One thing anybody who wants to be part of the business world learns almost instantly is that writing in almost any shape or form is an essential part of almost any business dealing on a daily basis. You simply can’t operate without it. From ‘simple’ business emails to thorough market analyses and business proposals.

But you just can’t simply sit down and write, even if you are gifted with words. Like any form of writing, business writing has its specifics that you need to be aware of. Even if you have designated writers, within your business or if you hire, say, a copywriting agency or a freelance professional, you need tone aware of the basics of business writing. Otherwise, you just might be wasting a purposeful investment.

So, what essentially constitutes business writing? According to Corporate Finance Institute (CFI), “business writing is a type of writing that is used in a professional setting. It is a purposeful piece of writing that conveys relevant information to the reader in a clear, concise, and effective manner. It includes client proposals, reports, memos, emails, and notices. Proficiency in business writing is a critical aspect of effective communication in the workplace.”

That list of business writing is much more extensive and includes materials like new policies and instructions, client presentations, case studies, research and development, and marketing campaigns.

So what can happen if the writing you present for business purposes doesn’t hit the proper mark? English Grammarcites a Los Angeles Business journal which explained that billions of dollars are lost due to insufficient writing skills among business people. It happens, for example, when a customer does not understand the email, marketing tool, or proposal by a company because of wrong grammar or awkward style and tone.

This post has been updated in September 2021. 

The purpose of business writing

As you might expect, business writing has a standard form and structure. Each aspect of business writing has its specifics and adheres to a certain set of guidelines and tone of writing. Very often, when doing business in other countries, you would need to additionally adapt certain documents to the local audience, also called localization.

For its part, specialized business publication Inc. details the pros and cons of business writing. As its pros, it lists the following:

  • Written messages do not have to be delivered on the spur of the moment; they can be edited and revised several times before they are sent so that the content can be shaped to maximum effect.
  • Written communication provides a permanent record of the messages and can be saved for later study.
  • Written forms of communication also enable recipients to take more time in reviewing the message and providing appropriate feedback.
  • Such written forms of communication are often considered more appropriate for complex business messages that include important facts and figures.
  • Good writing skills often lead to increased customer/client satisfaction; improved inter-organizational efficiency; and enhanced image in the community and industry.

But what could be the cons of business writing?

  • The sender of written communication does not generally receive immediate feedback to his or her message; this can be a source of frustration and uncertainty in business situations in which a swift response is desired.
  • Written messages often take more time to compose, both because of their information-packed nature and the difficulty that many individuals have in composing such correspondence.

“To prevent such disadvantages, there are principles and techniques that people can apply” (English Grammar, above).

Main types and styles

Essentially, there are four types of business writing. There, practically all sources agree on. These four types of business style writing are instructional, informational, persuasive, and transactional. Let us look at these in more detail based on the analysis of Instructional Solutions.

  • Instructional business writing – such writing “provides the reader with the information needed to complete a task. The task may need be accomplished immediately or it may be for future reference.”
    This type of document must break down a process into steps that are understandable to the reader. The written record must account for reader’s knowledge of the area, the scope of the task while integrating variations or potential problems.
    Examples of instructional business writing:
    User Manual: a guide focused on allowing the customer to use a product. User manuals are often considered part of technical writing, which is closely related to business writing.
    Specifications: a technical document that provides an outline of a product or process that allows it be constructed or reconstructed by an unfamiliar but knowledgeable user.
    Memo: a short notification of new information shared within a large group in an organization. The memo may include direct instruction or be a reference on how to complete future tasks.
  • Informational business writing – A large volume of writing is created for reference or record. “Recording business information accurately and consistently is important for marking progress, predicting future work, as well as complying with legal and contractual obligations.”

business writing

More on styles

Examples of business writing:

Report: Organizations rely on reports to act, to communicate business and technical information, to capture work completed, to record incidents. Also, to finalize projects and recommendations, and to act as an archive. A well-written report allows the reader to easily grasp the content and, if applicable, make informed decisions.

Financials: documents that outline the financial state of a company. These statements provide a fiscal snapshot of a company over a defined period.

Minutes: a summary of the proceedings of a meeting. A record of discussions, decisions, and assignments for attendees and others.

  • Persuasive business writing – These documents are generally associated with sales. The persuasive writing may be direct, with a focus on a specific item. Or it can be indirect, with a focus on developing the client relationship. “The goal is two-fold: to convey information and to convince the reader that the presented information offers the best value.”
    Examples of persuasive business writing:
    Proposals: these documents outline an offer of a product or service to a specific potential client. The proposal generally presents a project overview, benefits, timeline, costs, and competency.
    Sales Email: an email is written to a large number of people to pitch a product or service.
    Press Release: a text written for journalists and media presenting new information. The text aims to persuade the reader to share the content through their own channels.
  • Transactional business writing – Everyday communication falls under transactional business writing. The majority of this writing is by email, but also includes official letters, forms, and professional looking invoices. “These documents are used to progress general operations. They are also used to convey good and bad news, often associated with human resource processes.”
    Examples of transactional business writing:
    Emails: documents used to quickly communicate information between staff or clients in business activities.

Principles of good business writing

CFI (above) details the key principles of good business writing. Here are their key principles:

  • Clarity of purpose – Before writing a business document of any kind, the author has to dwell on two key questions: Who is the reader? What do I want to convey to the reader through my writing?
    “Clarity of purpose gives a direction to the writing and develops its tone, structure, and flow.”
  • Clarity of thought – Thinking while, rather than before writing, makes the writing less structured, meandering, and repetitive. Business writing requires the skill to reduce long, rambling sentences into concise, clear ones. One needs to extract what is significant to write clearly.
  • Convey accurate and relevant information – The primary goal of business writing is to convey valuable information. Inaccurate or irrelevant content affects the purpose of the document. For effective business writing, information must be value-additive and complete.
  • Avoid jargon – A simple and uncluttered writing style goes a long way in communicating the message to the reader. Grandiose writing full of industry-specific buzzwords and acronyms should be avoided to the maximum possible extent. Otherwise, the reader may be unable to comprehend the document or lose interest in it.
  • Direct communication – Presenting the crux of the passage in the first 150 words is a good idea when it comes to business writing. It saves the reader time and sharpens the argument.
  • Avoiding verbosity – If the meaning can be conveyed in three words, it should not be stretched to five. Verbosity works against making the writing engaging to the reader. For example, instead of writing “the article uses more words than are needed,” write “the article is verbose.”

Doing it yourself or engaging a professional writer?

Two more key principles of good business writing:

  • Correct grammar and sentence structure – While a grammatical error may come across as unprofessional, good grammar portrays both attention to detail and skill – traits that are highly valued in the business.
  • Easy to scan – Business executives value a document that can convey its message in a cursory glance. Business documents can be enhanced through the use of numbered or bulleted lists, clear headings, concise paragraphs, and judicious use of bold formatting to highlight the keywords.

All of the above brings us to one of the key questions concerning business writing. Should you handle it yourself or should you engage a professional agency or a freelancer versed in business writing?

Sure, at a first glance, it might seem easy enough to handle daily emails and memos in-house. But what if that email needs to convey some important business information, or that memo needs to convey some sensitive human resources material? Let us not even mention, detailed research analyses, reports, or specific business proposals and marketing campaigns.

A permanent writer might be a good solution, but only if your business is of the size that can sustain one or a few more permanent employees. Specialized business writing agencies can provide good results, but can often be outside the budget capabilities of many businesses.

So, possibly, engaging one or more freelance professional business writers could be the best option. This is particularly true since you can enlist their services on a task-by-task basis.