Section 5.4 Writing for Business
Business is a social science, making it part of a distinct group of disciplines that use scientific methods to study individual and social behavior. Among these disciplines, business is uniquely oriented toward the professional world outside of purely academic domains. Its professional focus can be unfamiliar and can sometimes disconcert new writers. Read through these guidelines to get a better idea of how to write for business.
The typical genres you’ll be writing in for business are short memos—in which you will brief your audience with the relevant and pressing facts of a situation—and case studies, which consist of three parts: an introduction, in which you will provide appropriate historical and contextual information about a business or company; a strategic analysis section, in which you will identify and analyze structural and organizational problems with that business or company; and a final section, in which you will recommend solutions for those problems. Other typical genres include position papers, in which you will present a disputable issue from one side; research papers, for which you will research a topic and present that research to support a thesis; literature reviews, in which you will summarize and analyze secondary sources relevant to a specific topic; and personal reflections.
“Writing is used in decision-making.”
The purpose of writing for business classes isn’t exactly the same as the purpose of writing in the professional business world: classes are specifically designed for you to practice and improve your writing skills, whereas the professional world is often more results oriented. For this reason, academic papers are generally more focused and less broad than professional ones so that you will have enough time to do a thorough job. Despite the difference between class and the professional world, you should treat the business essays you write as though they were directed at a real professional audience. Accordingly, because your imagined audience is made up of practicing professionals, it’s important to remember that, whereas in most other disciplines you are only trying to persuade someone to believe something, in business you are trying to persuade someone to believe something so that they will do something. You can think of your writing as a tool you can use to have a direct impact on a person’s, company’s, or government’s actions.
“Don’t make your reader do the work. You need to do all the work.”
Writing for business should be as direct, simple, concise, and accurate as possible—don’t use too many adjectives or try to sound poetic. Although this spare style of writing may feel impersonal, there are very important reasons to use it. The writing done for business in the professional world is used directly in decision-making. In consequence, the conventions of business writing are oriented toward informing your readers so that they can make their decisions as accurately and efficiently as possible. By being direct and simple, you allow your audience to understand the situation and ideas you are describing while simultaneously making it clear to that audience that you understand the situation and are a competent source. By being concise, you show that you are efficient and that you value your readers’ time, and by being accurate you show your reader that you are willing to be honest and realistic.
Further, within these guidelines there is room to be creative: an important part of business writing is innovation. In the last part of many business papers (such as case studies) you will be asked to suggest possible solutions to the problem or question you’ve outlined in the body of your paper. This is a place in your writing where you get to think innovatively about the possible futures and outcomes of various choices, and present your ideas about how best to implement strategies to ensure the best possible future. In this part of your writing it’s particularly important to be value neutral: these possible solutions are not about what a person should do; these possible solutions are about what a person or company can do.
When you’re providing evidence in a business paper, the kinds of evidence you’ll want to rely on will come largely from peer-reviewed publications. In business scenarios, quantifiable evidence is usually the most persuasive, so using figures and situating data in its dated time period are key to building a reliable, accurate argument.
Conventions and Tips.
Proofread your paper for spelling and grammar. While grammar may seem less important to some writers, imagine that you are a business executive sending an email to your staff. If the email you send has spelling errors in the first sentence you could lose credibility and professionalism in the eyes of your readers.
You can use subheadings to organize your papers. While subheadings are discouraged in some disciplines, feel free to use them for business papers to add extra clarity and formality.
Don’t use clichés, contractions, or passive clauses. And while personal pronouns are okay, don’t start a sentence with “I think.” While these rules may seem overly fastidious, it’s important to follow them so that your writing is both professional and reflective of your own distinctive voice. Using clichés is counterproductive to both of these values because they aren’t your own words and they are not particularly professional. Further, starting a sentence with “I think” can sound demure rather than convincing. And finally, using passive clauses rather than active ones can sometimes emphasize the responsibility or actions of the subject of a sentence. Write actively to ensure that your prose is fluid and compelling.
You can find good writing samples in annual reports (at
). The best way to become a good writer for business is to read good business writing.