Writing Tips for All Business Documents

By Natalie Canavor

For your own line of work, you may need business materials that differ from the common types. Most of the ideas still apply: to business plans, white papers, RFPs, survey reports, and all the other document challenges you may encounter. Some general writing guidelines and techniques are helpful to keep in mind whatever you’re writing.

Finding the right tone is critical. Important business communications must come across as authoritative, objective, credible, and confident. You’re trying to persuade someone to do something, so don’t sound ponderous and dull. To the contrary, the more lively and engaging your document, the more likely people are to respond with what you want. Given the mounds of boring material your readers face, they may actually be grateful for a good read.

If you compete for a high-stakes opportunity like a really big contract and someone tells you to write expensive-sounding, verbose, grandiloquent prose, shut your ears. You want a transparent writing style that showcases your thinking, not fancy or puffy language that calls attention to itself. Employ all the good writing techniques at your disposal.

Minimize use of:

  • Stiff, pompous tone
  • Arrogant or self-aggrandizing atmosphere
  • Passive, indirect statements
  • Long, complicated words
  • Jargon, acronyms, and buzzwords
  • Complicated, meandering sentences that demand two readings
  • Abstractions
  • Empty hype, including flowery adjectives and unproved claims
  • Hedge words and qualifiers: might, perhaps, hopefully, possibly, would, could, and the like
  • Extra or extraneous material that doesn’t support your point
  • Mistakes in grammar, punctuation, or spelling

Maximize use of:

  • Conversational but respectful style
  • Low-key, quiet confidence
  • Straightforward, clear sentences, average 12 to 18 words, with action verbs
  • Short, basic words
  • Short paragraphs of three to five sentences
  • Rhythmic flow of language (read it aloud)
  • Concrete, graphic words and comparisons
  • Proof/evidence: Facts, statistics, images, and examples
  • Positive language that doesn’t qualify or hedge
  • Story line: Have one and stick to it
  • Correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar