Welcome to our free Business Writing tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Business Writing Training course.
In this lesson, we will discuss how to organize the information for electronic communication and structure it for optimal results. We will also look at different electronic methods of communication and briefly discuss the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 and how it affects the way we communicate electronically.
Electronic communications, typically emails, need to be short, usually no more than three paragraphs.
In order to decide what information to include, you need to first determine the purpose. The sheer volume of business email alone is reason enough to be brief and to the point when writing business email.
Organizing your information into one of five paragraph styles will give your reader the information he or she needs in a concise, easy to understand format. The five paragraph styles are:
We will review each of these styles in detail so you can choose which one is appropriate for the email message you wish to create.
If the topic of your email message contains steps to be followed, or lists events that either will occur or have occurred, a chronological paragraph is a good choice. This organizational style simply arranges information, events, or processes in the order they occur. Chronological paragraphs may include instructions to complete a task, processes, and lists of events to occur.
Example: An email needs to be sent to the members of the team responsible for conducting a systematic review process.
There are five steps to completing a systematic review of the new software installed in the accounting department.
In a compare-and-contrast paragraph, the best way to draw parallels between two things is:
In the following example, notice how the first sentence introduces similarities between two things, the second sentence offers examples, and the final sentence lists the differences, thus providing a contrast.
Example: Online and face-to-face classes have a lot of elements that are similar. The content is the same, as are the outcomes and assessments. The differences are in:
Cause-and-effect paragraphs generally work backwards from the symptoms to the causes. If you have to analyze a situation, not offer solutions, a cause-and-effect paragraph will help your reader clearly see that something was caused by a previous event.
In the following example:
Example: Over the last sixteen weeks the enrollment in our technology classes has dropped by about 27%. After checking with the enrollment counselors and student advisers, we have determined that the cause is not because we increased the tuition, but instead because the versions of the software we are offering classes on are old.
Use problem-solution paragraphs to convey information about solutions to problems. The paragraph should break down a problem into smaller problems and then offer solutions.
There are two different ways to present the information in a problem-solution paragraph:
In the following example, one main problem is broken down into three separate problems, and then three solutions are given.
Example: We conducted a thorough evaluation of our website to determine why we are averaging only two or three hits a day. We determined that our keywords are weak, we don't have enough links from other sites, and when someone does land on our site, there is nothing to keep them there, let alone return. Our recommendations are to increase our SEO by strengthening our keywords, adding links to other pages within our site, and revamping the site with better graphics and more information about our services.
A relationship paragraph is a model that organizes the material according to how it is related to other material. For example, low to high, in to out, right to left.
The following paragraph organizes the percentage of loss of revenue from low to high, starting with an overview statement. It compares revenue loss by department, the lowest loss first and the highest loss last.
Example: Overall, our company's revenue was drastically lower over the past year than it has been in the past three years. The frozen food division suffered a 13% loss, while the dairy department's loss was 29% and the produce department revenue was down 38%. The only department that showed an increase in revenue was non-alcoholic beverages, which were up 1.2%.
Using well-crafted, organized paragraphs in your email communications will provide concise, convincing information to your reader. There are some guidelines to choosing which organizational model you will use.
In this exercise, you will consider the following scenario: your supervisor asked you to research the recent downturn in traffic to one of the company bookstores at a local mall and to recommend ways to improve the traffic.
Write a paragraph organized in the correct model to convey the following information to your colleagues at work: (Note: the information may have to be reorganized).
The correct format for the paragraph is problem-solution. Arrange the information with either all the problems first (sentences 2, 4, and 5) and the solutions in the same order (sentences 6, 1, and 3) or list each problem with its solution (2 and 6, 4 and 1, 5 and 3).
There are two commonly used methods of electronic communication in business: email and instant messaging (often referred to as IM). In this lesson, we will look at some appropriate as well as inappropriate uses of both these methods in a business setting.
Emails can be used both internally and externally in business. Generally speaking, an internal email will be less formal than one sent to someone outside the business.
Email can be customized to look like a standard memo or business letter. Tone becomes very important in an email communication because the reader cannot see your face or judge the tone by body language. The following is an example of an appropriate internal email message.
Aggressive and formal tone in an internal email message will send the wrong message to the reader. Here is an example of the same email message using passive voice, a formal greeting, and a closing that is not friendly. A reader who receives this email may even feel a bit threatened.
When considering the use of email for communicating in the business setting, take into account the culture of the organization and how it views email. Many organizations have policies and procedures in place for dealing appropriately with email. Some common procedures are:
Instant Messaging is rapidly becoming more popular in business environments because it affords instant communication (even faster than email) and the ability to condense and tightly focus the message.
It is important to understand the use of IM tools as well as to know how to compose an appropriate IM chat. The IM function allows for real-time chatting that can be, and often is, monitored and stored by the company.
Following are examples of two instant messages, each one asking for the same kind of information. This one is appropriate for the business environment:
This one is highly unprofessional: .
The writer in the second message is obviously using very casual language and informal acronyms that may or may not be understood by the recipient.
When writing an IM in a business environment the rules of professionalism and etiquette apply:
In this exercise, you will answer the following questions about appropriate electronic communication methods.
A well-written, structured email provides information about you and your level of professionalism; therefore, this should be considered every time you write a business email.
Below is a general structure to business emails that works well, shows your professionalism, and leaves your reader with a good feeling about doing business with you.
Let's look at each of these sections in detail, keeping in mind that as the conversation moves forward in the email, not as much detail will be necessary in some of the sections.
The greeting in a business email message is fairly simple. If it is someone you know and have done business with in the past, an informal "Hi NAME" or slightly more formal "Dear NAME" will work just fine.
If the recipient of the message is someone you do not know, but you know the name, then it is appropriate to greet the person with "Mr. NAME" or "Ms. NAME." If you are writing to someone whose name you do not know, the proper greeting can be simply "Hello."
The thing to remember is to use a greeting of some kind. It will help set the tone for the message.
The second part of the greeting is the ice breaker. It is just a quick, pleasant extension of the greeting and can look like this for a first-time correspondence:
Once you have corresponded at least once, this part of the greeting should change to include an acknowledgement of their return message:
This second part of the greeting is also very important in setting a professional, yet friendly and approachable tone to your email.
When contacting a recipient for the first time, mention how you obtained the recipient's contact information. Possibly you met him or her at a conference or other meeting and exchanged business cards, or you found his or her contact information on a Web site. Establishing a connection early in your message will help your reader want to continue reading the message.
Once you have established a rapport with your reader, you will need to tell him or her just what it is you are emailing about. Make sure this comes close to the top of the message, right after the greeting, so your reader does not have to scroll down to see just what the email is all about.
This can be a single sentence, and should not be more than two sentences at the most. Some examples of this are:
Make it interesting, short, and to the point. You want your reader to read on to find out the rest of the information, but remember that email messages should be short and concise. If the readers do not have to scroll through the email to find out what it is all about, they will appreciate it and will stay on the message to read more if the topic is of interest to them.
The body of the email should be short, to the point, and understandable. Bullet points are appropriate ways to list several points in an email, but they need to be introduced so the reader can follow the content.
There are three parts to the body of the email:
The closing line is as important as the ice breaker at the beginning. It should be friendly, professional, and pleasant. Examples of closing lines are:
This short message will leave your readers with a good feeling about you and your professional way of doing business.
The signature follows the closing line. Many email programs have an auto signature feature which gives you the opportunity to put contact information, links to your Web site, etc. in your signature so you don't have to type that information every time you send an email. The auto signature also gives your readers instant access to any information you want them to have.
In this exercise, you will do the following:
Watch the following presentation and use the emails you created to compare with the examples given in the presentation.
In 1986, the Federal government amended the Wiretap Act of 1968, extending the protection of information that is transmitted electronically to include email, telephone conversations, and data that is stored electronically: https://it.ojp.gov/PrivacyLiberty/authorities/statutes/1285
While this act provides protection for the privacy of this information, it is still important to understand that the email we send from work using computers, servers, and electronic access that belongs to the company, is NOT our private property. It is the property of the company who owns the equipment and Internet subscriptions.
What this means, in light of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, is that all information conveyed through company computers, whether or not it is business related, belongs to the company. It then becomes very important that we, as individuals, do not use company resources for personal use. Many companies have policies in place that govern the use of company resources for personal use. If you are not familiar with those policies, check with your HR department to find out what they are.
Deleting an email that may contain inflammatory information or information that could get the writer in trouble will not eliminate it. Email is stored on servers and is accessible by the company for many years. Instant messages, on the other hand, may not be stored on servers, but many companies do choose to monitor and store IM messages as well. The bottom line is, do not use the company electronic resources to convey personal information or for personal reasons.
In this exercise, you will respond to the following multiple choice and true/false questions: