What is Business Writing?

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published December 10, 2021, updated December 7, 2023
What is Business Writing?

Business writing refers to the formal communication style used in professional settings to write documents such as reports, emails, memos, proposals, etc. It typically aims to convey information clearly and concisely, follows specific formats, uses a professional tone, and focuses on efficiently conveying information to achieve specific business objectives or goals.

Writing for business is the process of communicating business ideas and concepts through written words. The focus of this form of business communication is to persuade, inform, or entertain.

Below is our comprehensive guide to help you fully understand this concept. This blog post also shows you how to improve this essential skill and write to business colleagues with ease!

Definition of business writing

Business writing is very pragmatic. Essentially, it is a type of writing that enables a reader to know or do something. It flows up, down, laterally, internally, and externally to customers.

Good business writing is developed following an optimal writing process that first defines the reader and purpose, then subsequently provides the information that the defined reader needs. The information provided must be logical and well-ordered and written in concise, clear, engaging language that is grammatically correct.

Improving your business writing can propel both careers and businesses. It’s the channel that transmits nearly all business work and insight and interaction. It is the lifeblood and foundation of strong businesses.

Different types of business writing

It is important to note that there are many different types of business writing. Practical examples include:
  • Email - Email can be simply transactional or it may persuade or inform. They are sent both internally within your company and externally to vendors, customers, and prospects, for example.
  • Business Letters - Business Letters may be formal or informal or short or long depending on the context and purpose. A business letter is always external. It communicates information sent from your company to an external reader. 
  • Business Memos - Business Memos (also called memoranda) are always internal communication. They summarize information into an official statement issued to individual employees or groups inside an organization. 
  • Reports - Reports take many forms, including briefs, scorecards, performance appraisals, regulatory reviews, an annual report, etc. They provide information to enable an informed decision. A report is usually a more official document that is sent both internally and externally. 
  • Handbooks - Handbooks are instructional documents that provide information employees need to understand and follow company policies. Handbooks are internal documents.

Core requirements of good business writing skills

Know your audience

There are two primary questions to ask every time we begin a business document (or email):

      1. Who is my reader? We have to understand our readers to provide the information they need! Often, we are writing to a wide audience, so be sure to consider all readers. 
      2. What do I want my reader to know or do? What, exactly, is the purpose of this document?

If we can't answer either of these questions, stop. There is no purpose to what you are about to write, so it's not good business writing. This analysis will also help you use the correct tone. 

If you are looking for more quick tips, you may enjoy our complete list of the best business writing tips and tricks.

Remember that substance matters

The most important element in this type of writing is the information it conveys.

If there are content gaps, incorrect information, irrelevant information, or the same information is repeated in different spins, the document will fail. Always. Even if the words and grammar are beautiful and correct, the document will fail.

At its core, writing for business is about information exchange, so the information contained in your document is the foundation of good business writing. The information must be complete, relevant to the reader, and accurate.

Aim for concise, clear writing. We always remind our clients to "write to express, not to impress." 

The goal is to transmit information to a reader, so business writing requires clear language to help a reader understand the information easily. Writing clearly is one of the harder aspects of business writing. One of my favorite quotes about writing is by Blaise Pascal: 

"I apologize for the length of this letter. I did not have time to make it shorter."

It's easy to write long, rambling sentences. Concise, clear writing requires skill. 

Concision can be challenging because it's a skill not emphasized in college. In academic writing, assignments often require a certain length. We have to fill ten pages, and we're instructed to develop our writing and expand the concept. We earn good grades partially through the length and impressive language. Puffed-up language is rewarded.

No one in business wants a longer document. In business writing, the required skills are the ability to extract what is significant, synthesize, and write clearly.

Our schools and colleges are correct to teach and emphasize expository writing. No one can become a good business writer without first being taught how to develop a thoughtful, well-organized essay. We can't extract or synthesize until we understand how to write cohesively and develop a concept. Business writing sits on top of academic writing. 

I've taught both academic writing at a university and business writing to thousands of clients. Good business writing is harder to write than good academic writing. 

Lead with what matters

We remind our clients to follow the acronym B.L.O.T. — "bottom line on top." State exactly why you're writing upfront.

Your readers are busy and overloaded with information. Help them cut through information overload by leading with the purpose of your document. Get to the point and avoid bloated sentences. 

Only vary from leading first with what matters if the information may be disagreeable to the reader. Buffer first only if you think your reader may emotionally disengage if you open directly. Read more about the writing style of delivering bad news.

Format for easy scan

Business readers are busy and cannot read everything. To help with this information overload, business documents must be easy to absorb. This means:

      • Break paragraphs frequently to match new thoughts
      • Use lots of white space
      • Indent sub-information to indicate hierarchy
      • Use numbered or bulleted lists
      • Headings above document sections are a natural antidote for information overload
      • Judicious use of bold or color can highlight key points

Watch out for grammatical errors

Poor grammar hurts. Good grammar shows both attention to detail and skill.

These traits are highly valued. A grammar error such as a missing period is unprofessional. Good grammar is the conventional language to help us communicate in a common language. It does matter. 

Writing for business, like all writing, evolves. Grammar and style evolve, also. Interestingly, all but one style guide now state that emoticons used judiciously, are acceptable in business writing. All style guides now recommend one space after a period or another full stop in a sentence, instead of two.

These changing standards are why business writers need to continually hone their writing skills to stay current with conventions by reading online resources about business writing or taking a business writing course.

What is business writing? Your opportunity to improve your business communications.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.” - Mark Twain

Good business writing:

  • Focuses on the reader, not the writer. 
  • Is purposeful and seeks to help a reader know or do something.
  • Transforms complex information into something easy to understand.
  • Engages a reader and provides relevant information.
  • Is written with correct sentence structure.

To learn more about business writing, check out our full Guide to Business Writing


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Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published December 10, 2021, updated December 7, 2023
Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.