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Webucator's Free Business Writing Tutorial

Lesson: Preparing for a Business Writing Project

Welcome to our free Business Writing tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Business Writing Training course.

Writing business documents requires planning and preparation. It also takes writing skill to produce a professional-looking, well-developed, and well-informed logical document.

Lesson Goals

  • Learn the three major functions of business writing.
  • Learn the importance of defining the subject of your writing project.
  • Learn the importance of defining the audience for your writing project.

The Three Major Functions of Business Writing

In today's information-driven business world, communication is the basis of a smoothly run organization, regardless of the size. The majority of that communication is written.

When planning a business writing project, consider the three major functions of business writing:

  1. To inform.
  2. To influence.
  3. To entertain.

In the following discussion, we will:

  1. Look at each of these functions.
  2. Discuss how to incorporate them into our writing.
  3. Determine the type of business document we want.

To Inform

Informational business documents are created to convey all the information needed to complete the operations of a business. Some examples of these documents are:

  • Meeting announcements.
  • Training materials.
  • Memos or letters accepting contracts or acknowledging orders.

The main focus of an informational document is to ensure understanding by the audience through the use of clear, concise, logically presented content.

To Influence

When composing the document, take into account the attitudes of the audience as well as their expected actions as a result of reading the document. Documents created to influence the audience include:

  • Presentation of ideas to supervisors, customers, and/or stockholders.
  • Letters written specifically to promote a product or service.
  • Grant proposals.

To Entertain

Finally, it is important to retain the readers' goodwill. This is done through exhibiting knowledge of the English language and understanding human nature. The purpose of the document is to persuade or influence the readers without offending them.

When asking for a payment, for example, using proper grammar and sentence structure, along with appropriate, professional writing, will go a long way toward keeping that customer and creating the goodwill that is necessary for success.

Before putting pen to paper, the writer must decide the following:

  1. What is the purpose of the writing project? Ask the following questions when trying to determine the purpose:
    1. Is the project meant to inform or influence?
    2. What do you expect the reader to do upon finishing reading the document? Sometimes the reader will do nothing, just read and absorb the information, but other times there is something that the writer expects to happen once the document has been read.
    3. Is there a call to action in the document? A call to action can be as simple as asking for a meeting or as complex as reviewing a contract and making a decision.
  2. Who Is the audience? This is an important part of the planning. Knowing who the audience is will help you decide the following:
    1. How much information is needed in the document.
    2. What the structure (formal or casual) of the document will be.
    3. What kind of language you will use. For example, if the audience is familiar with the terminology and the concept, the document can have terms and acronyms in it that a reader who is familiar with the terminology would understand.
  3. What information will be presented in the final document?
    1. Creating an outline will help you determine what information will be needed for the final document. The outline will also help you focus the information and create a table of contents if necessary.

Check for Understanding: Three Functions of Writing

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, you will respond to the following questions about the three functions of business writing.

  1. Which of the following are functions of business writing?
    1. To entertain and solicit information.
    2. To inform, to influence, and to entertain.
    3. To solicit information, to influence, and to inform.
  2. Which function of writing will give the audience a reason to act?
    1. To inform.
    2. To influence.
    3. To entertain.
  3. Think about the following statement and write a couple sentences about why it is true: It is important to prepare before you begin to write.

Solution:

  1. B. To inform, to influence, and to entertain.
  2. B. To influence.
  3. Your answer may vary from this one, but you should have touched on the importance of thinking through and perhaps even outlining what you plan to write before you begin.

Knowing the Subject

There are five qualities of business writing that need to be considered as you are thinking about the subject of the document:

  1. Correctness
  2. Clearness
  3. Completeness
  4. Conciseness
  5. Courteousness

These five qualities are also referred to as the Five Cs of business writing. Let's look at each one individually.

Correctness

When composing a business document, make every effort possible to ensure that the document is correct in all aspects. Proper English grammar, spelling, and punctuation create a positive impression for the reader.

Correctness also refers to the facts and figures that are in the document. Carefully review the document before submitting it to ensure the details are accurate and there is no room for misinterpretation.

Clearness

In order to achieve clarity in your business documents, you need to do the following:

  1. Determine the purpose of the document.
  2. Plan the document.
  3. Make sure that the document is concisely written and not wordy.
  4. Avoid the use of jargon; use plain, understandable language with enough detail that the reader understands the message.

Completeness

Be sure to include all the information necessary in the document for the reader to act upon it.

For example, if you send an email or memo that states simply "The meeting will be on Tuesday at 3:00PM," the reader cannot act without creating a return document asking where the meeting is and why it being held.

The proper message should be: "The meeting about the new policies on tardiness will be held in the conference room on Tuesday at 3:00PM." With this message, all the needed information is included. Do not waste your reader's time with incomplete information.

Conciseness

When writing a business document, every word counts. Nobody likes to wade through paragraphs of text trying to find the information you are trying to impart. Some guidelines to achieve conciseness in a business document are:

  1. Get right to the point and stick to it.
  2. Leave out unnecessary words or words that repeat the message. Never use several words when just a few will do the job.
  3. Do not use phrases that mean nothing. "I think," "I feel," or "I believe," really tell the reader nothing he or she does not already know. Leave this kind of phrase out of your business messages.
  4. Use simple constructions:
    1. Words instead of phrases
    2. Phrases instead of clauses
  5. Use a different paragraph for each point being discussed.

Courteousness

A friendly and sincere tone will convey courteousness in your business communications. Your readers will respond more positively to a professionally written message that is friendly than to one that seems to be curt or overly formal. Even if you cannot provide an answer to an inquiry right away, it is appropriate and professional to respond with a brief note explaining that you have the request and are working on it. This will let your reader know you received the request and will get back to him or her later.

Check for Understanding: Knowing the Subject

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, you will respond to the following questions:

  1. What do clarity and conciseness have to do with knowing the subject?
  2. Review the following sentences and find the phrases that have become boring through overuse or are excessively wordy. Replace them with clear, concise wording that conveys the meaning just as well, or even better.
    1. At the end of the day, the sales projections must exceed the goals or, with all due respect, we will cancel the picnic.
    2. You certainly were behind the eight-ball on that project!
    3. I just can't wrap my arms around this proposal about increasing the budget for the communications department.
    4. That idea was not even on my radar screen.
    5. As a result of decreased sales and increased costs, we will no longer be offering the number six widget due to its unpopularity.
    6. Remuneration for the pre-ordered office supplies is due forthwith.
    7. My harrowing experience at the overcrowded, noisy airport caused me to be unduly late for the flight, which resulted in delaying my much anticipated vacation by yet another four hours.
    8. Your order for the lawn mower parts has been received. You will need the lawn mower parts in order to fix the lawn mower. Lawn mower parts are in great demand this time of the year.

Solution:

  1. Demonstrating accuracy and completeness of the information through clear and concise writing will show the reader that the writer is knowledgeable about the subject.
  2. Each of these sentences can be re-written much more concisely and accurately using simple language, phrases, and sentence structures. The following presentation provides better ways to write each of them. As you listen, see how they compare to your re-written sentences.

Knowing the Audience

There are three reasons why it is important to know your audience when composing a business document. While you are planning your document, think about who your primary audience is and how they will react to your document.

Knowing your audience will:

  1. Help you determine how you will write the document.
  2. Provide you with guidelines on how much you need to write.
  3. Determine how formal or informal the writing will be.

The audience is anyone who will read the document. The primary audience is the actual person or group of people you are writing the document for. The secondary audience is anyone else who might read the document or will be affected by the contents of the document.

When you are creating the document you will keep the primary audience in mind, meeting their needs and expectations, while remembering the secondary audience, but not focusing on their needs and expectations.

How to Write the Document

Knowing as much as possible about the audience, including how they feel about the topic being presented in your document, will give you a good basis for the style of the writing and the presentation of the information.

Anticipate the questions your reader will ask and be sure to answer them within the document. The language you use in the writing will be dependent on who the audience is and what they know about the information being discussed. If they are unfamiliar with the topic, you will use more descriptive and explanatory language and fewer (if any) acronyms. Jargon specific to the topic will also not be a big part of the writing.

On the other hand, if the audience is very familiar with the topic, it is fine to use jargon and acronyms appropriate to the discussion as they will be understood by the reader.

How Much Information Needs to Be Included

If you know your audience is very busy, has only time to scan the information before making a decision, and will not spend a great deal of time laboring over the details, you would use a format that is short, easy to read, and contains only highlights or points of interest. Bullet points will work well for this kind of audience.

If your reader is someone who will have a lot of questions, or does not know a lot about the topic, you will need to include much more detailed information in the document. The length of the document depends on the content and how much information you need to include as well as what information the reader already has about the content. If you are introducing a completely new topic, you will want to include as much detail as necessary to get the desired message across to your reader.

The important thing to remember when trying to determine how much information is to be included is to address the readers at the level of their existing knowledge.

Formal vs. Informal Writing

How well do you know your reader? Is the reader someone you work with on a daily basis who is very familiar with you and your work? In that case, the document can be less formal than it would be if you don't know your reader.

The audience as well as the content will both play a role in the formality of the document. A memo or email will be less formal than a proposal for a new project, but both kinds of communication need to be written professionally and accurately.

Check for Understanding: Knowing the Audience

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

In this exercise, you will respond to the following questions about knowing the audience.

  1. Of the following statements, which one is not a reason to know the audience before writing your business document?
    1. To help you determine how you will write the document.
    2. To assist you in the grammatical structure of the document.
    3. To determine how formal or informal the writing will be.
    4. To provide you with guidelines on how much you need to write.
  2. The following passage is from the captureplanning.com website. It is an introductory paragraph and the first thing a viewer on the website will see. Read through it and answer the two questions at the end:
    1. In business proposal writing, the only opinion that matters is that of your customer's. If you want to know what to include in your proposal or how to best format a proposal, you need to look at it from the customer's point of view. Business proposal writing should answer any questions the customer has and explain the benefits of your approach. If you want to perfect your proposal writing, you need to first perfect your understanding of your customer. It's not about what you want to say or how well you can describe yourself; it's about what the customer needs to know in order to select the winner. Only after you master writing from the customer's perspective can you write a proposal that is the most effective. Some general advice for people who are new to business proposal writing is provided below... (http://www.captureplanning.com/!hc_proposal_writing.cfm)
      1. Who do you think the audience is for the passage?
      2. What is the purpose of the passage?

Solution:

  1. B. To assist you in the grammatical structure of the document.
  2. The audience is someone who is not familiar with writing business proposals and the purpose of the passage is to persuade the reader to continue reading for more information about how to write a business proposal.