Business Writing Tips

Reviewed Jul 11, 2017

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Summary

  • Use a writing process.
  • Develop a style.
  • Format documents appropriately.
  • Keep writing tools on hand.

Good writing plays a key role in business success. Written material often serves as an initial contact with potential customers, while documents and daily correspondence form the core of most business relationships. Sloppy writing can be a deal breaker. So whether you consider yourself a “word person” or dread touching the keyboard, it’s important to develop solid writing skills.

Use a writing process

Don’t expect to just sit down and churn out a perfect document. Writing well requires planning.

  • First, determine the main idea you want to convey and write it down in one or two sentences.
  • Develop an outline that supports the idea and answers all the basic questions—who, what, when, where, and why. An outline forms the backbone of the finished product. Without one, your document may ramble, causing readers to miss the point.
  • You also might want to try creating a ritual to get you in the “write” frame of mind. Deep breathing, picking up a special pen, or visualization of the successful finished product could help. 

When you finish writing your document, read it out loud. If a sentence or word sounds awkward, revise it. But you can’t get to that point without using these additional strategies first.    

Develop a style

Work to develop a simple, consistent style you can apply to all your business writing.

  • Pay close attention to each phrase you use. Watch out for unnecessary words. For example, instead of writing, “We acknowledge receipt of your letter,” you could write, “We have received your letter,” or “Thank you for sending your letter.”
  • Resist using bureaucratic terms, “corporatespeak,” or unnecessary big words. Instead of “optimum,” for instance, use “best.” Minimize jargon and acronyms. 
  • Break up long paragraphs and trim long-winded or redundant sentences. Lazy writing can lose readers. Nobody wants to spend 10 minutes rereading one sentence before understanding it.
  • Get right to the point in letters, memos, and emails.
  • Use the active voice as often as possible. That will help make your writing concise and keep the reader moving through the document. For example, instead of writing, “The proposals will be reviewed by the selection committee,” you should write, “The selection committee will review the proposals.”
  • Avoid inappropriate humor. If you must include a joke or comment in an email, leave it for the end. 

Format documents appropriately

Format your documents to make them easy to read and appropriate for the type of document you’re working with.

  • Use serif fonts such as Times New Roman for text. They are easier to read. (Serifs are the little “tails” or flourishes on letters.) Try to limit sans-serif fonts such as Arial to headings or captions.
  • Leave margins ragged right rather than justified.
  • Keep paragraphs short to avoid intimidating blocks of text. Vary the number of lines per paragraph to make the document more interesting to look at.
  • Use bulleted lists and subheads to make complicated material easier to understand and to add visual appeal.
  • If appropriate, use graphics, maps, or other devices to help convey important information—but avoid cluttering the document.
  • In emails, delete inappropriate headers and leave the original message so the reader can put your response in context. Remember that although emails can be more informal, they still constitute business correspondence. Make sure you include a greeting and end with a courteous signoff.

Keep writing tools on hand

Computer spell checkers can be very helpful, but don’t rely on them to catch all your mistakes. Keep some basic writing tools on hand.

  • Buy a good dictionary and a thesaurus.
  • Use a style manual, such as The Chicago Manual of Style or The United States Government Printing Office Style Manual, for guidance. A style guide can provide pointers such as which words to capitalize and when to abbreviate words. Ask your clients if they have a preference.
  • If possible, ask a technical editor to review your work.

Remember that to write well, you need patience and practice. Reading examples of good writing—from novels to marketing materials—also can be invaluable in improving your own writing. 

By Kristen Knight
Source: The Gail Tycer Company, www.gailtycer.com; The Roberts Group Editorial Service, www.editorialservice.com; Effective Business Writing by Patrick Forsyth. Kogan Page, Ltd, 2009; The Business Style Handbook (2d. ed.) by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene. The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2012.

Summary

  • Use a writing process.
  • Develop a style.
  • Format documents appropriately.
  • Keep writing tools on hand.

Good writing plays a key role in business success. Written material often serves as an initial contact with potential customers, while documents and daily correspondence form the core of most business relationships. Sloppy writing can be a deal breaker. So whether you consider yourself a “word person” or dread touching the keyboard, it’s important to develop solid writing skills.

Use a writing process

Don’t expect to just sit down and churn out a perfect document. Writing well requires planning.

  • First, determine the main idea you want to convey and write it down in one or two sentences.
  • Develop an outline that supports the idea and answers all the basic questions—who, what, when, where, and why. An outline forms the backbone of the finished product. Without one, your document may ramble, causing readers to miss the point.
  • You also might want to try creating a ritual to get you in the “write” frame of mind. Deep breathing, picking up a special pen, or visualization of the successful finished product could help. 

When you finish writing your document, read it out loud. If a sentence or word sounds awkward, revise it. But you can’t get to that point without using these additional strategies first.    

Develop a style

Work to develop a simple, consistent style you can apply to all your business writing.

  • Pay close attention to each phrase you use. Watch out for unnecessary words. For example, instead of writing, “We acknowledge receipt of your letter,” you could write, “We have received your letter,” or “Thank you for sending your letter.”
  • Resist using bureaucratic terms, “corporatespeak,” or unnecessary big words. Instead of “optimum,” for instance, use “best.” Minimize jargon and acronyms. 
  • Break up long paragraphs and trim long-winded or redundant sentences. Lazy writing can lose readers. Nobody wants to spend 10 minutes rereading one sentence before understanding it.
  • Get right to the point in letters, memos, and emails.
  • Use the active voice as often as possible. That will help make your writing concise and keep the reader moving through the document. For example, instead of writing, “The proposals will be reviewed by the selection committee,” you should write, “The selection committee will review the proposals.”
  • Avoid inappropriate humor. If you must include a joke or comment in an email, leave it for the end. 

Format documents appropriately

Format your documents to make them easy to read and appropriate for the type of document you’re working with.

  • Use serif fonts such as Times New Roman for text. They are easier to read. (Serifs are the little “tails” or flourishes on letters.) Try to limit sans-serif fonts such as Arial to headings or captions.
  • Leave margins ragged right rather than justified.
  • Keep paragraphs short to avoid intimidating blocks of text. Vary the number of lines per paragraph to make the document more interesting to look at.
  • Use bulleted lists and subheads to make complicated material easier to understand and to add visual appeal.
  • If appropriate, use graphics, maps, or other devices to help convey important information—but avoid cluttering the document.
  • In emails, delete inappropriate headers and leave the original message so the reader can put your response in context. Remember that although emails can be more informal, they still constitute business correspondence. Make sure you include a greeting and end with a courteous signoff.

Keep writing tools on hand

Computer spell checkers can be very helpful, but don’t rely on them to catch all your mistakes. Keep some basic writing tools on hand.

  • Buy a good dictionary and a thesaurus.
  • Use a style manual, such as The Chicago Manual of Style or The United States Government Printing Office Style Manual, for guidance. A style guide can provide pointers such as which words to capitalize and when to abbreviate words. Ask your clients if they have a preference.
  • If possible, ask a technical editor to review your work.

Remember that to write well, you need patience and practice. Reading examples of good writing—from novels to marketing materials—also can be invaluable in improving your own writing. 

By Kristen Knight
Source: The Gail Tycer Company, www.gailtycer.com; The Roberts Group Editorial Service, www.editorialservice.com; Effective Business Writing by Patrick Forsyth. Kogan Page, Ltd, 2009; The Business Style Handbook (2d. ed.) by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene. The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2012.

Summary

  • Use a writing process.
  • Develop a style.
  • Format documents appropriately.
  • Keep writing tools on hand.

Good writing plays a key role in business success. Written material often serves as an initial contact with potential customers, while documents and daily correspondence form the core of most business relationships. Sloppy writing can be a deal breaker. So whether you consider yourself a “word person” or dread touching the keyboard, it’s important to develop solid writing skills.

Use a writing process

Don’t expect to just sit down and churn out a perfect document. Writing well requires planning.

  • First, determine the main idea you want to convey and write it down in one or two sentences.
  • Develop an outline that supports the idea and answers all the basic questions—who, what, when, where, and why. An outline forms the backbone of the finished product. Without one, your document may ramble, causing readers to miss the point.
  • You also might want to try creating a ritual to get you in the “write” frame of mind. Deep breathing, picking up a special pen, or visualization of the successful finished product could help. 

When you finish writing your document, read it out loud. If a sentence or word sounds awkward, revise it. But you can’t get to that point without using these additional strategies first.    

Develop a style

Work to develop a simple, consistent style you can apply to all your business writing.

  • Pay close attention to each phrase you use. Watch out for unnecessary words. For example, instead of writing, “We acknowledge receipt of your letter,” you could write, “We have received your letter,” or “Thank you for sending your letter.”
  • Resist using bureaucratic terms, “corporatespeak,” or unnecessary big words. Instead of “optimum,” for instance, use “best.” Minimize jargon and acronyms. 
  • Break up long paragraphs and trim long-winded or redundant sentences. Lazy writing can lose readers. Nobody wants to spend 10 minutes rereading one sentence before understanding it.
  • Get right to the point in letters, memos, and emails.
  • Use the active voice as often as possible. That will help make your writing concise and keep the reader moving through the document. For example, instead of writing, “The proposals will be reviewed by the selection committee,” you should write, “The selection committee will review the proposals.”
  • Avoid inappropriate humor. If you must include a joke or comment in an email, leave it for the end. 

Format documents appropriately

Format your documents to make them easy to read and appropriate for the type of document you’re working with.

  • Use serif fonts such as Times New Roman for text. They are easier to read. (Serifs are the little “tails” or flourishes on letters.) Try to limit sans-serif fonts such as Arial to headings or captions.
  • Leave margins ragged right rather than justified.
  • Keep paragraphs short to avoid intimidating blocks of text. Vary the number of lines per paragraph to make the document more interesting to look at.
  • Use bulleted lists and subheads to make complicated material easier to understand and to add visual appeal.
  • If appropriate, use graphics, maps, or other devices to help convey important information—but avoid cluttering the document.
  • In emails, delete inappropriate headers and leave the original message so the reader can put your response in context. Remember that although emails can be more informal, they still constitute business correspondence. Make sure you include a greeting and end with a courteous signoff.

Keep writing tools on hand

Computer spell checkers can be very helpful, but don’t rely on them to catch all your mistakes. Keep some basic writing tools on hand.

  • Buy a good dictionary and a thesaurus.
  • Use a style manual, such as The Chicago Manual of Style or The United States Government Printing Office Style Manual, for guidance. A style guide can provide pointers such as which words to capitalize and when to abbreviate words. Ask your clients if they have a preference.
  • If possible, ask a technical editor to review your work.

Remember that to write well, you need patience and practice. Reading examples of good writing—from novels to marketing materials—also can be invaluable in improving your own writing. 

By Kristen Knight
Source: The Gail Tycer Company, www.gailtycer.com; The Roberts Group Editorial Service, www.editorialservice.com; Effective Business Writing by Patrick Forsyth. Kogan Page, Ltd, 2009; The Business Style Handbook (2d. ed.) by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene. The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2012.

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