Business Writing Etiquette


Business Writing Etiquette

by Noah Cox, Executive Vice President

David Maister once said, “Professional is not a label you give yourself -it’s a description you hope others will apply to you.” In other words, you must earn the title or image of being a professional. While there are many ways to accomplish this, one major way is by practicing business writing etiquette.

Business writing etiquette is the practice of writing in a professional, sometimes in a formal manner while trying to conduct a business practice. When used properly, it allows you to come across as a great leader who can also communicate effectively. So when practicing proper business writing etiquette, here are a few things to keep in mind.

One, be careful of grammatical or spelling errors. I know it sounds simple, but everybody can make this mistake and its one you must try to always avoid. Whenever you send an email to someone important, always check to be sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. If someone were to read an email from you and it contained spelling or grammatical errors this could demonstrate a lack of thoroughness or a lack of care for your work which hurts your ability to be perceived as a professional and credible communicator.

Two, your message as clear as possible. Whenever you’re doing business, communicating to your colleague an idea or message should be done as simply as possible. This means avoiding metaphors whenever possible, cutting out excess words whenever you’re composing a document, PowerPoint, or email, and just using plain English whenever possible.  By following these tips, you can become a more effective, concise communicator, which can help boost your professional reputation.

Three, direct the tone of your message to match your audience.  For example, when addressing a client or coworker you don’t know always make the message formal and informative. When writing any document related to business, make it polite and courteous/a formal tone. Additionally, people don’t like to hear old information repeated for no purpose, so make the content of your document contain new and informative details or facts.

Additionally, the type of medium you are using should alter what type of business writing etiquette you should emphasize. I’ll go over a few examples.

With PowerPoint: being concise is king. Avoid at all costs bullet points that end up being paragraphs.  The objective of a PowerPoint is to deliver information in a concise, visual format. So if you need paragraphs to properly convey your point, don’t use a PowerPoint. Additionally, PowerPoint does not have to be as formal as certain emails of reports to coworkers. So make them enjoyable, but also informative!

With emails: make your message worth the time it takes to read it. This means avoid mentioning information already mentioned unless needed. Furthermore, this is a scenario where it is crucial to making your message crystal clear. With other mediums, you can often express an idea with other visual aids (graphs, pictures, etc.). With emails, this is obviously not the case. So try to make your messages as clear as possible. And if it’s not possible to explain your message over email, choose another medium or time to share your idea.

Finally, with reports: prepare them as if the audience knows little about the subject. This might seem counter-intuitive given that I just mentioned to only add new information when sending an email, but for business reports, it is a little bit different. When writing a business report, adding the additional context and background info can help make a great business report an even better one. Why? Because unlike the other two methods of explaining an idea or communicating in a business where you are somewhat available to answer questions or clarify ideas, reports need to be entirely self-explanatory. Every question, every new piece of info and every point you make must be fully spelled out and explained given you won’t be there to explain it. With this in mind, your reports shouldn’t be redundant or over explain things either. These both can make a business report less understandable or more confusing.

The people who succeed the most in business all seem to have at least one thing in common: they’re good communicators. They’re not only good because of what they say in their message, but how they say it. This how can best be replicated by the proper use of business writing etiquette. With proper business writing etiquette, coupled with an involvement in Business Professionals of America, you’re setting yourself apart from most of your peers and helping to prepare yourself to become a leader of tomorrow’s world-class workforce.


Maurice S. Henderson