Creative and  Business Writing

Business Writing Skills

Use these business writing tips to make sure you write accurately and clearly, and minimise the chance of misunderstandings.

Make a writing plan
A plan is great skill to develop and really helps you focus on what you want to write. Use a plan to organise your ideas and structure your text logically and clearly. This helps you stay focused and relevant and ultimately, saves you time writing.

Say why you are writing in the first sentence
Help your reader understand why you are writing by starting with an objective sentence. Use phrases such as "I am writing to enquire about" or "We have been experiencing some technical problems with"

Keep it short and sweet
Don't make your reader have to wade through long, rambling sentences. Write concisely and clearly and use a simple sentence structure. Avoid falling into the trap of using over-formal words such as "hereby" and "herewith". They will make you sound old-fashioned and pompous and don't add any meaning to your sentence. Stick to your plan and only include relevant and necessary information.

Link your ideas
Guide your reader through your text by using linking words and phrases. Words such as "and", "because" or "however" make your text flow and prevent your sentences from appearing isolated from each other.

Get the tone right
The tone of your text is the "voice" that you use with your reader, and the one you choose depends on who you are writing to, and why you are writing. For example, if you are responding to a colleague's email, your tone will probably be friendly and helpful, while if you are writing a letter of apology to a customer, your tone could be polite and impersonal.

Getting the tone right also means you need to think from your reader's point of view. For example, if you use "you should" instead of "perhaps you could" to your boss, your writing tone becomes over-direct, or even challenging. Similarly, if you give bad news without introducing it first with a word or phrase such as "Unfortunately" or "We are sorry, but…" your reader might assume that you don't care. Thinking about the impact your writing has will help you avoid giving the wrong impression.

Keep your style appropriate and consistent
Bear in mind the formality of the situation. Writing to a friend is very different skill from writing to your bank manager and there are a number of factors which determine style, such as vocabulary choice, length and complexity of sentence and so on. When in doubt, the safest course of action is to choose a neutral style to avoid sounding either too formal or too informal for the situation.

End your correspondence by referring back to the reader
Make sure your reader knows what the next step should be. If you are asking for help in an email, you could end "Thanks for your help". In a letter you could write "I look forward to hearing from you." If you are replying to an enquiry, you could end the email or letter with "Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like further information". You could also end your correspondence by referring forward to a meeting, such as: "I look forward to meeting you next Thursday" or in an email "See you next week", or by asking the reader to do something, such as "Please sign and return the enclosed by the end of the month."

Make sure your salutation and ending are correct
If you start a letter with "Dear Mr X" or "Dear Ms X", end "Yours sincerely" (or in American English, "Sincerely yours"). If you know your reader quite well, you can start "Dear + first name" and end with "Best wishes" or "Best / Kind regards". If you don't know the name of the person you are writing to and start "Dear Sir or Madam", end with "Yours faithfully" rather than "Yours sincerely".

You can also start and end emails in the same way as letters. But if you are writing to more than one person, you can omit the salutation completely and start with your objective. Other ways you can end emails is by writing "Thanks" or even "Cheers", but never "Bye".

Pay attention to your punctuation
Most common punctuation mistakes are made with capital letters, commas and apostrophes. Remember that commas are used in lists, and to separate clauses, to give a kind of "breathing space". Capital letters should be used for proper nouns, and in the first sentence of your correspondence. Apostrophes are used to show possession or contraction, but never for plurals.

Edit your writing
Read through what you have written to check for spelling and grammar mistakes. Typical mistakes are confusing there and their, lose and loose, it's and its, for example. As you read your writing, check that you have followed your plan and that there is no redundant information.

Clare Whitmell is a qualified business communication trainer & has been coaching individuals and businesses for more than 20 years. She specializes in business & resume / c.v. writing and is the author of English Grammar for Busy People

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