How to write effectively for business

Effective Business Writing
Formal business writing, be it correspondence or management reports, is expensive and time-consuming.

That being the case, it tends to only be used for the most important forms of communication. For example, correspondence and formal documents are normally required where matters will be legally binding.
With this in mind, there is a good case for having certain guidelines or templates which can be used repeatedly.

Some organisations have their own house style in order to establish consistency.

Where this is not the case, managers should develop their own common style based on the principles below.

Underpinning Principles

In all forms of written communication it is important to be clear and concise.

Decide the purpose of the letter or document and focus on its objectives or intended outcomes. Use easily understood language. There is no need to have a fancy vocabulary just because it is a formal document. (Technical vocabulary is of course fine when information is being shared between people within the same technical field, though beware of any people who may be recipients of the information who operate in a different technical area.)

At all times be conscious of the reader. Use short sentences where possible. Don't clutter up the document with too much text. Give the messages room to breathe. With written correspondence use appropriate salutations and sign-offs. If in doubt, err on the side of formality. With formal reports a more rigid structure is advised (see below).

Executive Summaries

After the title page this should be the first section of any report. The executive summary should be a brief concentration on the main points contained within the full document. It is sometimes referred to as the 'headline' statements. This summary should not exceed one side of A4. Make sure you include all the main points as this is as much as some people will read.

Body Content

This is where you put the detail of your report. It is sometimes called your commentary. It is where you marshal your arguments, or put your case. In a technical report it is where you provide detailed information.

In following the underlying principles (above), for lengthy reports it is worth putting paragraph headings for ease of reference. Unless absolutely necessary, avoid putting raw data within the body content (see below). Numbers are much more difficult to read and digest than words. You want your commentary to flow. If it is essential that numerical information be included here, try to represent them graphically. If you are using tables and diagrams, make sure they are easy to follow. Give them titles, make sure axes on graphs are labelled, and where colour or other coding is used, always provide a key.


This is the place for the raw data and statistics. Within the body content you can cross reference the reader to the detail (see appendix 4 etc). It is also the place where you would reference any secondary sources you might have used during any research undertaken (see below).


This is where you state your key recommendations, or conclusions. This part of the report is sometimes called 'a call to action'. In other words, what you want, or expect, to happen as a result of circulating the report. As with the executive summary, you should try to keep this to a single sheet of A4.


Good reports are based on good information. Use a variety of sources where possible. The options are endless given the Internet. Try and use a mix of primary and secondary sources.

Primary sources are those generated by yourself. They have the advantage of being current, but the downside is they have not necessarily been corroborated and have certainly not stood the test of time.

Commonly managers use instruments like questionnaires to gather information, an example being a report on customer satisfaction levels. Be wary of questionnaires. Think carefully about the information you deem important and avoid leading questions. Try to pose questions that make it easy for you to analyse the results, such as multiple-choice responses. The final watchword here is to be aware of who has responded. Are the responders a representative sample of the population you have targeted?

With secondary sources (Internet, published works etc) the opposite is true in terms of advantages and disadvantages. They are probably tried and tested, but they may be a bit out of date. Their other benefit is that they are less time-consuming than gathering primary information.

In Summary

Written communication is important. Focus on the purpose of the document. If it is a piece of correspondence replying to a previously received communication, make sure that you deal with all the points or issues raised in the original document. Be clear and concise. Break up the text wherever possible, either by using space or sub-headings. Above all else write with the reader in mind.

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