It is not unusual for beginners in freelance writing that it just might be easy to learn how to write like a business professional. You concentrate on the business part of this equation, and presto, you’re there!
If things were so easy. Business writing, like any other writing form, has its do’s and don’ts. Even if you stick to some all-around basics, like doing your spelling and grammar checks diligently, not respecting certain rules and guidelines will not qualify your writing as business writing. So, what would?
According to Instructional Solutions, “business writing is a type of writing that seeks to elicit a business response. It’s a purposeful piece of writing that provides relevant information to help a reader know something or do something. It must be substantive, clear, correct, and easy to scan.”
Corporate Finance Institute adds that it is “a type of writing that is used in a professional setting.” It includes client proposals, reports, memos, emails, and notices. Proficiency in business writing is a critical aspect of effective communication in the workplace same source).
According to Brant W. Knapp, author of ‘A Project Manager’s Guide to Passing the Project Management Exam,’ the best business writing can be “understood clearly when read quickly. The message should be well planned, simple, clear, and direct.” The reasoning behind Knapp’s description is the fact that the purpose of business writing is transactional. The content of business writing relates to a business entity but it also relates to a specific and purposeful transaction between the writer and his or her audience.
So, how to write like a business professional?
Essential rules of business professional writing
As Instructional solutions (above) notes, there are two primary questions to ask every time we begin a business document (or email):
- Who is my reader? We have to understand our readers to match the information they need.
- What do I want my reader to know or do?
There has to be a definite purpose to business writing and the above two questions need a clear answer to qualify writing result as business writing.
So how can you define different types of business writing? Corporate Finance Institute (above) says that the broad field of business writing can be distilled into four categories based on their objective, such as:
- Instructional – “The instructional business writing type is directional and aims to guide the reader through the steps of completing a task.” A user manual would fall under the instructional category. So would a memo issued to all employees outlining the method of completing a certain task in the future?
- Informational – “Informational business writing pertains to recording business information accurately and consistently.” Such writing comprises documents essential to the core functions of the business. It could be tracking growth, outlining plans, and complying with legal obligations. For example, the financial statements of a company, minutes of the meeting, and most important, report writing.
- Persuasive – The goal of persuasive writing is to impress the reader and influence their decision. It conveys relevant information to convince them that a specific product, service, company, or relationship offers the best value. Such a type of writing is generally associated with marketing and sales. It includes proposals, bulk sales emails, and press releases.
- Transactional – Day-to-day communication at the workplace falls under the transactional business writing category. The bulk of such communication is by email, but also includes official letters, forms, and invoices.
Good business writing – basic principles
Corporate Finance Institute also lays down some basic principles of good business writing:
- Clarity of purpose – it refers to the two questions noted above – who is the reader and what is the message. “Clarity of purpose gives a direction to the writing and develops its tone, structure, and flow.”
- Having clarity of thought – If a writer thinks about the text she/he is writing only while working on such a process will not bring clarity of thought. The text will be 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.”
- 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.”
- Constant reading and revising of the text – Reading the passages out loud after completion can reveal flaws and gaps in the arguments. If possible, the writer should get as much constructive feedback she/he can get.
- Proficiency in business writing – This can only be attained through regular practice. Paying attention to the vocabulary, sentence structure, and style of writing while reading can help to develop the same instinct while writing one’s thoughts.
- Being direct in presentation – “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.”
More on basic principles
- 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.”
- 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.
“Business writing evolves with time, so do grammar and conventions. For example, emoticons, when used judiciously, are gaining acceptance in business writing. A good writer needs to stay updated with the conventions to hone their skill.”
- A document should be 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.”
So how can we define the goals of business writing? ThoughtCo focuses on four goals:
- Convey Information: Forms of business communication, such as research reports or policy memos, are written to disseminate knowledge.
- Deliver News: Professional writing is often used to share recent events and accomplishments with both internal and external audiences.
- Call to Action: Business professionals use writing in an attempt to influence others for numerous reasons including selling merchandise and passing legislature.
- Explain or Justify an Action: Professional communication allows a business entity to explain their beliefs or to justify their actions.
Some general writing rules that also apply to business writing
One of the best sources for general writing tips is Oxford Living Dictionaries. These tips, practically applying to all writing specialties also work with professional business writing. Here are their main points:
- Put your main points first. State exactly why you’re writing the correspondence upfront. One exception to this rule is for sales letters. Reminding the recipient of a past meeting or a common connection you share is an acceptable way to open as it may influence the recipient to be more amenable to your intended aims.
- Use everyday words. Using words such as “about” rather than “concerning,” “expect” rather than “anticipate,” and “part” instead of “component” will make your writing less stilted.
- Know your audience. Unless it’s aimed at an industry-specific audience, don’t fill your writing with lots of technical jargon. Adjust your tone to suit your intended reader.
- Use contractions when possible. Business writing has undergone a shift from formal to a more accessible style, so using “we’re” not “we are,” and “we’ve” not “we have” is the way to go.
- Use active rather than passive verbs. Active verbs allow the reader to comprehend quickly and understand more completely.
- Write tight. Choosing the word “decided” rather than “made the decision” makes reading easier for the audience.
- Don’t be beholden to rules in every situation. This is a case of knowing your audience. If your aim is to make your writing conversational, it’s fine to end a sentence with a preposition now and then, especially to improve flow and avoid awkward construction. Sloppy writing, poor word choice, or an unearned overly familiar attitude can come back to haunt the writer.
- Keep your font choices simple. Stick to a nice, clean type style such as Helvetica or Times New Roman.
- Don’t overuse visuals. Generally speaking, visuals should be used at a minimum—they should not exceed 25% of your document, memo, email, report, etc. Too many graphics become confusing and often detract from the message you want to convey.
One of the maxims of how to write like a business professional could read as follows. “Write to Express, Not to Impress.” Instructional Solutions (above) rightly quotes French philosopher Blaise Pascal on the subject: “I apologize for the length of this letter. I did not have time to make it shorter.” So, it is good to again underline clarity and concision as two key principles of good business writing.
Most academic institutions do not emphasize this enough. Very often, they insist that writers complete texts of a certain length. “We have to fill ten pages, and we’re instructed to develop our writing and expand the concept.”
But, good business writing is harder to write than good academic writing. And the only way to be able to do so is to try to have as much extensive practice as possible. That is something that BunnyStudio insists on for all its freelance writers, many of which are very well skilled in business writing.