And finally, don’t get discouraged if writing a rough draft turns out to be rough going. Even experienced business writers encounter obstacles at this stage of the process. It is often called writer’s block and there are tactics with which it can be overcome. Keep in mind that whether your writing task is a letter, or a memo, a report or a summary, the finished document will come when you review and revise the rough draft.
An Introduction to Business Writing
Almost all business activities are envisioned, planned, implemented and analyzed in some form of the written word. These forms include reports, and report summaries, letters, memos, and email, any document, in fact, that communicates something about business. Collectively, they are the hard-copy paper trails recording the proposals, activities and results of countless business transactions.
Public and private entities rely upon these documents to communicate vital information, both internally and externally, regarding the condition and conduct of their business. It is fundamentally important that they be written in a clear and concise manner. When they are, the risk of miscommunication is greatly reduced.
Poorly written business documents can produce unintended results and potentially disastrous consequences. Strong writing competencies can help reduce or avoid this all together. Well chosen words, well organized and well written, increase the likelihood of effective business communication.
These steps break the larger writing task into smaller ones. Proceeding through them one at a time will help you write successful business documents. Depending on the complexity of the writing task, they will be either more or less demanding. An annual report requires far more, for instance, than a memo.
What is a business email?
Business email is an essential communication tool with employees and external organizations, including customers, subscribers, and stakeholders. As well as sharing information and updates, business emails can be used to market products, manage complaints, support customers, and engage suppliers. Put simply, a business email is the lifeblood of any modern company. Business emails are typically short, polite, and written with a clear purpose. However, business emails don’t need to be boring. If written correctly, an effective business email can inform, engage, and inspire any reader.
Wiring a great business email involves a little process and a little psychology. First, you’ll need to understand how to format a business email, including a great subject line, appropriate greeting, body copy, and ending. But more than that, you need to go beyond providing information and delivering a little inspiration, too.
Every email is an interruption, say researchers. You’re asking someone to read your email, so it must have value. Your email must have a purpose and state it clearly and quickly. Don’t waste time or words getting to your point, be clear with why you’re messaging and what you want, says Jeff Su in the Harvard Business Review.
We all receive hundreds of emails a day, so you must work hard to avoid what academics describe as "standardized, vague, and impersonal realizations of interpersonal moves". Our translation: personalize your emails and keep them interesting, or risk losing readers’ attention.
Business email format
We’ve covered the core parts of professional email greetings and endings in other posts, so we’ll be brief here. Instead, we’re going to delve into more detail in the content, including providing 10 examples of business emails that command attention and demand action.
Business email greetings
There’s no magic in how to start a business email; you use a formal email greeting and an appropriate email opening sentence. The core of your message depends on who you’re contacting, what you want, and why, but the basics of how to start a good business email are pretty standard.
Suppose you’re finding it difficult to decide how to address someone in a business email. In that case, we suggest being formal rather than being informal. So while you’re OK to use any opening you choose in a personal email, if you’re wondering if you can use ‘Hi’ in business letters or emails, we would advise against it.
How to start a business email
How to end a business email
As we’ve explained, every business email should have a point and a purpose, so be clear about what you want from the reader. So let’s use the example above to illustrate how this can work in a formal context.
I’d welcome your feedback on our new range of products and would like to arrange a call to discuss the next steps. Please respond to this email if you would like to chat, including some dates and times that are convenient to you.
I’d love to talk you through some of their new features and benefits, as well as the preferential pricing we can offer to our trusted clients. Give me a call or drop me an email if you’re interested in catching up.
How to finish a business email
When deciding how to sign off a business email, think about how well you know the reader and how formal you want to be. If you’ve emailed someone before and have a relationship, feel free to be a little less formal. On the other hand, stick to the tried and tested email sign-offs if this is the first message you’re sending.
Business email writing samples
How to introduce your business in an email
How to say sorry in a business email
How do you say thank you in a business email
When saying thank you in an email, keep things short but be specific. Don’t just say thanks; explain what you’re thanking the person for and the impact that they have had. If you’re saying thanks for something they’ve done,
How to say no politely in a business email
Learning how to say no politely is a core business communication skill that can be a challenge. We’re conditioned not to want to disappoint people, but remember this isn’t about you personally, but about business. A polite but firm no can improve the way you are perceived. It’s tempting to apologize or qualify your response but don’t. Stick to the facts and don’t lose focus.
How to say I am busy in email
Work can be stressful enough without having to explain why you’re busy. Don’t apologize, but be clear that you don’t have time. Instead, manage expectations and finish positively by explaining when you can help.
How to write a business email with attachments
Let your reader know that there’s an attachment, what it contains, and why it’s essential. For example, if the file is large or in a specific format that may require them to access an application, let them know.
By the Same Author
How to Tell a Great Story
Cut the fat
Don’t “use three words when one would do,” says Blackburn. Read your writing through critical eyes, and make sure that each word works toward your larger point. Cut every unnecessary word or sentence. There’s no need to say “general consensus of opinion,” for instance, when “consensus” will do. “The minute readers feel that a piece of writing is verbose they start tuning out,” says Garner. He suggests deleting prepositions (point of view becomes viewpoint); replacing –ion words with action verbs (provided protection to becomes protected); using contractions (don’t instead of do not and we’re instead of we are); and swapping is, are, was and were with stronger verbs (indicates rather than is indicative of).
Avoid jargon and $10 words
Business writing is full of industry-specific buzzwords and acronyms. And while these terms are sometimes unavoidable and can occasionally be helpful as shorthand, they often indicate lazy or cluttered thinking. Throw in too many, and your reader will assume you are on autopilot — or worse, not understand what you’re saying. “Jargon doesn’t add any value,” says Blackburn, but “clarity and conciseness never go out of style.” Garner suggests creating a “buzzword blacklist” of words to avoid, including terms like “actionable,” “core competency,” “impactful,” and “incentivize.” You should also avoid using grandiose language. Writers often mistakenly believe using a big word when a simple one will do is a sign of intelligence. It’s not.
Read what you write
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Is your point clear and well structured? Are the sentences straightforward and concise? Blackburn suggests reading passages out loud. “That’s where those flaws reveal themselves: the gaps in your arguments, the clunky sentence, the section that’s two paragraphs too long,” she says. And don’t be afraid to ask a colleague or friend — or better yet, several colleagues and friends — to edit your work. Welcome their feedback; don’t resent it. “Editing is an act of friendship,” says Garner. “It is not an act of aggression.”
Practice every day
“Writing is a skill,” says Blackburn, “and skills improve with practice.” Garner suggests reading well-written material every day, and being attentive to word choice, sentence structure, and flow. “Start paying attention to the style of The Wall Street Journal,” he says. Invest in a guide to style and grammar for reference — Garner recommends Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Most importantly, build time into your schedule for editing and revising. “Writing and reworking your own writing is where the change happens, and it’s not quick,” says Blackburn. “The time is well spent because good writers distinguish themselves on the job.”
Case study #1: Don’t be afraid to share
When David McCombie began working as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, he immediately realized that the writing style he’d honed at Harvard Law School wasn’t well suited for executive-level communications. “It was the structure of my arguments,” David says. “I was getting feedback that I needed to get to the point more quickly.”
With legal or academic writing, “you’re going to generally start with building up the case, and put the main point all the way at the end,” he says. “But in business communications, it’s best to start with your conclusion first.”
To make his writing more direct and effective, David asked several senior colleagues for all of their past presentations and reports so that he could mimic key elements of their format and style. He also copied trusted colleagues who were particularly skilled communicators on important emails and asked for their feedback.
David has carried these practices to the private equity firm he founded in Miami, the McCombie Group. “I send anything that’s important to my partner and he reads it over,” David says, adding that he knows better than to take the edits personally. “We talk about whether there is a better way to convey an idea, how we can be more succinct.”
Improving his writing has had a direct effect on David’s ability to become an influential voice in his field. He’s currently writing a book on his private equity firm’s niche market, The Family Office Practitioner’s Guide to Direct Investments.
“Even if I knew good business writing from the get-go, I think continually improving your writing and taking it to the next level is absolutely key to success,” David says. “The more you do it, the easier it becomes.”
Case study #2: Study good writing
Tim Glowa had already built a successful career as a strategic marketing consultant when he decided to set his ambitions a little higher. “I wanted to be perceived as a thought leader,” Tim says, “and to do that, I needed to have a point of view and I needed to put that point of view out in public.”