When writing in the field of business, whether for your courses or in your career, your writing should always:
1. Be concise and get to the point as quickly as possible
Most fields value concise writing, but it is particularly important to the field of business. The purpose of business writing is usually to convey concrete information rather than to ask readers for critical reflection, so making sure your communications get to the bottom line (the ultimate purpose) immediately will accomplish this.
People in the business world operate at a fast pace, so communicating in a brief, matter-of-fact manner respects their time and commitments. When writing to a new business contact, it is best to eliminate all language that veers, even slightly, from the task at hand. Here are a few examples of sentence clutter to avoid:
- Redundancies such as “background experience” or “combine together”
- Phrases instead of a single word – rather than “at the present time,” use “now” or “currently”
- Useless adverbs such as “really” and “very”
2. Be tailored for the specific audience within the larger business community
The audience (who you expect to be reading your writing) in business writing is dependent on many factors, including whether the text is intended for public viewing (such as an advertisement) or for internal communications (such as a memo). It also depends on the sub-genre within the field of business, as expectations will differ from department to department (for example, marketing, finance, accounting, among others).
Business writing is one of the few fields where familiarity with colleagues or clients can allow for gradual acceptance of informality in communication. In other words, the language you use in writing evolves as your business relationships do.
The language, tone, format, style, and length you use for your writing will differ depending on who you are writing to and for what purpose.
3. Be tailored for the type or purpose of writing in business
The type of writing and purpose (what you hope to accomplish with your writing) will influence the way you write. Writing copy for a website will differ in style and length from writing important internal memos for an organization.
Take the time to notice the different purposes and goals of business writing so that you can understand the expectations for the various types of writing you’ll do within the field of business. The rules for your writing will differ if you are trying to persuade a client to buy a product, to explain business services on a website, or to obtain a job interview through a well-written cover letter.
It is important to note that business writing and academic writing (which you may be used to) are different. Review the differences between academic and professional writing in the What is Professional Writing? Infographic.
4. Be formatted and styled so it is easy to scan
Format is what your document looks like. For example, business letters should be single-spaced with block paragraphs and aligned left. However, there are also formats for documents such as memos, newsletters, and many more.
Business writing for almost every purpose should be easy to scan. Draw your readers’ attention to details with the use of:
- Section headers to identify important sections
- Bold font, italics, or underlining to highlight words or phrases of special importance
- Short paragraphs of 4 sentences or less
- Bulleted or numbered lists when possible
- Visuals such as images, charts, or graphs
5. Be free of pretentious jargon and vague language
Avoid using corporate jargon and language that is vague. Business communication should be easy to understand without the use of non-words or words that do not have a clear and direct meaning. Examples of language to avoid in business writing include:
- “Few,” “some,” or “many” (be specific—how few or many exactly?)
- “Pursuant to our agreement” (change to “as we agreed”)
- “Via email” (change to “by email”)
- “Subsequent to” (change to “after”)
- Buzzwords such as “synergize,” “leverage,” or “transformative”
6. Be credibly sourced, honest, and free of plagiarism
- When gathering useful research for your business writing, be sure to use sources that are from credible, reliable, and unbiased authors or organizations.
- Whether writing for a course or in the workplace, cite where you’ve gotten any of the information you use. The citation and reference format you use will depend on the type of writing you are doing. For example, if you are writing academically, you’ll be required to use an academic citation style such as APA. If you are writing a business article or business proposal, you might cite your source by using a hyperlink to it, and you may not be required to have a separate references list. Determine the citation formatting expectations for the type of writing you are doing.
- Being honest in your business communications means providing even the negative data on a proposal you might be suggesting or fact-checking any information that was reported to you that you are passing along.
- Plagiarism includes copying the words of another writer verbatim, but it also extends into borrowing the ideas or organization from other texts. Be sure that all written work in the field of business is original and in your own words. In referencing outside research, cite where the information came from.
7. Use correct English language conventions
If your writing contains errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation, this will distract your reader from your ideas and may even lead your reader to make assumptions about your attention to detail or your abilities. All writing needs to be free of language errors so your reader can focus on your ideas rather than your writing.
When writing for business classes, you’ll consider your purpose and audience, and you’ll use proper writing conventions, language, style, and format.
What is the assignment purpose?
When writing for business courses, the purpose may be to inform, persuade, or respond to the ideas of others in your field. Be sure to know your ultimate goal before attempting to engage with your writing task.
Who is the audience?
This is dependent on the assignment or task. In some cases, your assumed audience will be authority figures to whom you must present information; in other cases, you will write to colleagues or current/prospective clients.
What is the appropriate language?
You will always use standard English in your initial business communication. While language should be mostly formal, your particular purpose may allow for varied approaches that include informal language or, in some cases, slang.
Generally speaking, in your business classes you will adhere to the fundamentals of formal business communication and academic voice.
What is the appropriate style & format?
There is no single standard style or format in the field of business; however, different tasks within the field have their own conventions. For many of the assignments in your courses, you may be asked to use an academic formatting style such as APA. Be sure to learn the expectations for your specific writing assignment before you begin.
Guides and samples for the most common business writing assignments:
(You may be asked to do these types of writing in courses too)
Writing on the job includes various types of writing. You may also be asked to do some of these types of writing in your courses. Your purpose or reason for writing and your audience will determine the type of writing you create, and the type of writing will determine the conventions, language, style, and format.
What is the purpose?
Your purpose for writing may be to get a job, to convey data to a group of colleagues, or to communicate a need, among other reasons. The purpose for writing will determine the type of writing you do.
Who is the audience?
Your audience may be your organization, executives, or prospective clients. The audience you are writing to will dictate the language you use and how you need to adjust your writing.
What is the appropriate language and format?
Each type of writing has its own expectations of language and format. Your audience will largely determine the language style you use.
Review the expectations, style, and format along with samples for the most common types of writing you’ll do as a business professional:
Research is a big part of writing in the field of business. The information below can help you when doing research for your courses and beyond.
When researching in the field of business, your greatest resource may be the information available in your university library. Some business-specific databases include:
When performing research within one of these databases, it is best to start with an Advanced Search option to enter the Keywords or Search Terms related to your topic. Use only one concept per box. See the library’s Advanced Search Techniques Infographic for further guidance.
Some common keywords relating to business include:
- Company profile
- Business plan
- Marketing plan
- Organizational behavior
- Human Resources
- Business culture
- Corporate culture
- Small business
- Business ethics
- Financial planning
- Strategic planning
Once you have retrieved your results, you may want to refine them. You can limit your results to scholarly and peer-reviewed articles, or to articles that fall within a specific date range.
The internet is another great resource when conducting business research. However, when searching for web resources, be cautious since anyone with Internet access can post anything online. To better assist you with evaluating web resources, consult the following tutorials:
There are techniques you can use when searching the Internet to find the information you need. For example, when using Google, adding site:edu along with your search terms will limit your results to only online resources published by educational institutions. Similarly, site:org will find organizational websites, and site:gov will return government websites.
For more techniques you can use, see the library’s Advanced Internet Search Techniques infographic.