Introduction

Clarity in Business Writing

Good business writing requires clarity. Pressed for time, busy professionals simply do not want to sort through a document trying to figure out the writer’s intentions. Unfortunately, many business documents are not as clear as they could — or should — be. The causes of this shortcoming are numerous, ranging from careless organization to unnecessarily complex syntax, to confusing rather than clarifying language.

The goal of this book is to help professionals develop a direct, natural communication style that supports rather than obscures what they want to say. The first three chapters focus on writing issues relevant for a wide range of business documents, including letters, memos, e-mail, reports, proposals, marketing materials, and more. A fourth chapter discusses writing issues unique to e-mail, the dominant form of written communication for many professionals today. The fifth chapter covers editing tips and tricks businesspeople can use to ensure that their documents are clear and polished.

Regardless of the document type, good business writing demands several things of a writer:

  • an understanding of audience

You must be aware of and sensitive to your intended audience’s knowledge, needs, and motivations. For instance, if you are a lawyer writing for a lay audience, you should minimize legal jargon, define essential legal terms, and explain concepts so that a non-specialist can understand them. If you are writing a business plan for potential investors, you should show respect for your readers’ time and informational needs by being concise and specific.

When you write something, you are generally trying to communicate ideas to someone who is different from you in myriad ways. The foundation of clear writing is the ability to put yourself in the position of the reader.

  • an understanding of subject matter

Good writing also depends on a solid grasp of the material; without it, a writer can’t communicate clearly with other people. In a business environment, though, people must sometimes write about topics that are unfamiliar to them. If you find yourself in this situation, you should make every effort to educate yourself about your subject. Often one of the most time-consuming steps in the writing process is research.

  • good writing skills

Some people seem to be naturally gifted writers. Do not, however, make the mistake of assuming that either people have the ability to write or they don’t. Many writing skills grow out of hard work and regular practice. Anyone can become a better writer.

  • careful rewriting

Most good writers are good at least in part because of the amount of effort they put into revising their work. They keep rewriting until they are satisfied with the results. Remember: the difference between good writing and bad writing is often rewriting.