Business Writing Principles

Initial thoughts

One of the major skills that sets/sustains most successful business people on their various journeys is their ability to write in a clear and concise manner. It’s also worthy to note that a good number of writing principles have been around over time; this article hopes to further sharpen earlier perspectives and improve your current writing.

Personally and as a starting point, I’ve found that mastering the art of passive vs active writing helps in applying these principles (several examples are available online).

My bias in this article is for business writing. Start writing actively by arranging your sentences along the lines of subject, action, object! This works by eliminating wordy statements and helping the reader understand you quickly and clearly, a key success factor for getting your thoughts across.

Let’s discuss the Seven Principles with some explanations.

1. Achieve Focus

First off, you need to adjust the scope and scale of your writing to influence the attitude and behaviour of your readers. This is the first step towards sharpening the focus of your writing.

  • Scope refers to the breadth (restrict yourself to the subject matter) and depth (level of detail included) of your material.
  • Scale simply means the length of your writing. The larger your scale, the higher the need to plan your writing.
  • Attitude refers to your readers’ emotional state and intellectual position.
  • Behaviour relates to the action or inaction of your reader after reading your material.

2. Identify your Purpose

Next is to identify the purpose of your writing and connect it to your readers’ expectations. Avoid buzzwords and simply use a ‘purpose analysis model’ (usually sieved from questions asked when taking your business brief) to gather your thoughts in three (3) simple ways:

  • Identify your personal values and ambitions
  • Identify your readers’ expectations
  • Find areas of overlap, emphasise recurring commonalities and address all discrepancies.

3. Explain your Meaning

Always explain the meaning of whatever you write, whilst making sure your readers can also relate. 

For example, answering the question ‘what does A mean to B’ in a business stakeholders’ communication is a simple, yet effective way of connecting with your readers. If you are looking for a simple way to put this into writing, use the ‘[Statement], meaning [consequence]‘ format. Simple illustrations include:

  • We are facing stiffer competition… meaning we need to develop new products
  • This team met all its set targets… meaning team members have earned a bonus.

4. Substantiate, substantiate, substantiate

  • Your writing will gain credibility when it is substantiated with facts. Always verify your factual statements before ‘publishing’.
  • An example is a company’s vision and mission which are often ambitious. Most organisations usually employ a persuasive approach to rally members behind the company’s mission and vision but the question is, how do you balance ambition with prudence in a way that is credible yet appealing?
  • My approach will be to use focus as the lead prin­ciple. This will guide you when building a text from scratch. Once the main structure of the text has been prepared, your substantiating details can then be added.

5. Always build a Structure

Four things I usually find useful here includes the use of sequence, consistency, guidance and balance to build a structure that guides your reader though the text…

  • Sequence – order in which your writing unfolds;
  • Consistency – using the same style, point of view, and the same words when referring to the same object to prevent any misunderstanding;
  • Guidance – using individual sentences and words to help the reader connect different parts of your writing by leading their thoughts towards your next point and
  • Balance – your sentence or paragraph must be long enough to maintain a readers’ interest but not too long to cause exhaustion. Consider sentences that are around 2 to 3 lines and paragraphs that hover around 6 to 10 lines.

6. Provide enough writing Clarity

Ensure clarity when presenting your piece so that the readers’ thinking revolves around a compelling idea.

You will achieve total clarity during editing, since this is where you distance yourself from the writing i.e. reviewing and re-writing it. This puts your writing into perspective and allows proper evaluation of the pros and cons of your work, a definite litmus test to check whether the initial five principles are self-evident.

7. Remain Humble

Be humble while writing and editing, and always critically judge your work first. Though this doesn’t change your ability to write well from a technical point of view, humility entails eliminating any arrogance or condescending tone in your writing.

Hope this helps someone by sharpening their business writing skills.

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