The Ultimate Guide to Better Business Writing: 100 Tips, Tools, and Resources

Posted October 8, 2009

Most successful businesspeople have developed professional communication skills over the course of their career. They’ve written their fair share of memos, letters, emails, and reports, and their early work likely left a lot to be desired. They climbed their way through years of toil to where they are now, and you can do the same. Make use of these business writing tools, and you might just find yourself on top someday, too. How-To Everybody has to start somewhere; here are the very basics of business writing.

  1. Writing Resource Center: This page introduces the concept of incorporating evidence and proofs into persuasive business writing.
  2. The Business Writing Center: The Business Writing Center teaches 41 business writing courses online and presents business writing workshops at company sites.
  3. Business Letters: Accentuating the Positive: From the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University comes professional writing tips to get your point across effectively.
  4. Model Letters for Various Purposes: This handout provides several model letters for various job-search purposes including: a reference request model, a request for further negotiations model, and a reply to a rejection model.
  5. Memo Writing: This link will help you with your memo problems by discussing what a memo is, describing the parts of memos, and providing examples and explanations that will make your memos more effective.
  6. Email Etiquette: Although instant messaging and texting are taking over email inboxes, effective and appropriate email etiquette is still important. This resource will help you to become an effective writer and reader/manager of email.
  7. Tone in Business Writing: This handout gives examples of how to use tone in business writing. This includes considering the audience and purpose for writing.
  8. Using Appropriate Language: Eliminate jargon with this helpful handout.
  9. Revision in Business Writing: Provides information on revising business documents for audience and purpose with emphasis on language, tone, organization, and correctness.
  10. Prioritizing your Concerns: This handout will teach you how to increase the readability of your business documents.

Blogs These bloggers are either business writing professionals or business writers in desperate need of help. All of them have important information on the subject, so read up.

  1. Business Writing Blog: Check out this blog on business writing with expert advice and examples.
  2. Write Better in Business : Best practices from business writing gurus.
  3. Businessweek: Get the latest trends on business writing. This blog offers clear and easy-to-understand tips on the how to write with clarity.
  4. Manage Your Writing: This blog is updated weekly with a new tip or tool to use to improve your business writing.
  5. The Business Insider: Expert insights, advice, and trend spotting by Tim Rosa Associates.
  6. Business Writing Info: A business writing blog offering tips and expert advice to improve your business writing skills.
  7. Clear Business: Dan Furman’s business writing blog.
  8. Wordbiz: Blogging and social media expert Debbie Weil shows her business readers how to make the perfect business blog.
  9. The Art of Business Writing: Learn to write more persuasively and further your business endeavors.
  10. Technical/Business Writing 101: The most important basics of business writing.

Workshops Some of these workshops cost a pretty penny, but they have guaranteed results and offer personalized business writing help.

  1. Business Writing at its Best: This is the "Rolls-Royce of business writing workshops," according to its clients. A seasoned expert provides individually tailored workshops based on each writer’s need.
  2. Syntax Training: This site offers public business writing classes guaranteed to improve business writing.
  3. The Writing Workshop: Business writing training to boost your confidence.
  4. American Management Association Seminar: This 2-day business writing workshop comes with valuable templates, how-to advice and feedback.
  5. Writing Trainers: These online courses provide writing coaching, editing help, and free writing evaluation.
  6. Bottom Line Business Writing:
  7. The Email and Business Writing Workshop: In just one day, you’ll learn proven tips and techniques that guarantee every e-mail, letter, memo, and report you write will be polished and on-target.
  8. Essentials of Business Writing: Learn the most imporant features of business writing, including logical and persuasive techniques.
  9. Essentials of Technical Writing: Examine various types of documentation such as reports, proposals, instructions, and manuals, learn the principles of good document design, successfully incorporate graphics, and discover the keys to creating a text that gets the job done.
  10. Elements of Effective Writing: Don’t let sloppy English hold you back from successful writing. These grammar pointers will help out businesspeople who aren’t naturally technical writers.

Etiquette Business expert Natalie Cooper came up with these great tips to overcome email writing faux pas.

  1. State the subject: The subject line should be specific about the topic or purpose of the email. Lines like "Need your help" or, worse, "(no subject)," are not informative enough and should be avoided.
  2. Include a greeting: Whether it’s "Hi Bob" or "Dear Mr. Customer," a salutation is a friendly and proper way to begin an email.
  3. Identify the sender: When an email is the first point of contact with the recipient, it should clearly identify the sender and the reason for sending the message in the first paragraph. The signature line should also be used to good effect, with the sender’s full name and alternate contact information (phone, fax and mailing address, for example – even the sender’s Facebook or Twitter page if that information is relevant).
  4. Short, sweet and to the point: The email should be as brief as possible. Ideally, it should only have one point to make and should be clear in what it is asking the recipient to do with the information (the "call to action"). Also, short email messages are much kinder to Blackberry users reading them on the go.
  5. Revise, revise: No email should ever be sent without revision – or at least a quick proofread, concentrating on making the message as concise and clear as possible. And more recipients mean that the message should be read even more closely, because the more people who read the email, the greater the risk that someone will misunderstand part of it.
  6. Get serious: Emoticons ("smilies") should be avoided in business emails unless the emails are informal messages between coworkers. Likewise, text-messaging jargon is also something to avoid in professional emails (srsly!).
  7. Careful with that "Reply" button: It’s all to easy to hit "Reply All" instead of just "Reply" or vice-versa, and clicking the wrong one could have very bad repercussions.

Common Mistakes to Avoid The important thing for new writers to realize, is everyone makes mistakes. These lists of common errors are from writers, readers, and business professionals who have "been there, done that." So take it easy on yourself, and look out for these writing no-no’s.

  1. Common Usage Errors Quiz: Answer these questions to test your understanding of 26 common business writing problems.
  2. Ten Common Business Writing Mistakes: Find out a little bit about your writing skills with this quiz. When you’re finished, check your answers to see where you can improve.
  3. WorkKeys Common Business Writing Errors: A list of common business writing errors.
  4. Business Writing Mistakes: Errors can damage your reputation, so follow these guidelines to ensure correctness, every time you write.
  5. Proofreading your Writing: When proofreading your paper, be on the lookout for these errors.
  6. Fast Email Fixes: This site shows the most common errors in business emails and how to fix them.
  7. Quick Fixes for Business Writing Errors: Proofreading shouldn’t take as long as the writing itself. Make your editing fast, easy and painless, with this go-to guide.
  8. Better Business English: These are things every businessperson should know, so read this, then pass it on to your colleagues.
  9. Writing Mistakes that Cost You Money: Avoid these common mistakes and avoid inefficiency.
  10. Getting it Write: Ten common writing mistakes and how to avoid them.

Workshops The videos here are wonderful resources for business writers who find visual and auditory teaching most helpful.

  1. Report Writing: Learn the basics of report writing through this link.
  2. Email Writing: Keep your emails on-target and readable with these tips.
  3. Proposal Writing: Guarantee the acceptance of your proposal by putting this tool to use.
  4. Memo Writing: Spread the word with effective memos.
  5. Instruction Writing: If you want something done right but don’t have time to do it yourself, watch this video and learn how to give the best directions.
  6. Basic Business Letter Writing: Communicate quickly with tips from this letter writing video.
  7. Expanded Business Letter Writing: Broaden your writing abilities and the length of your business letter.
  8. Four Message Types: Discover the importance of message delivery, and learn how to do it correctly.
  9. Business Letter Format: Helen Wilkie covers the eight parts of a business letter.
  10. Email Subject Lines: Make your email stand out above all the rest by using the right subject line.

Tips Derek Miller, a Canadian writer and editor, composed this list to help business professionals perform their best.

  1. Write concisely: Some editors estimate that a third of the words in a typical letter are wasted. At every stage of writing your letter, look at it and decide what to remove — there will always be something. Remember that you want your reader to understand you and take action. Anything that does not help him or her do that is unnecessary. Avoid repeating anything, other than for specific emphasis. Remove needless words from every sentence, needless sentences from every paragraph, and needless paragraphs entirely.
  2. Be complete: Don’t take conciseness too far. You should write not just what must be said, but also what should be said to achieve your goal. Your letter should not read like a telegram, but should tell your reader everything he or she needs to know, and then prod for action. Make sure that you include enough background for your reader to get what you mean, and that you come across as tactful and polite, not terse and unfeeling.
  3. Use subjects and verbs: If you think of writing as driving a car, nouns and verbs are the wheels and engine, while adjectives and adverbs are the body and trim. No matter how fancy the paint and details, without power and grip your car goes nowhere. Adjectives and adverbs can enhance sturdy nouns and verbs, but they can’t rescue weak ones. Instead of "I definitely believe that the performance will be a very successful one," write "I know the performance will succeed." The second sentence is both stronger and shorter.
  4. Write in active voice: Good writers use the active voice whenever they can. In active sentences, people do things — they act and interact. The active voice is vigorous and brief, showing who acts and how. In passive sentences, things are done — people are acted upon or, worse, disappear entirely. In most contexts, the passive voice is vague and evasive, making your reader unsure who is doing what.
  5. Be specific: Most people use specific language when they talk casually: they tell stories with details, colors, and smells. Write the same way. Use words to paint pictures in your reader’s mind, not to ask him or her to dissect abstract concepts. If you have numbers, use them. Don’t discuss ideas without examples. Avoid abbreviations not everyone knows. Everybody understands words that apply to everyday life, so use everyday words and your reader will understand you.
  6. Write interesting sentences: Vary the length of your sentences to avoid lulling your reader to sleep. Make some short and sharp. Draw others out by linking two or three together: clip with commas, stitch with semicolons; even staple with dashes — if you like. Don’t make all your sentences the same.
  7. Write to your readers, not down to them: Most people understand far more words than they use, either in writing or speech. If you read any general how-to book, business letter, newspaper, or even these writing guidelines, you will find each written at roughly the same level of language. None treats its readers like children, but none is likely to use the word "turpitude" either. Even if you are writing to tell your readers something they know nothing about, think of them as intelligent but uninformed, not dumb.
  8. Be correct: Reference books, such as style guides and dictionaries, will help you write with proper spelling, punctuation, grammar, and formatting. The facts, however, are yours alone. Letters serve as records of what you say, often spending years in filing cabinets for later reference, so your facts must be correct. If you have relevant information, present it. If you are uncertain, say so. If you merely suspect something, make the suspicion clear so your reader does not think you know more than you do. Check your letter over before you send it, to save the awkwardness of correcting a mistake after your reader sees it.
  9. Use a positive tone: Use negatives such as "don’t," "won’t," and "not" only to deny, not to evade or be indecisive. Instead of "We can’t decide until tomorrow," write "We should decide tomorrow," or, better yet, "We will decide tomorrow." Even many negative statements have single words that work better than negative statements: "disagreeable" instead of "not nice," "late" instead of "not on time," "wrong" instead of "non-optimal," "rarely" instead of "not very often," and so on.
  10. Be clear: Good business writing is all about being clear. A letter is not a poem, a mystery story, or a morality play. It should not have subtle allegorical overtones requiring careful study, or different shades of meaning. In short, it should not be open to interpretation.

Networks Connect with people who are either in your shoes or have been there before; they likely have novel tips based on their experience.

  1. LinkedIn: A networking tool that helps you discover inside connections to your business and success.
  2. Facebook: Message one of your contacts to ask whatever business writing questions you encounter.
  3. Twitter: Connect with colleagues,follow business feeds, and direct message any of your friends for information you need about better writing.
  4. WordPress: Practice everything you’ve learned by creating a blog here.
  5. Blogspot: Another great blogging service, Blogspot also features thousands of blogs from writers just like yourself.
  6. Business Yelp: Allows business owners to share information about their business with their colleagues and communities.
  7. Talkbiznow: Talkbiznow is a business community that provides business services for small businesses and professionals.
  8. Ning: An online service to create, customize, and share a social network, which can (of course) include business writers.
  9. Career Builder: Search through self-help articles on this site to find resources that make you the best business writer possible.
  10. Social Harbor: Social Harbor is a full service social media marketing and search engine marketing solution for companies and their employees.

Books Books often trump Web sites in that they offer hundreds of organized pages about one specific subject. If you have specific questions about becoming a better business writer, you might want to peruse through them at your local library or bookstore.

  1. Effective Business Writing: (A Guide For Those who Write On the Job): by Maryann V. Piotrowski.
  2. Business Grammar, Style & Usage: The Most Used Desk Reference for Articulate and Polished Business Writing and Speaking by Executives Worldwide : by Alicia Abell and Aspatore Book Staff.
  3. The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course in Business Writing and Communication: Manage Your Writing: by Kenneth Davis.
  4. 10 Steps to Successful Business Writing: by Jack E. Appleman.
  5. Writing for Business: Expert Solutions to Everyday Challenges: by Harvard Business School Press.
  6. Writing for Business: What Works, What Won’t: by Wilma Davidson.
  7. The Elements of Business Writing: A Guide to Writing Clear, Concise Letters, Memos, Reports, Proposals, and Other Business Documents: by Gary Blake and Robert W. Bly
  8. Houghton Mifflin Strategic Business Letters and E-mail: by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts.
  9. The Business Writer’s Handbook, Ninth Edition: by Gerald J. Aldred, et al.
  10. MBA Fundamentals Business Writing: by Timothy Flood.

Other Great Tools The last few spots on this list go to valuable resources with which every business writer should be familiar regardless of where you are from: Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi – doesn’t matter.

  1. Easy-to-use free business glossary with over 20000 terms. Concise, clear, and comprehensive.
  2. The Glossarist: Business dictionary and business glossary directory.
  3. Avoid bad writing by replacing jargon with words you find here.
  4. Brief Guide to Business Writing: A useful, printable booklet from the Department of Management and Organizations at the University of Iowa.
  5. Sample Memo from The Writing Center: A great handout from the people who know writing best.
  6. Lupinworks Links: This page is full of links to other sites that are sure to improve your business writing and grammar.
  7. The Business Writer’s Free Library: Follow these guidelines, and watch the quality of your writing skyrocket!
  8. If you haven’t had all your grammar questions answered by the other links in this compilation, check out this site that has it all.
  9. Writing that Works: Offers a number of resources for anyone interested in business communication, including a free email newsletter.
  10. The daily resource for entrepreneurs, with tons of writing tips.
  11. WikiBooks Business Writing: This open-book site lets you look (for free) at the intricacies of business writing.
  12. Library Online Reprimand Letter Template: When you need to "be the boss," you’ll have to step up to your role as a disciplinarian. Make sure you do it right with this great template.
  13. Microsoft Employee Promotion Announcement: On the flip side, you’ll have the chance to promote your employees from time to time as well, and this template will help you keep your congratulations professional.

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