Business Writing for Beginners (the Essentials), with Examples

Feb 02, 2022 - Sophie Thompson

Business writing is a professional piece of writing used to pass a message in a comprehensible and effective way. This could be a report, email, proposal, notice, speech, memo, PowerPoint presentation, and brochure, among others.

Business writing can be informational, instructional, transactional, or persuasive. As part of effective communication in a workplace, it must be proficient and concise. That means the grammar, sentence structure, and use of language must be on point.

The ability to convey information succinctly and accurately in a business setting is vital, especially in this era, whereby audiences are busy. Careless mistakes can make customers question the products or services on offer.

Or it can leave employees and associates wondering what else the organisation has been negligent in.

To inspire clients, invite partners, or encourage workers, there are various ways to make a message stand out in business writing.

1. Understanding the audience

The reader takes centre stage in business writing. So, when advertising a business, the focus should be on what the customer needs rather than what the seller knows.

Often, a message intended for everyone appeals to no one. That is why it is crucial to know the readers, whether young, highly educated, urban, or fashionable. That way, it is easier to address their most pressing matters.

Example: ABC company is advertising services targeted at Gen Z (zoomers), the hyper-connected generation. First, ABC should keep in mind that this is a tech-centred audience that is very active on social media. They jump from one thing to the next in no time or multitask. Captivating the zoomers may take twice as much effort as it would for the millennials.

There's no need for long-form advertisements as Gen Z easily loses focus. Yet, they can quickly absorb simple, captivating content on Instagram stories, TikTok, and Snapchat.

If ABC wants to use video, then it should showcase the service in the first few seconds; otherwise, the brand will lose social interactions.

Another key aspect of the audience is the demographic traits. These are the common attributes of a particular audience. Men may see things differently from women, for instance.

If a business is doing a PowerPoint presentation on iron deficiency, the slides would include more data on the best sources of iron during a menstrual cycle and pregnancy. This information would not be needed if the audience were men.

Understanding the audience when writing

The age, employment status, and education level of the target audience matter a lot. A highly educated audience can grasp scholarly language, but first-year college students might need simplified terminologies.

Recognising that individuals and cultural norms are dynamic enhances intercultural communication. It is imperative to be aware of the perceptions of the target audience and to practice fairness.

This requires non-judgmental business communication that is open-minded, bearing in mind that some ideas can be strongly opposed because of differences in values and beliefs.

2. Correct format

Documents come in different formats. Some useful formatting elements include:

  • Titles and subtitles to separate categories
  • Brief paragraphs
  • Plenty of white space with bulleted and numbered lists
  • Indented text as a sub-element of the previous message

When it comes to emails and other forms of online communications, paragraphs should not exceed seven lines. Lengthy sentences reduce readability and most people are likely to jump an enormous block of text.

Headings and sub-headings help to scan the information more efficiently. On the other hand, indented paragraphs help to emphasize the hierarchy of information.

While dangling expressions may add an element of fun, it is best to avoid them altogether in business writing. Many times, they creep in when copy-pasting documents in bullets.

Example: Ximena took plenty of photos before flying back to Spain using her GoPro camera.

The reader might wonder how a GoPro camera can serve as a mode of transport in the example provided above.

3. Honing clarity

One mistake that communications managers make is creating bloated documents. The fewer the words, the better. Bloat happens when sloppy verbs are used. The first step to evade this blunder is cutting unnecessary words.

Focusing on action verbs is the best approach to enhancing clarity. Readers get bored when a piece of writing contains little action or unclear verbs.

A verb must play its role well without overwhelming the audience with add-ons. Similarly, good business writing doesn't always need adverbs. It is better off to incorporate powerful verbs that do not require modifiers.

Example: Alexander passionately loves the urban lifestyle.

A more powerful form of this sentence would be: Alexander treasures the urban lifestyle.

Decades ago, business writers thought big words showcased intelligence. But the truth is short, simple words have more impact. Unless employed wisely, ten-dollar words may sound redundant and exaggerated. They are awkward to read and hard to understand.

Here are examples of ten-dollar words and their synonyms.

  • Magnanimous- kind
  • Predilection- fondness
  • Feckless- incompetent
  • Chimera- monster
  • Facetious- amusing
  • Incongruous- twisted
  • Indiscriminately- needlessly
Correct structure when writing

4. Structure

Business writing must achieve its original purpose. It is okay to write down thoughts as they occur, but it is more important to bring order to the succession of ideas. The concept must be clear.

"If you cannot explain it to a six-year-old, then you don't understand it yourself." - Albert Einstein.

A complex idea with multiple angles, requests, and questions must be outlined before composing the message. An outline or draft saves time in clarifying points later. That said, a good business writer must think from the reader's perspective.

This helps to anticipate questions from the audience. The context should be good enough to explain what is in the text. If not, all the blanks must be filled in.

However, there's no need to go overboard explaining concepts. The goal is to provide enough information without overwhelming readers with trivial details.

5. Confident tone

A confident tone is calm and assuring. It doesn't use too many conjunctions, leaving the reader out of breath. On the other hand, a tone that is trying hard to impress may sound desperate and turn off the reader.

Here are two examples: a desperate tone vs. a confident tone.

Example 1

Travelling with us is the best decision you can make today, and you can rest assured of safety. If you book with us, you don't need to worry about anything, and you can continue with your day-to-day activity knowing that we are in charge of your holiday plans.

Example 2

Travel with us today easily and safely. Book with us and let us do the rest for you. Relax knowing that your vacation plan is in able hands.

Many business people are tempted to write the way they talk. This could be a positive thing, as it maintains a conversational tone. However, rambling in several sentences without getting to the point can make a document sound unconvincing.

Prepositional phrases often render business correspondence unnecessarily wordy. Prepositions should be used prudently to give the writing much-needed clarity. Using active voice eliminates dispensable prepositional phrases, e.g.

"The house was built by a famous Swedish architect" could be rephrased to "A famous Swedish architect built the house."

Another tip to avoid unnecessary prepositions is the use of adverbs, e.g.,

"The tool operates with vigour," could be shortened to "The tool operates vigorously."

Correct tone when writing

6. No fluff

Fluff content adds no value to a sentence. While filler words seem to add colour, they are the enemy of compelling emails or product descriptions. It is possible to get to the point by implementing these tips:

  • Tightening up the introduction
  • Limiting adjectives and adverbs
  • Avoiding jargon
  • Not stating the obvious
  • Staying on topic
  • Editing and proofreading

Some words and phrases are worthless in business writing: actually, absolutely, completely, kind of, sort of, really, just, and literally.

It is hard to grab the readers' attention with jargon. The content should sound like a human. Jargon speeches are the easiest way to bore and confuse the reader. Information targeted at the average person flows naturally.

Adjectives are great, but too many of them become filler words. A lot of people tend to misuse the words 'incredible' and 'amazing.' Descriptive words can make an article exciting, but readers might question the credibility of the business. Similarly, adverbs should be used in moderation.

Lastly, business writing should not state the obvious or include clichés. For instance, a restaurant manager is drafting a grand opening press release. The document can include the exact time and date of opening, the location, web address, and the type of food to be served. But there's no need to write a section on the topic 'how to make burgers.'

If statements cause readers to roll their eyes, then there's a problem in writing. Even though most prospects are seeking knowledge, they don't need repetitive explanations. The most effective message is hyper-targeted to the topic.

Final word

Any piece of business writing must keep the reader's interest at the forefront. Most people don't have the time to recap lengthy messages, so a formal document must be captivating in the first few sentences. The greatest challenge is to maintain clarity.

While trying to make a statement as brief as possible, it is easier to lose the original meaning.

Ultimately, good business writing gives a company the credibility it deserves. Poor writing skills present a brand as less qualified than the competition. Very few customers will be willing to pay for services if the ads contain obvious mistakes.

In the words of Mark Twain, "To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement," but good writing can be achieved as long as it relays what a brand represents.