You’re a professional — make sure you’re writing like one too
How is business writing different from any other writing?
Good business writing doesn’t happen accidentally. Much like how the content of business communication is deliberate and thought-out, so too is the process to become a good business writer.
Business writing consists of all the written communication that has to do with the professional workplace. From internal emails to guidebooks to client proposals, it’s important to master the written word in this setting.
The way you write reflects on the way your company presents itself. Your ability to deliver clear information in a concise manner is crucial to upholding a solid reputation and making a positive impact on clients.
While academic writing focuses more on factual, researched content and takes on a more formal tone, business writing has the leg room to be more relaxed. It’s okay to use the more personal “I” and “you” versus a third-person writing style. But, just as you’d never want to turn in an academic paper full of grammatical issues and confusing sentences, your business writing should also be free of any errors or inconsistencies. They should both go through rounds of revising.
There are four different types of business writing. Each is for a different targeted audience, has a different purpose, and therefore needs a different writing style.
Instructional business writing tells the reader how to complete a specific task by giving them proper instructions, just as the name suggests. This type of business writing can be used internally for employees or outward-facing for clients. It’s important for instructional writing to be clear, concise, and easy-to-follow. Use plain language when creating copy that falls under this category.
- How-to articles
- User manuals
- Employee handbooks
- Business memos
Rather than instructing the reader, informational business writing aims to inform the reader. Often, you’ll write in this manner when you’re recording specific information for record or to reference later. This writing needs to be to-the-point, accurate, and composed of facts.
- Financial reports
- Meeting minutes
- White papers
The professional communication that takes place day-to-day is considered transactional. Most of it occurs internally, with a lot of it coming from human resources. It’s crucial that this is done with healthy and effective communication if employers want to maintain a good work culture.
- Business letters
- Dismissal notices
Just as instructional writing informs the reader on how to complete an action, persuasive writing convinces the reader to take action. This is the kind of writing typically associated with sales. Proper thought needs to go into how you want to encourage readers that the content you’re presenting them with is necessary.
- Press releases
- Project proposals
How to develop an effective business writing style
Know who you’re writing for and why
You should never write blindly. Always, always, know who you’re writing for and what it is you want them to know.
✅ Identify your target audience
Your audience will dictate how your message is conveyed — you must understand who they are and what they need.
✅ Define the purpose of your writing
When you figure out what main point you’re trying to get across to your audience, the piece will begin to take shape. The overall purpose of your content will inform your sentence structure, your voice, your language, and other key fundamentals.
A part of this writing process involves identifying what type of business writing you’re producing. If you can recognize that it’s persuasive and client-facing, you’ve done half the work of figuring out how you need to write the copy.
Focus on clarity over quantity
Clarity is easily muddled when it comes to the written word, but there are a few ways to easily and quickly address this aspect of business and professional writing.
✅ Avoid jargon and overusing acronyms
Jargon can easily creep into both your written and spoken words. While it can make conversations flow better when speaking with others who are well-versed in your field, business jargon can create confusion with those who aren’t. Again, you have to be aware of whom you’re talking to, and make a judgment call.
✅ Shorten and simplify sentences
Editing the length of your sentences is one of the most effective ways to hone the clarity of your business communications. It’s easy to go on and on about an idea, but making your work concise is a crucial, somewhat overlooked skill.
While you’re at it, be sure to look for holes in the context or message — like places where you took a logical leap, or forgot to include information about how something is relevant to the main topic. Each sentence and paragraph should support the others in creating a coherent message.
Streamline structure and organization
Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to begin with business communications, especially if you’ve got pages and multiple decks of business research, analysis, and creative ideas. Say what you need to say in the first sentence and make the rest of the copy easy to follow.
✅ Lead with the important stuff
Set expectations for the reader and get to the point without delay. Our attention spans are more limited than ever, and it’s vital that your audience can tell from a quick glance if your content is worth reading.
✅ Break lengthy copy into smaller sections
Just as we’re doing in this guide, organize business writing into a scannable fashion. Include formatting such as line breaks, headings, and short paragraphs to make lengthy copy easy to skim. You’ll want to take a top-line approach to the organization if you want your words to be more absorbable.
Visually friendly formatting is especially important when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t necessarily have to listen to you, like a prospective client who may not have a lot of time to devote to reading emails.
Making it easier for readers to understand your writing will help you achieve your goals.
Fine-tune your tone and business writing style
The way that a piece of business or professional writing makes a reader feel is important, too. A professional and friendly tone helps foster a sense of congeniality between yourself and your clients and coworkers.
✅ Formal is not necessarily the same thing as professional
The way you say the things you need to say is important, and it can dictate everything that follows. If you’re not sure how your writing will be perceived, try reading it aloud — what would you think if someone sent you the same statement?
Example of formal phrasing:
“Report to me at your earliest convenience.”
Example of professional, yet less formal, phrasing:
“Stop by when you have a minute to chat.”
Both of these statements convey the same general message, but the tone is different, due to word choices and their connotations. The first statement relies on formal phrasing, and potentially implies a difficult conversation ahead.
✅ Lean on templates for consistent communications
If you’re regularly delivering the same message, go ahead and create an approved template for that business document. This will ensure consistency and allow you to really hone your business writing style. (Check out Writer’s snippets for easy-to-use, customizable templates.)
Write like you speak
There’s no need to make your writing sound like someone you’re not. People prefer relatability, transparency, and personality — even in business writing.
✅ Use the active voice over the passive voice
Every English teacher has preached about the virtues of writing with an active voice — and they’re right. Just as academic writing prefers the active voice, so too does business writing. As a quick refresher, active voice is when the subject of a sentence acts on the verb. Passive voice is when the subject is acted upon by the verb. Using an active voice helps with clarity, and is a more effective way to convey information in business communications. It sounds more natural, too.
Example of using active voice in business writing:
“She wrote the business report.”
Example of using passive voice in business writing:
“The business report was written by her.”
In these examples, “she” or “her” is the subject and “wrote” or “was written” is the verb. Not only does the active voice example sound more like a real human talking, it’s easier to understand.
✅ Avoid “robotic” business language
People prefer business writing that sounds like it was written by a human being, not a robot. Use contractions and stick to your usual vocabulary. You might think it’s necessary to elevate your prose in order to sound more professional, but your words can easily come off as stilted. Instead, write in plain language.
Having a term bank on hand or a tailored style guide can help you avoid the drab, monotone writing we’re warning you about. AI writing assistants exist today to assist anyone who writes, on any medium of their choosing, with their business writing skills.
The future is now — AI writing assistants improve how people write at work
Whether you realize it or not, AI has become part of everyday life — auto-correct when you’re texting, Google’s suggested edits in Gmail, etc. AI writing technology has improved since Grammarly first launched, and companies like Writer are leading the way with AI catered specifically to business writing. Professional AI writing assistants not only help people write better at work, but scale their writing processes, save time, and publish their content confidently.
Sometimes the right word isn’t coming to you. We don’t all have time — especially in a fast-paced business setting — to find that right word. AI writing assistants are perfect for giving your text a final proofread, suggesting any changes to your writing voice, or helping you repurpose your content into different formats.
Take your business writing to the next level with Writer
Writer has everything you need to improve your written communication in the business world. Whether you’re drafting an email and need to up your transactional writing game or need help abiding by the writing tips we mentioned, we’ve got you covered.
Create your own approved snippets and make sure your business communication is always meeting the highest standards. Formulate a living, breathing style guide so that all of the business writers in your company are following the same guidelines. Produce a term base that keeps track of the terms you’ve approved and the terms you’ve denied.
Emails, social media posts, Google Docs — you name it. With Writer, and with whatever medium your company uses, you can make sure everyone is adhering to a single source of truth. In-text suggestions will make sure you’re favoring active voice over passive voice and avoiding confusing jargon. You get the picture.
Illustration by Natalie Nelson