Business Writing

All writing you do in a business context should be focused on audience needs and expectations. The rhetorical strategies you have learned in first-year composition or its equivalent will be very helpful for you in a business context. However, the forms and expectations (the genre conventions) of business writing can make effective business communication appear very different from the writing you may be familiar with from your other coursework. This handout provides several key tips and considerations for bridging between your previous writing preparation and the expectations of the business professions and majors.

Triangle with

Audience and Rhetorical Situation

  • Remember that many different parts make up a whole document: you are a writer using a text to convey knowledge to your audience for some purpose. All communication exists within the constraints of this rhetorical situation, or context, as represented by Aristotle’s triangle to the right. Considering the rhetorical situation of your particular communication--the particular relationships of these parts--will help you craft an appropriate, rhetorically savvy communication. 
  • Identify your audience(s) and their important characteristics (the business environment, values and goals, communication practices, relationship to you, relationship to the topic, relationship to your purpose).
  • Identify your purpose and how best to achieve it. What do you want readers to know, do, or feel after reading your document? Align your tone, organization, and content to bring about what you intend.
  • Write so that your reader can quickly grasp the main points. Communicate "need to know” information and eliminate "nice to know” information. Not everything you find is important to your audience.
    • Focus on what your audience needs to know and on what your audience has asked you to supply—not on everything you have done or learned about the topic.
  • Make sure you understand your task and/or do what you’ve been asked to do. If your manager asks you to summarize and analyze market trends, make sure to include both summary and analysis. Demonstrate to your reader that you are in control of the information.
  • Consider your writing thoroughly public. What are the potential ways your document might be used and who are the potential audiences that could read your writing? Consider how those audiences would react if they read your document. Is this the response you intend?

Form and Format

  • Think about genre. What form of writing is most appropriate for the rhetorical situation? An email? A memo? A report?
  • Front load your topic, theme, claim, overriding conclusion in the first paragraph or sentence. Don't save the best for last.
  • Though you will need to provide some context for the reader, a long introduction is not usually necessary. 
  • Use headings to group, organize, and quickly communicate. Take your cue from the project assignment or instructions. If your boss asks you to write a report detailing the history, ramifications, and potential changes of a trend, include headings titled “History,” “Ramifications,” and “Potential Changes.”
  • If writing a memo or email, strategically use the “Subject” or “Re:” line—particularly important in the era of e-mail when a person may base his or her decision to read further on that one line.
  • A narrative of your research process is an inefficient way to communicate your findings. The document should present a developed idea, not a record of how your idea developed.
  • Break up long paragraphs; the shorter the better. Consider using bullet points introduced by a short paragraph or phrase for context.

Style

  • Use clear and precise wording to avoid misinterpretation or confusion.
  • Make sure connections are readily apparent. Although smooth flow isn't imperative, your audience should quickly see how the points you raise relate to the topic at hand.
  • Eliminate as many throw away words as possible ("that," "really," "very").
  • Use strong verbs (avoid "be," "is," "am," "are," "was," "were," "been" "being"). Edit to revise passive voice.
  • Remove unnecessary phrases such as "It is important to note that," or substitute a single word for wordy phrases such as "because" for "due to the fact that."
  • Consider your tone. Provide the reader with the information he or she needs, but don’t be condescending, demanding, or overly critical. Also, be wary of the use of "we" or "I." Is it appropriate for the subject, audience, and rhetorical situation?
  • Proofread carefully. Misspelled words and simple grammar mistakes are simply unacceptable and will damage your credibility in the eyes of your reader.