Elements of Effective Business Writing

Business writing that commands attention and can be understood easily is essential for survival in today’s business environment. Business writing can impact on the whole business cycle; it can win business; it can lose business and it can communicate the framework by which results can be achieved.

As an employee, you will be expected to process volumes of available information and shape useful messages that respond to the needs of customers or clients, co-workers and supervisors, and other key business partners. Your ability to produce crisp and effective writing pieces is pivotal to your success on your job.

  1. Impeccable grammar: Grammar refers to the rules that govern a language. It determines what is correct and what is not in any given language. An effective business writing skill requires that your grammar be impeccable. Poor grammar can make you look incompetent and unprofessional.
  2. Appropriate use of vocabulary: One of the major skills required in business writing is the ability to use words appropriately. It could take you a longer time to compose a letter or write a report if you don’t have enough words to capture your message right away. Therefore, the more words you know, the easier it is for your readers and listeners to understand you.
  3. Cohesive Paragraphs: In business writing, paragraphs are not usually very long. It could be as short as just a line and as long as eight lines in some cases. Ideally, a maximum of six lines is desirable. Importantly, however, paragraphs should be cohesive and focused. Use linking expressions to introduce your paragraphs.
  4. Pronoun Consistency: Anaphor is the pronoun used to refer to a word or phrase used earlier. It is important to be consistent with the deployment of pronouns in your writings.
  5. The Rule of Three: The rule of three is a principle in writing that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently easier to understand, appears complete, satisfying and more effective. It gives the sense that you can make your writing effective by building three body points. People find it easy to assimilate messages presented in threes. If you have several parts, you may reduce them into three major segments to make it simpler. Essentially, give a background, present the issue and give a compelling conclusion.
  6. No Cliché: Clichés are words or phrases that have become overused and are no longer effective. They are not grammatically wrong, but have lost their savour or essence in modern writing. They are dead expressions.

An excellent writing skill will enhance your work and contribute immensely to the success of your organisation.

Adapting your Message to your Audience

Communicating effectively begins with the writer’s ability to envision and adapt her message to her audience. Adaptations include focusing on the receiver’s point of view; communicating ethically and responsibly; building and protecting goodwill; using simple, contemporary language; writing concisely; and projecting a positive tactful tone. Observe the following to adapt your message to your audience:

Focus on the Receiver’s Point of View: Ideas are more interesting and appealing if they are expressed from the receiver’s viewpoint. Developing a “you attitude” rather than a “me attitude” involves thinking in terms of the other person’s interests and trying to see a problem from the others’ points of view. A letter, memo, email, or phone call reflecting a “you attitude” sends a direct signal of sincere concern for the receiver’s needs and interest.

Communicate Ethically and Responsibly: The familiar directive “with power comes responsibility” applies especially to your use of communication skills. Because business communication affects the lives of many, you must accept responsibility for using it to uphold your own personal values and your company’s standards of ethical conduct. Before speaking or writing, use the following guidelines to help you communicate ethically and responsibly:

  • Is the information stated as truthfully, honestly, and fairly as possible?
  • Does the message embellish or exaggerate the facts?
  • Is your viewpoint supported with objective facts?
  • Are ideas stated with tact and consideration that preserves the receiver’s self-worth?
  • Are graphics carefully designed to avoid distorting facts and relationships?

Use Euphemisms Cautiously: A euphemism is a kind word substituted for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant. For example, the idea of picking up neighbourhood garbage does not sound especially inviting. Someone who does such work is often referred to as a sanitation worker. This term has a more pleasant connotation than garbage collector. Generally, you can recognize such expressions for what they are—unpleasant ideas presented with a little sugar coating. Knowing the sender was simply trying to be polite and positive, you are more likely to react favourably. You will also want to avoid doublespeak, also known as doubletalk or corporate speak. Such terms refer to euphemisms that deliberately mislead, hide, or evade the truth. This distortion of the truth is often found in military, political, and corporate language.

Use Contemporary Language: Business messages should reflect correct, standard English and contemporary language used in a professional business setting. Outdated expressions, dull clichés, and profanity reduce the effectiveness of a message and the credibility of a communicator.

Avoid Profanity: Increasing tolerance of profanity is an issue of concern to society as a whole and also for employers and employees as they communicate at work. You must consider the potential business liabilities and legal implications resulting from the use of profanity that may offend others or create a hostile work environment. Recognise that minimising or eliminating profanity is another important way you must adapt your language for communicating effectively and fostering human relations in a professional setting.

Use Simple, Informal Words: Business writers prefer simple, informal words that are readily understood and less distracting than more difficult, formal words. If a receiver questions the sender’s motive for using formal words, the impact of the message may be diminished. Likewise, the impact would be diminished if the receiver questioned a sender’s use of simple, informal words. That distraction is unlikely, however, if the message contains good ideas that are well organized and well supported. Under these conditions, simple words enable a receiver to understand the message clearly and quickly.

Myriad of things are competing for the 21st century readers’ attention. A research by Microsoft revealed that an average human now has an attention span of eight seconds. As a writer, you have the responsibility to get the attention of your audience and sustain it.



Business communication by Carol M. Lehman & Debbie D. Dufrene