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Some Principles of Business Writing: A Few Pointers to Help You Succeed


Before you even start typing, stop and think about the basics.

The “Who”: The choice of words, tone, structure and delivery method all depend on who is to receive the message. A message intended for the CEO of a major corporation will look, read, and use a much different format than one intended for the junior member of a project team.

The “What”: The purpose of the message may inform, and/or persuade, and/or direct. State the purpose of your message clearly at its beginning. Use the balance of your message to provide details that lead to the accomplishment of the purpose. Organize your thoughts and present them logically.

The “Why”: The message may require an explanation of its background—what circumstances made it necessary to convey the information, directive, action or announcement. The “why” provides perspective to help the reader understand why the message was sent.

Keep It Simple! Your message will miss its mark if you wrap it in a confusing cloud of complex words and sentences. State your message in simple, clear terms and make your point. Support your message with clear, logical, substantial data, facts and other information that bring the reader to the conclusion that you intend. Vigorous writing is concise!

Delivery: How and when you choose to deliver the message also affects its impact. Is the subject of the message best conveyed in a formal letter, memorandum or by email? Whatever format you choose, always remember that what you write can make or break you.

Applying the Basics

Letters: A business communication intended for another company, a government agency, customer, supplier or other entity is best conveyed in a formal letter. The letter provides a record of the communication and, therefore, is considered an official document. Business letters are written on company stationery and are addressed to the intended person at his/her business address. The letter also contains the date of the letter and references the issue addressed.

Memorandums: Communications intended for company personnel are usually conveyed in memorandums or memos. Memos explain or announce company policies, personnel matters, instructions, reminders or other matters. They are written for internal company audiences, not for the general public or outside entities.

E-mail: Your message should address only one message. Re-read the message before you send it. Clipped, short messages are acceptable, but they should make grammatical sense and be free of spelling and punctuation errors. Make sure the subject line helps the recipient know the goal of your email. Messages that contain sensitive business information should not be e-mailed. And it goes without saying that you’re on your company’s network… think before you hit send (then maybe don’t?).

Texting: Texting, the term used to describe the “shorthand” used to send messages with SmartPhones, is a combination of words and acronyms for phrases, such as BTW (by the way) and many more. As with other forms of electronic communication, text messages can be hacked and used against you so be careful when and how you use this form of communication. Make sure you know the terms of your agreement with the service provider. And more importantly, when texting with business contacts you’ll probably want to be a little more formal. Does it really need that smiley face?

Do your best to fit into the workplace culture and you’ll do great. Practicing a clear and effective business writing style can be one of the most important things you can do to further your career.