You may be asked to produce a wide range of documents as part of your work, or for business purposes. Some of these have very specific purposes. However, business writing is not in itself very different from any other form of writing. Fundamentally, in business writing, you are expected to write for a specific audience, and often in a specific style.
However, the same rules as for other writing apply. In particular, you need to think about your audience, and tailor what you write to their needs. This page discusses business writing in general, and explains some of the many types of documents that you may be asked to produce. It also provides information about some skills required for business writing.
Writing Business Documents
Business Writing Style
There is no clearly defined ‘business writing style’ because every organisation has its own style.
However, when writing for business purposes, it is usually a good idea to:
- Adopt a more formal and less conversational writing style, unless you are communicating directly with someone you know very well. However, even then, you should assume that you are creating an official document that might well be published somewhere in due course.
- Write more concisely. Unless you are writing a blog post or similar, you should aim to avoid the use of adverbs or adjectives, and keep your writing as concise as possible.
- Use plain English and shorter sentences. This makes your writing easier to read and understand.
There are many different types of business documents that you may be asked to produce. They include:
Reports, a general term for any document that provides information. These documents usually, but not always, analyse a situation and make recommendations for actions. Reports are often produced for senior managers to provide advice about a situation. Many, if not most, will also require an executive summary.
There is more about these two documents in our pages Report Writing and How to Write an Executive Summary.
Business cases are documents that set out a rationale for a particular project or activity. They are often required to obtain funding for projects, and are therefore used both within the business and externally, for banks or investors.
You can find out more in our page on How to Write a Business Case.
A business plan sets out your business goals and how you plan to achieve them. It usually covers a period of two to three years, and is especially important in the early stages of a business.
There is more about writing business plans in our page on Developing a Business Idea.
A marketing strategy explains how you are going to sell your products or services now and in the future. It usually covers your products, your market, including your customers and competitors, and your approach to selling.
There is more about this in our page on Writing a Marketing Strategy.
One aspect of your marketing strategy might be to write some marketing copy. This is any text designed to be read by customers or potential customers, and may include flyers, advertisements, blog posts, webpages or videos. Its purpose is to sell your goods or products, though this may not be obvious from the text.
There is more about this in our page on Writing Marketing Copy.
A press release is a document that provides information for journalists. Press releases are usually written to encourage journalists to write your desired story. They therefore set out the broad headline, provide quotes from individuals, and highlight why the story matters.
There is more about this in our page on How to Write a Press Release.
A special case: taking minutes of meetings
Taking minutes of meetings is an art in itself. Effectively, you have to tell the story of the meeting—but in an ideal form, rather than in the way that it actually happened. This requires an understanding of the politics of the meeting, as well as the topics being discussed.
The secretary to a meeting also has other important duties, including working with the chair to produce an agenda, keeping records of who attended, and preparing and circulating papers.
There is more about this in our page on Taking Minutes and the Role of the Secretary.
Skills for Business Writing
There are several skills that are useful in business writing.
Some are specific to business writing, but others are more general. They include:
Knowing your audience
Knowing your audience—and in business, understanding their pain points and problems—is crucial for effective writing. Whatever document you are writing, you need to be thinking about your audience, and their needs.
Your writing should always be ‘customer-centric’—that is, focused on the person who is going to be reading your document.
Writing that is ‘you-centric’, where ‘you’ might be the writer or the business itself, is much less likely to be heard and acted upon by your audience.
There is more about this in our page Know Your Audience.
Knowing your medium
The medium that you choose for communicating—that is, where your audience is going to read your writing—also has a huge bearing on what you write, and how you write it. There are differences between what you would write in an email, and what you would write in a formal business letter, for example.
There is more about this in our page Know Your Medium.
Emails vs Letters
There is an art to writing both emails and letters.
Letters have a very clear structure—and you are expected to use this structure, especially for a formal business communication. Even if you are going to send the letter by email, as an attachment, the traditional structure will be expected.
Emails do not usually follow this defined structure, although they still start and end with a greeting and a sign-off.
Emails are also usually more informal than letters, although this distinction is blurring as more organisations use emails on more occasions.
Keeping it simple
One of the hardest aspects of any writing is keeping it simple. This is especially true if you are an expert in your subject.
However, if you wish to communicate effectively with people who are less expert, you need to develop the skill of explaining complex ideas in simple language. One way to do this is to develop your ability to write in plain English: using shorter words and sentences, and focusing on clarity.
There is more about this in our page on Using Plain English. You may also be interested in our page on Avoiding Clichés.
Using stories to make your point—and using techniques from story-telling
Story-telling may seem like a technique reserved for personal writing, and particularly creative writing. However, it is also effective in business, when used appropriately. Stories can ‘hook’ your reader, attracting and holding their attention. They can also make a point in a very memorable and non-confrontational way, making it much easier to absorb.
We also use techniques from storytelling in business writing more generally, such as the ‘beginning, middle and end’ structure. These have been honed over millennia to help us remember points and recognise when documents have ended, so they are worth using.
There is more about this in our page on Storytelling in Business.
- Proofreading your work
Proofreading is not exciting or glamorous, but it is necessary.
Minor grammatical or spelling errors can put off readers. This can be a real problem if your readers are potential customers—or senior managers who may have the power to promote or dismiss you.
Taking time to read over your document to check for flow and readability will also ensure that it is more effective. It is usually advisable to leave it for a few hours at least, if not a day, before proofreading. This ensures that you are reading what you actually wrote, rather than simply remembering what you intended to write.
See our page Editing and Proofreading for more.
TOP TIP! Share proofreading duties with a colleague
If possible, it is a good idea to get together with a colleague and agree to proofread each other’s documents.
This ensures that you will always have another pair of eyes looking over anything before it goes any further—and should hopefully avoid any serious errors.
A Final Word
Many of the skills and expectations around business writing are common to any form of writing.
Fundamentally, the most important aspect is always to write with your audience in mind. If you are focused on their needs, you are unlikely to go far wrong.