The Ins and Outs of Business Writing

Writing in a business environment is an activity with associated norms, challenges and opportunities. Keep the following points in mind as you craft communication in the context of a company or an organization.

1. Clarity

Be clear. Clarity should be the primary goal of all communication. In the realm of business writing, the degree of transparency in one’s message can determine whether one succeeds or fails in a venture, whether it involves transmitting a report or closing a deal. It is crucial to state the intention of your message clearly, provide the necessary details, and request the precise response you need or want.

2. Active Voice 

Employ active construction (subject-verb-object). While it is not wrong to say, “This report was sent to me by John Smith,”—it’s probably the best choice if you want to distinguish one report from another—it is worth considering whether “John Smith” should be the subject of the sentence; the active syntax is more vigorous and usually more appropriate.

3. Direct Language

Construct concise, declarative statements. Your goal is to provide or invite information, or to persuade or be persuaded. Your time is valuable to you, but the recipient or recipients of your communication also have constraints and deadlines, so take the time to express yourself with economy and directness.

4. Simple Words

Favor plain, clear words and phrases over technical terms, jargon or buzzwords. Take care not to complicate your vocabulary or stiffen your tone in an attempt to seem more businesslike or knowledgeable. While it is appropriate to use specific terminology to enhance clarity and demonstrate your expertise, it is essential to consider how you would communicate with your intended audience. Write with a conversational glossary in mind, ensuring that your language is accessible and easily understood.

5. Tone 

Strike a balance in tone that is appropriate for the particular context of the communication. Recognize that even within categories such as memos (whether in print or email form) or marketing content, the tone of the correspondence can vary based on numerous factors. Consult with management and colleagues, study precedents, and carefully consider the audience when settling on the voice of a particular message.

6. Role

Consider the role of a particular piece of communication. If it’s summarizing a report, don’t go into so much detail that the report itself is unnecessary (unless, of course, you’re providing an executive summary for a company leader who doesn’t have time to read it). If it’s part of a larger project, match your writing style to the approach of the overall suite of materials.

7. Goal

Focus on the expected or hoped-for outcome. Whether you’re writing to a superior or a subordinate, or to a colleague or someone outside your company or organization, be clear but courteous about the goal of your correspondence.

8. Candor

Avoid using euphemisms or generic references; instead, name topics outright. While diplomacy is indeed crucial for successful business transactions, being excessively solicitous or evasive about sensitive matters can hinder progress. Be forthright in your discussion.

9. Formality

Standards for business correspondence have become more relaxed, but maintain a professional tone, avoiding slang or text-speak, exclamation points, and overly informal salutations and sign-offs.

10. Words With Friends

Exercise caution when it comes to adjusting formality in your correspondence with coworkers or associates whom you consider friends or confidants. While it may be acceptable to engage in casual conversations or use informal language when chatting in person, it is important to maintain professionalism in email messages or other electronic communications on a company network. Drop the formality a notch, certainly, but don’t document your lapses in professional behavior.