Writing for Business
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There are generally three types of writing you will perform in a
business setting: letters , memos , and formal reports . You will also
spend a fair amount of time filling out forms, but I'm not including
that here. Letters, at least business letters, are used for formal
communications, generally outside the organization. However, a general
rule of thumb is a business letter deserves a business letter in
reply, even though the originator and recipient are within the same
organization. Memo's are generally short, intended to remain inside
the organization, to provide information to the recipient (e.g., a
change in policy). Lastly, you will also write formal reports. These
are generally discussions of analysis and recommendations. Please
note, I've also identified a short list of suggestions that will help
improve your writing.
Poe suggests five general guidelines to letter writing:
- Don't Waste Words
Consider the following statement:
With reference to your request for an extension on your note
under date of March 20, we have considered the matter carefully and
are pleased to tell you that we will be willing to allow you an
additional ninety days to make payment on your note. [46 words]
Now consider the revision suggested by Poe:
We are pleased to allow you an additional ninety days to pay your
note dated March 20. [17 words]
- Keep the language Lively and Simple
A quote from Poe:
When you're writing a letter, express yourself pretty much as you
would if you were facing your reader. Would you say to your boss:
"My analytical evaluation of the incentive play that has been
instituted revealed myriad discrepancies and inconsistencies, with
the inevitable result that serous inequities prevail among
personnel"? Of course you wouldn't! Here is probably what you say:
"I've studied our present incentive plan carefully, and I think some
changes are in order. What bothers me most is about it is that the
plan is very fair to some, but not at all fair to others.
Stuffy, overblown language has become so common that a name has
been coined for it: federalese. This is because federal government
writers have a special fondness for abstruse expressions (
abstruse is a federalese word that means hard to understand
)....Even when you know that the person you are writing to is
highly literate, it's still a good idea to chose the simple word
over the showy word &emdash; not because the read won't understand
you, but because conversational writing is livelier and more
interesting to read.(pp. 11-12)
- Personalize your Letters
Take an extra five minutes and include something about the person
in the letter. We all recognize impersonal form letters when we
receive them. And yours are just as easy to spot. If you do have a
form letter, leave space for additional information. Keep track of
contacts likes/dislikes. Almost any good personal information
manager (PIM) has an address book with space for comments. This can
be an invaluable resource for adding life and personalized details
to business communications.
- Emphasize the Positive
Again, a short list from Poe:
- Stress what you can do -- not what you can't.
Don't tell the client "I can't".....tell them "I will" or "I
- Stay away from negative words and phrases.
Had you read our advertisement carefully , you would
know that a year's experience is required of all applicant's.
As noted in our ad, a year's experience is required for this
While you would probably enjoy writing the more negatively
phrased response, don't. A brief moment of satisfaction is not
- Do more than you have to. Currently our hospital does not sell
durable medical equipment to individuals. However, I've
enclosed a copy of the yellow pages listings of companies who
would be able to help you.
- Time your letters for best results.
Time is a luxury most of us wish we had more off. When you
receive a letter to which you cannot provide an answer within a
week, acknowledge it, and explain when you will have the
NOTE: Sometimes it is a good idea to let a week or more go by
before you respond. How many of you want to hear that you didn't
get the job within a day of submitting an application? Would you
believe that the company really read your résumé?
- Use Correct Letter Form
Blocked or semi-blocked? The answer depends on the company. I
personally use a Full-Blocked style of letter writing. This means
that everything, from the date, the recipients mailing address, the
body of the letter, and complimentary close and signature is flush
left. I find I make fewer mistakes that way. Most word processors
available today have a variety of templates to assist you in writing
correct business letters, some of which even create a personal
letterhead for your use.