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Writing for Business

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.

Business Letters

Poe suggests five general guidelines to letter writing:

  1. 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]


  2. 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)


  3. 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.


  4. Emphasize the Positive

    Again, a short list from Poe:


    1. Stress what you can do -- not what you can't.

      Don't tell the client "I can't".....tell them "I will" or "I suggest"


    2. 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 position.

      While you would probably enjoy writing the more negatively phrased response, don't. A brief moment of satisfaction is not worth it.


    3. 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.


    4. 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 information requested.

      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 r�sum�?


  1. 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.

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