by Alysia Bartley

The Basics (A, B, C’s) of ESL Business Writing

business woman with blank paper lying on a chaise lounge in the tropical ocean coast

However great a man’s natural talent may be, the act of writing cannot be learned all at once. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, French philosopher, writer, and composer of the 18th-century

An Expansive Business Community
There are many different features to business writing depending on the business community that you work in. If you are in the field of business, you probably have discovered that. You probably have noticed that there are new words/phrases added from time to time, too. So it is important to stay current. If ¼ of the bachelor’s degrees annually awarded in the field of business in the US (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2012) Digest of Education Statistics, 2011 NCES 2012-001, Chapter 3) is indicative of the high number of business degrees awarded internationally – then there’s a lot of writing being produced around the world.

A Variety of Business Careers

Perhaps you work in one of these business areas, know of someone who does, or aspire to be a(n)…

Accountant and Auditors

Administrative Service Managers

Advertising, Marketing, Promotions, Public Relations, and Sales Managers

Brokerage Clerks

Budget Analysts

Claim Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators

Computer and Information Systems Managers

Computer Programmers and Systems Analysts

Economists

Executives

Financial Managers

Human Resources, Training, and Labor Relations Managers and Specialists

Industrial Production Managers

Insurance Sales Agents

Loan Officers

Logisticians

Management Analysis

Market and Survey Researchers

Network and Computer Systems Administrators

Market and Survey Researchers

Network and Computer Systems Administrators

Personal Financial Advisors

Purchasing Managers, Buyers, and Purchasing Agents

Real Estate Brokers and Sales Agents

Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing

Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents

Tax Examiners, Collectors, and Revenue Agents

Familiarity of Business Writing

Who knows? You may be very familiar with the types of writing required for that job. How do people go about acquiring the necessary writing skills?  Perhaps they do any number of things like take a writing class at a college or university, study ESL online, look at resources independently, read articles online, hire a 1-1 tutor, or ask someone for help in writing. How do you sharpen your ESL written language skills? After all, Jean-Jacques Rousseau seems to think that learning to write just doesn’t happen in one setting. Writing skills take time to learn and develop.

25 Types of Business Writing

In fact, Jennifer Mattern, a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and author cites 25 different types of business writing that also differ in writing style, format, and language used. There might even be additional forms of writing that can be added to the list:

  1. Ad Copy (from simple banner ad text to commercial scripts)
  2. Annual Reports
  3. Biographies (such as for executive profiles on the company’s site)
  4. Blog Posts for Company Blogs
  5. Brochures
  6. Business Letters
  7. Business Plans
  8. Case Studies
  9. E-books
  10. Marketing Plans
  11. Media Advisories
  12. Media Kits
  13. Newsletters
  14. Packaging Copy
  15. Postcards
  16. Presentations
  17. Press Releases
  18. Product Descriptions
  19. Product Manuals
  20. Sales Letters
  21. Slogan Development
  22. Social Media Profiles
  23. Trade Magazine Features
  24. Web Copy
  25. White Papers

General Characteristics of Business Writing

Given the interest in and the expansion of business careers and the wide range of types of business writing, it would be impossible and unrealistic to describe each. But there are some general characteristics within business writing. If you focus on these general characteristics, your business writing will undoubtedly improve. You will gain confidence as a writer. Your overall English language will improve. You will be moving towards ESL fluency.

A, B, C’s of General Business Writing

This article attempts to present the A, B, C’s of general business writing to get you off to a good. So what are the basics of ESL Business Writing?

A – Ask for a specific response

Have you noticed that some of the writing asks the reader to do something? This helps involve the reader. It helps to personalize your writing. The reader connects to what you have to say. You develop an ongoing relationship. Ask them to follow up, to make a phone call, to write a letter, to contact you, etc.

B – Be free of redundant wording and useless introductory phrases

No one has time to read repetitive words and useless phrases. Get straight to the point and say what you mean. It is important to grab your reader’s attention in a clear, direct manner. There is no such thing as advance planning, as planning is always done in advance. Other redundant phrases that should be avoided include close proximity, end result, grateful thanks, habitual custom, local resident, mutual cooperation, old adage, past history, self-confessed, successful achievements, true facts, usual customs, and young teenager. Examples of useless introductory phrases include:  with reference to your question, it goes without saying that, at that point in time, by way of response, and it seems unnecessary to point out that.

C – Consider the reading level of your audience

Write for your reader. If it is too basic, the writing is useless. If it is written beyond what your readers can understand, they will stop reading. Have you experienced either of these situations? Maybe a good example of this is when you look for a book to read and you flip through the pages. If you read a few of the words and it seems too easy, you put the book back on the shelf. And if it appears to be too difficult to read, you don’t check out the book from the library or buy it at the bookstore, either.

D – Deliver value

Decide ahead of time the purpose of your writing. And then give the reader something important. Help them understand an issue, explain something important, give them something worthwhile to think about. Be focused when you write so the reader knows your purpose from the words on the page.

E – Educate

How do you feel when you read something that just blows you away because it taught you something new or gave you a different insight than you ever had before? Education is like that. Push your writing to educate your reader. Share information. Captivate the audience. Teach.

F – Finish strong

Spend as much time thinking about the closing of your writing as you do for the beginning and the body of your text. Summarize your major points. Lead your reader into action.

G – Give specifics

Don’t over-generalize. Try to state exactly what the issue is in clear words. Be concise. Be direct.

H – Have a real purpose for writing

Don’t just write for the sake of writing. Know why you are writing. Then do it.

I – Invite necessary action

This point goes back to purposeful writing. Give enough background so you inspire your reader to act. How do you want them to respond?

J – Just focus on 1-2 main points

Don’t present too much information at a time. No one can process it all. Generally, your readers will stop reading and get turned off. If you have a lot of information to share, then break this up into more than one writing piece. If you want your readers to read, make it short enough for the purpose so your readers read every word, and not just skim.

K – Keep informing your readership

No one will walk away from information that is useful. Think – what can you share or share in a way that is most useful to the reader? How can you share this? Is a chart or diagram easier to see? Should you include some web addresses for further information?

L – Leave out any clichés

Again, there is no room for dated jargon. Make your writing crisp and creative. Avoid these:

Actions speak louder than words

The grass is greener on the other side

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

You can’t judge a book by its cover

You can’t please everyone

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Love is blind

Ignorance is bliss

There’s no time like the present

Better safe than sorry

M – Match words to the viewers’ intellect

Does your reader need background information or not?  It is important to know the experience level of your reader in relationship to what you are writing. Too little information and above the readers’ head, and you turn them off. Too much information that you already know, and there is no reason to keep reading.

N – Nail your word choice

Select your words for precision, conciseness, variety, and impact. Use a dictionary, online thesaurus, etc. and pick the right word.

O -Organize your message

It pays to hammer out your message first and then to rework it. The message needs to flow in logical order so your reader can follow your thinking.

P – Proofread – Allow no errors

No errors ever. Check spelling, grammar, and word usage. Possibly have someone proofread and help you edit.

Q – Quote some research or an authority in the field

If you have something relevant that adds depth to your writing, then add it. Ask yourself, Is it appropriate to cite research or a quote? If the answer is “yes”, then do it.

R – Repeat the main ideas

You might need to repeat the premise of your writing more than once to draw attention to it. But it would be best to say it in a different way.

S – Simplify, simplify, simplify

Target your writing to a specific purpose and be as concise as possible.

T – Tell the truth

Always be truthful. That goes for sharing any type of information. Honesty is indeed the best policy.

U – Use the active voice

Do not make objects the subjects of your sentences, as the writing is too passive in business writing.  For example, The chairman called the meeting is active voice. The meeting was called by the chairman is passive. When using a passive voice in business writing, it becomes drab, vague, and boring. Begin with the subject, followed by the verb. Use a strong verb.

V – Vary the sentence length

To keep your readers’ attention it is necessary to vary your sentences. Have shorter sentences as little as 4 words mixed with longer ones of up to 20+ words. The writing is more interesting to read this way and it keeps your readers wanting to read more.

W – Write and rewrite, rewrite some more

One way to become a better writer is to write and rewrite. This suggestion cannot be stressed enough. Just like everything else in life, you usually get better by practice.

X – eXcite your reader

Remember the best book you ever read? How about your favorite movie or video clip? I bet these were exciting, too. That is what you need to offer your reader. Know your audience and involve them. I promise you that if your writing is exciting, the reader will stay engaged and be more apt to read to the end. They will probably look favorably to reading more from you in the future. Conversely, if your writing is not appealing to your readers, they may choose to ignore your future writing or they may only skim bits and pieces.

Y – Yield any misunderstanding

Make sure your writing is clear to your reader. Mixed messages, inconsistencies, and incorrect information are not what you want to deliver.

Z – Zero-in on the reader’s needs and wants, offer satisfaction to build a relationship

This is a “no brainer”. If you give readers something that they need or want, they will embrace your writing. The writer-reader relationship will have been created. You will have served your purpose.

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Business writing is all around us. Do you have experience in writing any of the business formats listed above? Are you responsible in your career for any specific type of business writing? Do you have a suggestion of something that has worked for you to improve your business writing that you can share with others?

Write something specific so we can learn from you. And if I can help you with your business writing or your ESL language learning, write about that, too. And remember, the act of writing cannot be learned at once, but we can at least start.

person sitting beside tree reading

About the author:

Alysia is a co-founder of TalktoCanada. Since founding the online English teaching company in 2006, she has gone on to teach over 10,000 hours of online classes and managed large and small English training projects around the world. During her free time you can find her listening to the latest business book, travelling and going to the gym.