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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Business Writing is Easier Than You Think


Letters, memos, business plans, technical papers, presentations, reports, meeting summaries, agendas – whatever your business communication, the first rule is "Don't panic!" Writing for business can be easy and, yes, even fun, if you just take the time to plan before you write.

What's the purpose of your message?

Are you writing a letter to request more information about a product or service? Are you enclosing a cover letter with your resume? Did your supervisor ask you to prepare a presentation for the next sales meeting? Does your class assignment include creating a business plan? No matter the situation, you first must determine the reason for your message.

Who is your reader?

Once you know your purpose, picture the person(s) who will be reading your message. A teacher? Another student? A business owner? Your boss? Identifying the recipient of your message will allow you to choose words and phrases that will be meaningful and understandable to your reader, so that your reader reacts favorably. Consider education, position, age, gender, interests and other demographic and psychographic details that might affect how your message is received.

How can you make your message complete and accurate?

Research the most recent and reliable sources to collect information for your message. Sources might include the library, colleagues, company files, other students' experience, or the Internet. Use your general intelligence and common sense to filter the information that should be included, and keep in mind that your goal is to be factual and to provide all the details that your reader needs to understand and process your written communication.

It's time to do an outline!

An outline gives you a working framework from which to write your final message. It doesn't have to be fancy or even typed as long as it organizes your material and thoughts in a logical manner, based on the purpose, reader and information you have collected.

For example, if your reader is expected to be pleased and interested in your message:

  • Opening – Present your idea. You don't have to prepare your reader for your message.
  • Middle – Include details.
  • Closing – Close with a positive, friendly conclusion.

If, on the other hand, your reader is expected to be displeased or uninterested:

  • Opening – Present an idea that is either neutral or gets the reader's attention.
  • Middle – Give evidence to convince the reader of benefits.
  • Closing – Close with a positive, friendly conclusion and, if required, state action to be taken by the reader.

Choosing the right words

To communicate clearly, choose words that result in clear, concise, correct, descriptive and complete thoughts. That doesn't mean that you have to enhance your vocabulary with $100 words and phrases; big words don't translate into big ideas or positive reactions unless they clearly communicate your message.

Use simple language

The test of clarity is that your message is impossible to misunderstand and requires only one reading. Use short, familiar words and conversational words to make your writing clear. Your goal is to express, not to impress.

Be concise

Say what you have to say in the fewest words possible. Open with a short, strong, attention-getting paragraph; your reader wants to know right away what this message is about. Eliminate meaningless or irrelevant words and phrases that may hinder the reader from getting to the main point. Then, when you're ready to close, close! Some examples of wordy vs. concise phrases include:

Wordy: A long period of time
Concise: A long time

Wordy: Contact you by telephone
Concise: Call you

Wordy: In the event that
Concise: If

Wordy: It is probable that
Concise: Probably

Wordy: With this letter, I am enclosing
Concise: Enclosed is

Wordy: Your check in the amount of
Concise: Your check for

Wordy: Due to the fact that
Concise: Because

Wordy: Please do not hesitate to
Concise: Please

Wordy: At the present time
Concise: Now

Use correct English

You owe it to yourself and your reader to use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. Incorrect writing is distracting and undermines the reader's confidence in your competence and accuracy.

Use specific descriptive words and phrases

Appeal to your reader's senses while you make your message clear and interesting by providing a mental picture:

(Vague and boring) The biology class went on a field trip.
(Clearer and more interesting) Mrs. Adam's biology class went to the Museum of Natural History to study wild animal habitats.

Create an appropriate tone

The least important word you can use in any business writing is "I." At the beginning of a letter or paragraph, avoid starting with "I" when you can just as easily begin with an introductory phrase or sentence related to your reader. Your attitude when writing should always be positive, friendly and sincere, no matter the subject. To ensure that your messages impart an appropriate tone (the way the message "sounds" to the reader):

  • Consider the reader's desires (instead of "I cannot ship your order until July 15," write "Your order will be shipped on July 15.").
  • Show sincerity (instead of "Thank you for your order," write "Thank you for ordering the Officemate Desk Chair; we know you will appreciate the extra comfort and functionality.").
  • Show courtesy (instead of "You have been added to our list of satisfied customers," write "We are pleased to have you as a new customer").
  • Select positive words (instead of "Unfortunately, the warranty on your lawnmower has expired; however, we will repair it and charge you for parts," write "We will be happy to repair your lawnmower. Your only charge will be for parts as your warranty has expired.").

If you are struggling with your business writing, let common sense prevail.

You can't produce successful business communications without thoughtful preparation and adherence to the rules of English – common-sense strategies for everything you write. If the only guidelines you follow are the ones on this page, you'll be well on your way to impressing your readers with your command of business writing skills.

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