Monthly Archives: March 2007

Five Business Writing Tips

Five Business Writing Tips

Business writing must be lucid and unambiguous. Readers of a proposal, report, memorandum, or any other type of business-related document must be able to glean the essential information rapidly and without impediments. The writing need not be literary or clever, but it must exemplify clear, concise, correct composition skills.

Although developing good writing skills requires time and practice, and even though there are dozens of types of errors that even a good writer may fall victim to, the following five writing tips should prove to be helpful in terms of turning out a good piece of writing every time:

1. Think about what you want to convey before you put fingers to your keyboard or your pencil to paper. This may be obvious, but many writers, those in and out of business, sometimes write before they think. Of course, one of the many benefits of Microsoft Word and other document processing applications is that the writer can easily rework documents over and over again, but, still, it is a good idea to allow the ideas that you want to transmit to percolate for a while before you actually start writing. Some people find writing an outline to be helpful, whether it is a formally designed one or simply a list of ideas. Others prefer to write from notes. Some people are able to put together cogent, well-written documents without the aid of any planning. However, you should always stop, and think before you write.

2. Use paragraphs. In other words, at some point during the writing process, you should make sure your document, unless it contains fewer than 300 words, is divided into paragraphs, each of which addresses a particular idea or focus or topic. A page-length document that is composed of one paragraph may look intimidating to the reader. It may also cause confusion on the reader’s part, if several issues are discussed. Each individual idea should be the topic sentence of its own paragraph. For example, if the main issue of your piece of writing is the new employee health insurance plan, then the first paragraph should be the introduction, in which you explain, in general terms, the fact that there is going to be a new plan. Your second paragraph should explain why the change is occurring, and subsequent paragraphs should discuss specifics, such as dates for the changeover, differences between the old plan and the new one, the process of changing plans, etc.

3. Use capital letters only where they belong. Some writers think that every important word or every work-related position in a sentence should be capitalized, as in the following example:

There will be Two Tiers in the Pharmacy Benefits Plan in the New Medical Plan. All Auditors in the Billing Department and all Section Heads will be enrolled in the Gold Tier Plan, while all other employees will be members of the Silver Tier Plan.

In terms of the use of capital letters, only proper nouns need to be capitalized. In the above example, only Gold Tier Plan and Silver Tier Plan should be capitalized because they are unique names which designate the specific plans.

4. Use proper punctuation. Do not overuse commas. They are used mainly for the following purposes: to separate clauses, when listing objects, and when writing dialogue. Quotation marks are not needed and are, in fact, incorrect when they are used to frame important words, as in the following:

All employees must fill out the “Employee Health Insurance Changeover Form” during the “Designated Employee Assignment Period.”

Quotation marks are used for dialogue and for the titles of short creative works, not to emphasize important ideas.

5. Do not assume the reader knows what you are trying to say. Carefully read what you have written as if you had not written it. Are you ideas clear and forthcoming? Have you provided enough explanatory information for your points to be understood? Have you given examples, where necessary? If not, then you must amend your document. There is no point writing something, if those who read it do not understand what you are trying to say.

When you have completed your writing, carefully, very carefully proofread what you have written. Read your document word-for-word. That is the only way in which to catch spelling, punctuation, usage errors, missing words, repetitive thoughts, and dozens of other blunders that can cloud the meaning of what you are trying to say. Of course, you should use the spell check function on your word processing program. It will catch most, but not all of your errors.

This list of Five Writing Tips is only, of course, a cursory attempt to help you to write carefully. Referring to a writer’s handbook or a high school English usage book may be helpful. If, when all is said and done and written, and you are not sure that you have gotten your points across clearly or if you think you may not have caught all of your English usage errors, you may submit your document to for expert editing.

Writing the Titles of Sources

Writing the Titles of Sources

Generally speaking, business writing does not necessitate the same strict adherence to the rules for citing sources that must be followed when composing academic papers and research studies. Business documents are usually forwarded to other people in business, who are interested solely in the content, and not to university professors and academic committees, who pay a great deal of attention to format and the rules of source citation. Nevertheless, for the sake of the clarity of your business documents, it is important to know how to properly write the names of newspaper articles, full-length books, and other sources.

Full-length books should be written in italics, as in the following: Achieve Maximum Success at Work by Marcus Buckingham. Although italicizing is the preferred method, it is also acceptable to underline the name of a full-length book, as in the following: The Strategy Paradox by Michael E. Raynor. In either case, the name of the author should always be included. In fact, the name of the writer, if available, should be included when citing any and all sources. The names of periodicals and newspapers should also be italicized or underlined, as in The Wall Street Journal.

The titles of lengthy reports and other long business documents, whether or not they have been published, should also be italicized or underlined, as in Five Year Strategy for Effective Growth for ABC Corporation.

Shorter business documents may be enclosed in quotation marks, as in “Short Summary of March 2007 Training Session” or they may be written without any special notation or punctuation.

Newspaper and periodical articles should always be enclosed in quotation marks, as in “Big Money Still Learning to Lobby” by Jenny Anderson (The New York Times, March 13, 2007, page C1).

Even though it does not happen often in business writing, in the event that the title of a short story, play, musical piece, movie, television or radio program, or piece of art is to be included, it should be enclosed in quotation marks, as in the following example: “The New Colossus.”

As noted earlier, even though the rules for citation that are so strictly observed in academic writing are followed much more loosely in business writing, it is still important to follow the suggestions for the writing of sources as indicated in this article.

Don’t Be a Sesquipedalian

Don’t Be a Sesquipedalian

Given to or characterized by the use of long words.

I have to admit that sesquipedalian is one of my favorite words. From the Latin, it means, literally, someone who uses words that are a foot-and-a-half long. Cool word? Yes. But actually being a sesquipedalian is not something that’s recommended in standard business writing. Here are some examples to illustrate this point.

Business correspondence:
Here’s how a sesquipedalian might respond to a customer inquiry:

Dear Mrs. So-and-so:

Our esteemed office has become cognizant of the investigative matter detailed in your recent querulous epistle. We find your assertions to be ipse dixit, and, as such, are compelled to dismiss them pejoratively.

We remain,
The Hoity-Toity Firm of Greater Metropolis

Lovely. Will the customer who wrote to this company ever return to them? Unlikely. But consider how a non-sesquipedalian writer might have responded to the same customer inquiry:

Dear Mrs. So-and-so:

Thank you for your recent inquiry; we appreciate your business.

Regarding the matter you raised, we would like to help. To do so, however, we require the following information:

  • Document A
  • Document B

As soon as we receive this information, we will be happy to process your claim.

Thanks again for choosing our company.

The Regular Folks Firm of Anytown, USA

Interoffice memo:
Better, huh? Now, let’s look at another example.

Arthur A. Sesquipedalian requests the presence of yourselves, each and every, at the corporate office meeting at precisely 2:30 in this very afternoon, upon the 16th day of the month of March in the year 2007, in which divers interrogative postulations will be addressed and a plethora of sundry company-related matters of significant import will be expeditiously assessed.

Oh boy—can’t wait to attend that meeting. But what if the memo read like this:

Please come to the office meeting today (March 16) at 2:30 p.m. We’re going to discuss the various issues that many of you have recently raised; with everyone’s input, we should be able to put together some solutions. Look forward to seeing you there.

Norm Normal

Well, I’m not crazy about meetings, but I’d probably show up at this one.

So, in conclusion, don’t be a sesquipedalian—it would not behoove one to so be.

Delivering Bad News through Email

Here is how not to convey an email message containing bad news to a coworker:


Hey, Fred—just found out you’re going to get the sack today. Tough luck. But hey, that means more time for those Red Sox games. Go Sox! Ha ha. Later, Bob

Unless you really don’t like Fred, you should take a different approach. And yes, emails like this do actually get sent by people who (presumably) don’t know any better.

Here’s another way not to convey bad news through email:



Hey, did you see the game last night? What a blowout! Was that disappointing, or what?

Well, I didn’t write just to talk about sports. The fact is, I want to talk about what a great job you do here. I know you’ve been with this company a long time. Over the years, I’ve watched your work and learned from you. The projects we’ve collaborated on have really helped me learn the ropes.

That’s why it bothered me so much when I heard you’re getting canned today. Man, that’s really a bummer.

Well, call me later and we’ll hang out after I get off work.


Here, the problem is that the message is entirely misleading—even the subject line doesn’t really say anything. Then, instead of being upfront about the bad news, the issue at hand is clouded by the writer. Finally, with no warning at all, the bad news hits the reader like a ton of bricks. (Do you think Fred will want to hang out with the genius writer of that last email?)

But just how should one handle composing a bad news email? How about something like this:

SUBJECT: Bad news


I’m afraid I have bad news. Due to budget cuts, you’re one of the 40 workers whose position has been phased out. I’m very sorry.

Management assures us it has nothing to do with the quality of anyone’s work. Some of the people they let go have been here for over 10 years.

Fred, I know that with your qualifications and experience you’ll have no trouble getting on somewhere else. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.


What makes the third email preferable? It shows concern for the person who is about to lose his job. It does so by using a truthful—but not thoughtless—subject line. Then, it gets right to the point. The middle paragraph offers a little comfort and a more complete perspective. Finally, the closing provides sincere encouragement.

So, when it comes to delivering bad news through email, remember:

  • Use an honest subject line
  • Get to the point right away
  • Offer some perspective
  • Provide encouragement
Creating a Readable Website

Creating a Readable Website

Beyond the graphics and the music and the jazzy links to other sites and all of the considerations in terms of the mechanics and usability of a website, when you are in the process of creating one, you must consider the vitally important aspect of its readability.

What is readability? Well, simply put, it means that the text should be well written, error free, and easily understandable. This is the easiest aspect of the creation of a website to implement. There are a number of ways of making sure that the writing on your website is clearly and carefully done. The easiest is to follow the Five Step Method.

Step One: Plan what you want to say. Some people find it helpful to compose an outline. Others simply jot notes from which to refer when it is time for writing. Other people like to allow the ideas to float from brain to fingers to keyboard to document.

Step Two: Compose your written piece. Don’t be too concerned about sentence structure or spelling or other English usage rules. Get your ideas out. Be creative. Be clear.

Step Three: Read what you have written. That’s obvious, right? It is intuitive that you should read what you have written, but the way in which you read it might not be so obvious. You must read what you have written as if you are an outsider, a visitor to your website who does not know what you want to say. Sure, you know what a word or phrase or sentence means. But, will a visitor to your site understand? Now is the time to clarify your thoughts and substitute better language. You might also want to enhance your writing with punchier, stronger phrases that grab the reader’s attention.

Step Four: Proofread. Read every sentence with great deliberation. Do not read what you expect to be there. Read what is there word for word. You may have used an incorrect word or spelling or you may have left out a word or repeated a word. It happens. After you have read carefully, use your spell check function. Then read it again.

Step Five: Print, and then read your text again. Sometimes it is easier to spot an error on a printed page than it is by looking at your computer monitor. Another good idea is to ask someone else to read what you have written. Another pair of eyes might spot errors that you have missed. In addition, another person might be able to suggest another, more interesting way of stating what you have written.

Another alternative is to submit your text to a professional editing service, such as