The rules of business writing

Ya know, it’s a shame that college students aren’t required to take a business writing class as part of their core education. Business writing is useful in all career fields. It teaches you to be a better writer, in addition to a better communicator, in general. I feel as though some of us may need a quick lesson in what it means to communicate professionally (on paper). For those who are familiar with this type of writing, this will be a quick refresher for you.

*Disclaimer: I realize that I will be breaking many of the rules listed below in this blog post. And I anticipate numerous comments about it. But blog writing is NOT business writing, and this blog post is meant to be purely informal. A casual conversation between me and my readers. Thanks in advance for understanding!

Use complete sentences and proper grammar.
To be honest, it still amazes me at how many college graduates don’t know the basics of a sentence or where to put commas. A sentence MUST contain both a subject and a verb to be complete.

[subject, verb]

Ex. The boy ran to the store.

Ex. I am tired.

Ex. The stats show an increase in company profits.

Each complete sentence takes a period at the end, not a semicolon and not a comma. And speaking of commas, a general rule of thumb is that if you naturally pause while reading the sentence aloud, then a comma should go at each pause.

Ex. Because he was in a hurry, the boy ran to the store.

Ex. I, Tammie Riley, am tired.

Ex. Using the database as evidence, the stats showed an increase in company profits.

If that doesn’t work, then feel free to read a former post of mine, Why commas are important and 10 ways to use them.

Do not use contractions.
At first, I didn’t quite understand why contractions were so taboo in business writing. But I’m slowly starting to learn. To your average businessman, contractions are viewed as sloppy and/or lazy. Contractions are usually used in informal situations (sometimes along with slang); for that, it’s against “formal code” to add contractions. In fact, there are only a few instances where adding a contraction in business writing is OK. Click here to learn what they are.

Contractions give off the impression that you aren’t trying hard enough. As you know, business owners expect things to be neat and in order. Everything has a time and a place, and that includes the use (or lack) of contractions.

Have a purpose.
Whatever you’re writing — whether it’s a proposal, a press release, an expense report — must come with a reason for producing it. In other words, any piece you work on should have a point. Use your documents to inform your readers.

Stick to what you know, not what you “think”.
Never begin a professional document with “I think”. When it comes to business writing, there’s hardly much room for opinion. That means, you should almost never be using first person pronouns in business writing. “I” has nothing to do with the campaign report. You should write only the facts, and if your colleagues need further explanation, you may explain your role in the campaign at the next meeting.

Attribute everything that’s not yours.
Pictures, data, charts. In reality, this goes for any type of writing. But especially business writing. In a world where executives want results right away, they don’t have time to figure out where those stats came from and where those numbers were produced. Save them the time by attributing any information that you didn’t create yourself. Not to mention, it’ll save you a lawsuit in the future.

What are some rules that you follow in business writing? Let me know in the comment section below.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

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