) better. When writing for business, this means fixing the errors and making the text as clear and concise as possible.

You're Not Writing a Novel

When you're writing for business you're not writing the next "great American novel." Your writing should be as descriptive as necessary, but you don't need to paint vivid word pictures using lots of big words and figures of speech. If you mean "glass houses," don't write "vitreous domiciles," write "glass houses."