What is business writing?
Business writing is one of the most important aspects of the business world. Writing is still one of the number one methods of communication in the world. With the introduction of email, writing became even more important in the work place.
There are many different types of business writing. Each type is designed to work toward a specific and different goal. Being aware of the different types of business writing and also being able to write in several different business styles will help a person become a great business communicator.
Business writing basically consists of letters, memorandums, reports, proposals, and other forms of writing used in organisations to communicate with internal or external audiences.
The purpose of business writing is to convey information to someone else or to request information from them. In order for the writing to be effective, you must be complete, concise, and accurate. Your text needs to be written in a way that the reader or user understands what you are trying to say and acts accordingly.
A lot of writing for business is sloppy, poorly written, disorganised, littered with jargon, and incomplete. Often it is either too long or too short. All these attributes contribute to ineffective business writing. This in turns leads to miscommunication and frustration amongst each other.
One reason for this is that people are too hasty to put pen to paper or bring their fingertips to the computer keyboard. Thinking for objective, structure, tone and the mechanics of the letter, etc., is of paramount importance prior to starting the letter.
Whether you are writing a sales proposal, an email to your department, or an instruction manual for a software package, there are certain lists of steps you need to follow to create effective business writing. You need to:
- Organise your material
- Consider your audience (the eyes that will read your production)
- Edit your text
The emphasis on each step may vary, depending on what you are writing, but the steps will be the same.
Organise your material
First, organise your material. When writing an email announcing a staff meeting, this may be as simple as collecting your thoughts. On the other hand, you may need to write out a multi-level outline of the material when writing up the results of a pharmaceutical trial. Without an appropriate level of organisation, you can’t be sure you will include everything or that you will give prominence to the most important topics. Omissions or incorrect focus can make your business writing less clear. Organising your material - be it in business writing or housekeeping activities, is a key and vital factor none the less.
Consider your audience
Before you start to write, think about your intended audience. For example, a presentation about your company’s new Rs. 800K program may have the same outline when given to your CFO or to all employees, but the level of detail in various areas will differ. A quick email to your team, reminding them of the company’s security procedures, won’t have the same tone as your department’s section of the company’s annual report.
Also remember that you will be more effective and proactive writing to your audience if you focus on what you want them to hear rather than on what you are going to say. Impression is key but over impression is not. This is sometimes referred to as ‘overkill’.
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 style varies depending on the piece they are writing.
As you write, or when you edit, be aware of length. 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. No one in business has time to read any more than necessary. Always remember the KISS principle – keep it simple stupid. What is important to remember is never to be rude.
Conversely, don’t make the piece too short. Write enough that your meaning is clear and won’t be misunderstood. A part in a warehouse was labelled “used but good”. It was unclear whether the author was trying to say the part had been really heavily used, or that the part was not new, but was still functional. Another couple of words would have made his writing more effective.
Don’t try to shorten a piece by using jargon or abbreviations. These often mean different things to different readers. Short but sweet is excellent but too short without meaning is utterly useless. Regardless of the style you use when writing, you need to proofread and edit what you have written.
Business writing style
“Business writing legitimately varies from the conversational style you might use in a note sent by e-mail to the formal, legalistic style found in contracts. In most e-mail messages, letters, and memos, a style between the two extremes generally is appropriate. Writing that is too formal can alienate readers, and an overly obvious attempt to be casual and informal may strike the reader as insincere or unprofessional.
The best writers strive to write in a style that is so clear that their message cannot be misunderstood. In fact, you cannot be persuasive without being clear. One way to achieve clarity, especially during revision, is to eliminate overuse of the passive voice, which plagues most poor business writing. Although the passive voice is sometimes necessary, often it not only makes your writing dull but also is ambiguous, uninformative, or overly impersonal.
After you write anything, you need to proofread it. 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 or the screen. Since our brains work faster than our fingers, you may omit words, leave off an ending, or use the wrong homonym (there instead of their, for example). Proofreading catches these errors so you can fix them.
Obviously, proofreading a one-line email is pretty easy. However, if you are writing an instruction manual, your proofreading will be more complicated and take longer.
After you have proofread your material, you need to edit it. Sometimes these can be done together, but it is more effective when they are done sequentially.
You edit to fix or change what you wrote in order to make the material better. When writing for business, this means fixing the errors and making the text clear and concise. Double checking is very essential; this shows the errors that were not seen previously. This results in a successful piece of business writing.
Purposes of business writing
Business writing is utilitarian, aiming to serve any one of many purposes. Here are just a few purposes of business writing:
1.To explain or justify actions already taken: “Given that situation, we have determined that the best course of action is to reject all current bids and to seek others.”
2.To convey information, as in a research report or the promulgation of a new company policy: “Management wants all employees to know that the new procedure No. 51 will be revoked as soon as we have evidence of improved morale.”
3.To influence the reader to take some action: “I hope that you will find that our new, Web- based cash management services can reduce your capital requirements and save you money.”
4.To deliver good or bad news: “It is most unfortunate that we have to shut down the mail server from 10.00 a.m. to 01.00 p.m. in order to carry out repairs as a result of recent, frequent power cuts.”
5.To direct action: “Please note that your team should complete and deliver the product specifications by June 21st.”
Tips for better business writing
1.Avoid assuming intimacy: Stay away from using nick names or abbreviated first names. This shows lack of unprofessionalism. If you are writing specially to a top level person, avoid all outcomes of using nicknames.
2.Avoid jargon: Usage of jargon and technical terms only results in miscommunication. Information would become distorted and the wrong idea will be put across. For e. g. Imagine if you are giving an introduction of your company to an audience, usage of jargon and technical terms will only result in confusion and miscommunication.
3.Avoid acronyms: Avoid becoming lazy and using acronyms in your communication, even when communicating with people who are familiar with the acronyms.
4.Avoid insinuation: Take time to write what you mean and then take time to be certain that what you’ve written is stripped of any ambiguous language, hints or obscure references. Let your goal be to not create a single glazed over look by something in the tone of your writing.
5.Remember the 5 Ws (and the H): Your communications should answer all the questions relevant to your audience: Who? What? When? Where? Why? And How? For example, who is this memo relevant to, what should they know, when and where will it apply, why is it important, and how should they use this information? Use the 5W+H formula to try to anticipate any questions your readers might ask, too.
6.Don’t give too many choices: At most, give two options and ask them to pick one. Too many choices often lead to decision paralysis, which generally isn’t the desired effect.
(The writer is the Managing Director & CEO, McQuire Rens & Jones (Pvt) Ltd. He has held Regional Responsibilities of two Multinational Companies of which one, Smithkline Beecham International, was a Fortune 500 company before merging to become GSK. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Nalin has been consultant to assignments in the CEB, Airport & Aviation Services and setting up the PUCSL. He is a much sought-after business consultant and corporate management trainer in Sri Lanka. He has won special commendation from the UN Headquarters in New York for his record speed in re-profiling and re-structuring the UNDP. He has lead consultancy assignments for the World Bank and the ADB. Nalin is an executive coach to top teams of several multinational and blue chip companies. He is a Director on the Board of Entrust Securities Plc.)