• Customer Experience

Understanding the Different Business Writing Styles and When to Use Them

business writing writing style

Business success depends on knowing your customer or target audience and understanding how to align your goals with their priorities. To connect with your customers on a meaningful level, your written communication must present your message in a meaningful way.

Connecting effectively also impacts your bottom line. Focusing on communication can prevent or mitigate a majority of office failures—86% of which are attributed to ineffective communication. It can also improve retention rates by up to 50%.

Get hands-on with Grammarly Business To empower your team with effective and efficient communication Start Free Trial

Naturally, there are a few different approaches to this, from using a style that’s informational to one that’s more persuasive. Understanding how and when to use different types of business writing styles will drastically improve business communication . We explain four approaches, plus how you can leverage them successfully.

The four business writing styles

Each of the four basic business writing styles has distinct characteristics and applications.


Informational business writing is used to educate your audience. Rather than inciting a specific action, informational writing should provide the reader with valuable knowledge and insight—and establish yourself or your brand as a voice of authority in the process.

Tips for writing informational pieces:

Use the informational writing style when you want your reader to learn more about a topic relevant to your business. This style is ideal for: 


Instructional business writing is similar to informational writing in that both help the reader learn something new. The difference, however, is the end goal. Instructional writing should teach the reader how to do something—how to use one of your products or how to troubleshoot common issues, for example.

Instructional writing establishes you or your brand as a trustworthy source of valuable information while helping your readers or customers accomplish their goals.

Tips for writing instructional pieces:

Use the instructional writing style when you want to teach your reader how to do something related to your products or services. This writing style is especially useful for HR communications and customer support. Here are some examples of when to use this style:

The persuasive business writing style should convince your audience of something—usually, to take a specific action, such as to buy a product or make an investment. 

Persuasive style may overlap with informational or instructional style because a good argument is always supported with evidence. However, a persuasive style seeks to inspire the audience to move past curiosity and make a decision.

Tips for writing persuasive pieces:

Use the persuasive writing style when you want to inspire your reader to complete an action that supports your business goals. This writing style is best applied when writing the following:


Conversational business writing encompasses the everyday communications that relate to your business operations. Traditionally, this was considered transactional writing, but businesses today recognize the need to maintain a friendly, human touch in all interactions. The purpose behind using this style varies, but generally, the goal is to ensure that the communication leads to progress and problem-solving. 

When using the conversational writing style, be sure to do the following:

Use the conversational writing style when you need to communicate something that relates to everyday business operations. This style is almost exclusively used internally, though there are some external use cases as well. This writing style can be applied to a wide range of business communications not covered by the other styles:

Remember, a mismatch between the business writing style chosen and the writer’s intent will detract from the overall message and make it much less likely to achieve the desired outcome. Choosing the right style at the right time is key to success.

Better writing for better business

The best way to ensure you and your team always apply the right style and tone to any written communication is to develop and share an internal style guide.

AI-driven writing assistants like Grammarly Business make it as easy as possible to check every document against these internal guidelines. This will not only ensure consistent alignment but also improve your team’s business writing skills by up to 74% while speeding up the drafting process by as much as 50%.

Your team will perform better and generate better results while optimizing resources. 

Optimize your and your team’s use of these basic business writing styles with Grammarly Business . Our cutting-edge writing assistant can instantly proofread and analyze the tone and formatting of a variety of documents and provide insightful suggestions for revisions. To learn more, contact us today.

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How to Improve Your Business Writing

business writing writing style

Cut the fat.

You probably write on the job all the time: proposals to clients, memos to senior executives, a constant flow of emails to colleagues. But how can you ensure that your writing is as clear and effective as possible? How do you make your communications stand out?

What the Experts Say Overworked managers with little time might think that improving their writing is a tedious or even frivolous exercise. But knowing how to fashion an interesting and intelligent sentence is essential to communicating effectively, winning business, and setting yourself apart. “As Marvin Swift memorably said, clear writing means clear thinking ,” said Kara Blackburn, a senior lecturer in managerial communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “You can have all the great ideas in the world and if you can’t communicate, nobody will hear them.” Luckily, everyone has the capacity to improve, says Bryan Garner, author of The HBR Guide to Better Business Writing . Effective writing “is not a gift that you’re born with,” he says. “It’s a skill that you cultivate.” Here’s how to write simply, clearly, and precisely.

Think before you write Before you put pen to paper or hands to keyboard, consider what you want to say. “The mistake that many people make is they start writing prematurely,” says Garner. “They work out the thoughts as they’re writing, which makes their writing less structured, meandering, and repetitive.” Ask yourself: What should my audience know or think after reading this email, proposal, or report? If the answer isn’t immediately clear, you’re moving too quickly. “Step back and spend more time collecting your thoughts,” Blackburn advises.

Be direct Make your point right up front. Many people find that the writing style and structure they developed in school doesn’t work as well in the business world. “One of the great diseases of business writing is postponing the message to the middle part of the writing,” says Garner. By succinctly presenting your main idea first, you save your reader time and sharpen your argument before diving into the bulk of your writing. When writing longer memos and proposals, Garner suggests stating the issue and proposed solution in “no more than 150 words” at the top of the first page. “Acquire a knack for summarizing,” he says. “If your opener is no good, then the whole piece of writing will be no good.”

By the Same Author

How to tell a great story.

Cut the fat Don’t “use three words when one would do,” says Blackburn. Read your writing through critical eyes, and make sure that each word works toward your larger point. Cut every unnecessary word or sentence. There’s no need to say “general consensus of opinion,” for instance, when “consensus” will do. “The minute readers feel that a piece of writing is verbose they start tuning out,” says Garner. He suggests deleting prepositions ( point of view becomes viewpoint ); replacing –ion words with action verbs ( provided protection to becomes protected ); using contractions ( don’t instead of do not and we’re instead of we are ); and swapping is, are, was and were with stronger verbs ( indicates rather than is indicative of ).

Avoid jargon and $10 words Business writing is full of industry-specific buzzwords and acronyms. And while these terms are sometimes unavoidable and can occasionally be helpful as shorthand, they often indicate lazy or cluttered thinking. Throw in too many, and your reader will assume you are on autopilot — or worse, not understand what you’re saying. “Jargon doesn’t add any value,” says Blackburn, but “clarity and conciseness never go out of style.” Garner suggests creating a “ buzzword blacklist ” of words to avoid, including terms like “actionable,” “core competency,” “impactful,” and “incentivize.” You should also avoid using grandiose language. Writers often mistakenly believe using a big word when a simple one will do is a sign of intelligence. It’s not.

Read what you write Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Is your point clear and well structured? Are the sentences straightforward and concise? Blackburn suggests reading passages out loud. “That’s where those flaws reveal themselves: the gaps in your arguments, the clunky sentence, the section that’s two paragraphs too long,” she says. And don’t be afraid to ask a colleague or friend — or better yet, several colleagues and friends — to edit your work. Welcome their feedback; don’t resent it. “Editing is an act of friendship,” says Garner. “It is not an act of aggression.”

Practice every day “Writing is a skill,” says Blackburn, “and skills improve with practice.” Garner suggests reading well-written material every day, and being attentive to word choice, sentence structure, and flow. “Start paying attention to the style of The Wall Street Journal ,” he says. Invest in a guide to style and grammar for reference — Garner recommends Fowler’s Modern English Usage . Most importantly, build time into your schedule for editing and revising. “Writing and reworking your own writing is where the change happens, and it’s not quick,” says Blackburn. “The time is well spent because good writers distinguish themselves on the job.”

Principles to Remember:

Case study #1: Don’t be afraid to share When David McCombie began working as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, he immediately realized that the writing style he’d honed at Harvard Law School wasn’t well suited for executive-level communications. “It was the structure of my arguments,” David says. “I was getting feedback that I needed to get to the point more quickly.”

With legal or academic writing, “you’re going to generally start with building up the case, and put the main point all the way at the end,” he says. “But in business communications, it’s best to start with your conclusion first.”

To make his writing more direct and effective, David asked several senior colleagues for all of their past presentations and reports so that he could mimic key elements of their format and style. He also copied trusted colleagues who were particularly skilled communicators on important emails and asked for their feedback.

David has carried these practices to the private equity firm he founded in Miami, the McCombie Group. “I send anything that’s important to my partner and he reads it over,” David says, adding that he knows better than to take the edits personally. “We talk about whether there is a better way to convey an idea, how we can be more succinct.”

Improving his writing has had a direct effect on David’s ability to become an influential voice in his field. He’s currently writing a book on his private equity firm’s niche market, The Family Office Practitioner’s Guide to Direct Investments.

“Even if I knew good business writing from the get-go, I think continually improving your writing and taking it to the next level is absolutely key to success,” David says. “The more you do it, the easier it becomes.”

Case study #2: Study good writing Tim Glowa had already built a successful career as a strategic marketing consultant when he decided to set his ambitions a little higher. “I wanted to be perceived as a thought leader,” Tim says, “and to do that, I needed to have a point of view and I needed to put that point of view out in public.”

He knew that crafting smart, digestible op-eds and research papers was key to improving his professional reputation. His writing was already well received by colleagues and peers but much of his experience was rooted in academic writing. So he began reading business publications, like McKinsey Quarterly, for style. “I studied how they communicate,” Tim says, “and made an effort to make my own writing more direct and concise.”

He also incorporated an outlining ritual into his writing. Before writing reports and memos, he now begins with a short outline of the three main objectives. “You can’t just start typing and expect to go somewhere,” he says. “That’s like going for a walk and not knowing where the destination is.”

Tim, now the cofounder of a marketing analytics firm called Bug Insights, believes the efforts have made him a more effective communicator, improving not just his longer writings, but his emails and even his voicemails. “It filters down into virtually all my communication,” he says. And his work is finding an audience. Several of his papers have been downloaded more than 100,000 times, and a Fortune 50 company recently used one of his papers in an internal training and development program.

Tim is gratified at his progress, but says he’s not going to stop putting in the extra effort. “You have to work at it,” he says. “Anytime you develop a new skill, you have to study it.”

business writing writing style

Partner Center

Writing 101

– 21 min read

How to improve your business writing style

Devon Delfino

Devon Delfino

business writing writing style

Business writing skills don’t come naturally to everyone, but they’re often a significant part of working professionals’ lives. Luckily, writing better at work can be learned. And if you’re willing to do the work, you can easily improve your business writing style over time.

Most people know that you should cover your bases with things like correct grammar and punctuation as well as following the accepted practices of the medium you’re using, whether it’s a business email to a prospective client, a follow-up email , or a report to your boss. But fewer know the individual practices that come together to form clear, actionable, and comprehensible pieces of business writing.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to improve your business writing style with quick tips and key document examples you can use in your day-to-day business.

Table of contents:

Four types of business writing, nine business writing tips to improve your skills.

Business writing FAQ

The style and tone of your business writing is determined by the type of writing you’re about to take part in. There are four key types:


When your aim is to give the reader information that will help them complete a task, it’s called instructional writing. To make the information easy to follow and instructive, you could follow a step-by-step format. This business writing style is often written with a neutral, competent tone.

Examples of instructional writing include:


Informational business writing is an essential part of running an organization, ensuring you comply with legal and contractual obligations. It’s often used in the business world when you need to provide evidence that you’ve completed a certain activity. This business writing style is written with a neutral, professional tone.

Examples of informational writing include:

Persuasive business writing is when you want to convey information that convinces the reader (usually the customer) that you’re offering the best value. Such content is typically linked to sales and follows a brand’s style guide . It can be written with an informal or professional tone.

Examples of persuasive writing include:


You probably do transactional writing every day. Sending an email to your colleague is a form of transactional writing (yes, in business writing, email counts too!). So are more official modes of communication, such as letters, forms, and invoices. This business writing style is usually succinct and purposeful.

Examples of transactional writing include:

Now that you understand the different types of business writing, let’s look at how you can improve your skills as a professional writer.

Here are nine business writing tips to help you improve your business reports, professional emails, and business communications.

1. Identify your primary goal in business communications

Before approaching any kind of business writing exercise, you have to know what you want to say. Sometimes your key point will be obvious, but other times, it will require some thought.

Either way, setting a primary goal is an important first step for gathering your thoughts into a coherent message. And it’s a major component to successful business communication and writing in general. If you’re clear about your primary objective, you can more easily stick to that point, avoid going off on tangents, and get your message across in a way that’s easily digested by the reader.

One way to quickly ascertain your goal is to  sum up the purpose of your message in a single sentence . If it’s extremely short or can’t be contained in a single sentence, you may need to consider alternative methods, like a quick conversation or breaking up your content into more than one email.

2. Focus on your readers’ needs and professional goals

Your audience will dictate so much of how your message is conveyed, so you must understand who they are and what they need. Good writers focus on their audiences’ needs and wants rather than their own. That way, the reader has something to grab hold of, and act on, if that’s the goal.

Example 1: How to write a business email that clearly states your objectives and expectations

If you’re writing an email to an employee about third-quarter business goals, the part they play in moving the company forward will be most relevant. In that situation, however, it would be easy to provide more context than is necessary. But providing too much information can make for a lengthy and less effective piece of writing that requires the reader to dig through the information that may not be relevant to them.

Example 2: How to write a business email that solves a client’s question or problem

On the other hand, if you’re writing to a customer or client, you should aim to answer their questions about your product or service so that they can make an informed decision. Providing valuable context can mean the difference between a quick “yes” or a slow, drawn-out conversation that fades away. The easier you can make things for your reader in your own writing, the more inclined they’ll be to help you accomplish your business goals.

3. Cut to the chase in business writing: Focus on clarity over quantity

Clarity is easily muddled when it comes to the written word, but there are a few ways to easily and quickly address this aspect of business and professional writing (same goes for your personal writing too).

Avoid jargon and overusing acronyms

Jargon can easily creep into both your business writing style. And while it can make conversations a bit faster when speaking with others who are well-versed in your field, business jargon can create confusion with those who aren’t. Again, you have to be aware of whom you’re talking to, and make a judgment call. If you’re writing for someone new to your industry, use words that have a clear, universal meaning.

Shorten and simplify sentences

For better business writing, edit the length of your sentences to hone the clarity of your business communications. For example, you may write “as a result” when “because” is just as accurate. Keeping each sentence to one idea can also help you avoid confusing the reader with run-ons or convoluted compound sentences.

While you’re at it, be sure to look for holes in the context or message — like places where you took a logical leap, or forgot to include information about how something is relevant to the main topic. That way, each sentence and paragraph can support the others in creating a coherent message.

4. Streamline structure and organization

Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to begin with business communications, especially if you’ve got pages and multiple decks of business research, analysis, and creative ideas. In general, it’s best to focus on a primary idea or topic. This prioritization helps you set expectations for the reader and get to the point without delay.

As a baseline, you should include things like transitions from paragraph to paragraph, or sentence to sentence, to make the words themselves flow more easily. You’ll want to take a top-line approach to the organization, too, if you want your words to be more absorbable.

Break a lengthy email or document into smaller sections

Just as we’re doing in this blog post, we suggest organizing business writing into sections with subheadings and highlights of important information. Include formatting such as line breaks, headers, and short paragraphs to make lengthy copy scannable.

Visually friendly formatting is especially important when you’re talking to someone who doesn’t necessarily have to listen to you, like a prospective client who may not have a lot of time to devote to reading emails.

Again, making it easier for them to understand your writing can help you achieve your goals.

5. Fine-tune your tone and business writing style

Your style and tone in writing dictate how your readers feel. A professional and friendly voice helps foster a sense of congeniality between yourself and your clients and coworkers.

Formal is not necessarily the same thing as professional

Example of formal phrasing:

“Report to me at your earliest convenience.”

Example of professional yet less formal phrasing:

“Stop by when you have a minute to chat.”

Both of these statements convey the same general message, but the tone is different, due to word choices and their connotations. The first statement relies on formal phrasing and potentially implies a difficult conversation ahead.

The second example sounds friendly and less formal, but still professional. The way you say the things you need to say is important, and it can dictate everything that follows. If you’re not sure how your writing will be perceived, try reading it aloud — what would you think if someone sent you the same statement?

6. Use an active, human voice

Every grade-school English teacher has spouted off one time or another about the virtues of writing with an active voice. And they’re right. As a quick refresher, an active voice is when the subject of a sentence acts on the verb. Passive voice, on the other hand, is when the subject is acted upon by the verb.

Example of using active voice in business writing:

She wrote the business report.

Example of using passive voice in business writing:

The business report was written by her.

In these examples, “she” or “her” is the subject and “wrote” or “was written” is the verb. Using an active voice is key to persuasive business writing. It can be used to create urgency, help with clarity, and is a more effective way to convey information in business communications.

Avoid “robotic” business language

People prefer business writing that sounds like it was written by a human being, not a robot. That means using contractions and sticking to your usual vocabulary. You might think it’s necessary to elevate your prose to get a more professional tone, but your words can easily come off as stilted, and it’s not really necessary to be professional.

7. Include clear calls to action

A CTA (call to action) is a valuable yet underused tool in business and professional writing. A CTA communicates exactly what you need and when you need it.

For example:  In an email, you might want to place a CTA in two areas: the subject line, to alert the recipient about an impending deadline, and within the message itself, to help contextualize it.

Unlike the goal or focus of the email, it doesn’t have to come right at the beginning. In fact, including a CTA too early can be jarring and give a tone of impatience. Including a CTA (e.g., “Please sign the agreement” or “RSVP here”) on a separate line at the close of the email, for example, can be a useful way to wrap things up without running into the issue of tone.

The CTA itself should be specific and actionable. Saying, “Please get this to me soon” is more abstract and less effective than saying, “Please send the signed files by noon tomorrow (5/22).” A clear assignment and deadline are easiest to fulfill, so providing one will give you the best chance of getting what you need on time.

8. Aim for brand consistency in your business writing style

Creating a  consistent brand story  is another tenet of good writing at work. After all, what is a brand, if not the cumulative reputation of a company? And that’s often conveyed through writing.

Whether you’re talking to a client, or a coworker, staying within the bounds of your company message creates a more unified system. It simplifies things for everyone by setting expectations for both what lens to view information through and how best to convey that information to others. That means it has a significant influence over how you want the reader to feel and the tone you employ.

Use standardized writing templates that you can tweak to fit your needs

Templates can help you hit on keywords and phrases within the context of specific kinds of conversations. For example, you may find that you often send prospecting emails to clients, you’ve likely found yourself repeatedly writing out explanations about what the company aims to do and its desired customer base.

Having a template ready to pull from can save time while making sure you don’t deviate from the desired messaging. Over time, this helps build the brand in a consistent and positive way. Whether you’re using a Google Doc, Salesforce, Marketo, etc., make sure to customize the template to keep things relevant, personable, and coherent.

9. Do a final check

Before you send your writing into the world, or even to a single person, it’s important to remember to do final checks. Even the most skilled writers need some sort of editing to avoid  writing mistakes  like dropped letters from rewritten sentences or odd word choices that could lead to confusion or tonal issues.

Reading your work out loud, before you hit send, or having someone else give it a once-over, can provide some much-needed perspective and help you see little things that may have slipped through the cracks.

And, of course, don’t forget to run spell-check. Using an AI grammar assistant like Writer will help you spot those mistakes your brain doesn’t compute.

Read our article on common writing errors at work to form your own  proofreading  checklist.

Five business writing examples

Now you know the different business writing styles and tips, here are some effective business writing examples you can use to inspire your next project and help you learn  how to write better .

1. Marketing content

If you’re new to content marketing, you may need to spend time developing new skills in writing persuasive, relevant, and clear content. A key element is understanding your audience: you need to write content that resonates with them, e.g. offering solutions to their problems or insight they can’t get anywhere else.

Marketing content includes:

An example of quality marketing content: nordic outdoor clothing retailer, Fjallraven’s landing page:

Fjallraven content marketing example

Active voice in the main headline creates a sense of urgency for outdoor enthusiasts, encouraging them to explore nature. This is directly linked to the company’s products – you can’t explore the great outdoors without proper gear – which has been conveniently placed on the landing page so customers can shop straight away.

Two lessons to take away:

2. Help center

Picture this: a customer wants to use your product but they have a question that’s holding them back. They search for a FAQ or help center but you don’t have one. Thus, the customer journey ends because they can’t get the information they need to move forward.

Avoid losing customers with a well-written, user-friendly help center. They save your existing customers time from calling or emailing you. Instead, customers can find the answer to their problem in a few clicks.

The best help center uses simple and clear writing that guides visitors to a solution to their problem. For example, take a look at  Pinterest’s help page :

Pinterest help center

The ‘Ask us anything’ search box creates a friendly tone that encourages the customer to seek help for their problems. The headings are concise and use keywords and a clear structure to make navigating to the right solution effortless.

Remember, your goal is to offer the path of least resistance when it comes to solving customer problems. Like Pinterest, you can achieve this with clear and concise word choice.

3. Product content

A delightful onboarding experience makes new customers feel like they made the right choice by doing business with you. It also improves customer retention and lifetime value — and if there’s one thing we know about business, happy customers  become your top referral source .

If your onboarding content is littered with  common grammar mistakes  and spelling errors, it might send new customers running for the door.

Take  Oberlo  for example. The  dropshipping supplier  company uses clear, well-written text to show users how to get started with the app, and reemphasize the value of their product.

Oberlo product content

Oberlo breaks everything down and distributes the information slowly. Only asking new users to accomplish one task at a time and providing straightforward instructions on how to achieve it. Use your words to guide your customers every step of the way.

Got tons of product content in need of editing? Use Writer’s free  Grammar Checker  online to help improve the quality of your content.

With business writing, emails count too. Problem is, a lot of people don’t bother to proofread a quick email they send to a colleague or client. A few grammar and spelling mistakes never hurt anyone, right?

Wrong. It all counts towards the way you’re perceived as a professional. If you want clients, customers or colleagues to view you as competent, considerate, and businesslike, your emails (or business letters) need to be quality pieces of writing.

When writing business emails, use short and simple sentences to make your writing easy to digest. Busy professionals will most likely scan emails when they’re short on time. Make sure there are no grammar errors or spelling mistakes. And give the recipient clear instructions on what to do next, whether it’s responding to a proposal, booking a call, etc.

5. Press releases

Press releases  are newsworthy stories businesses send to different media outlets. The goal of a press release is to get journalists and editors to feature the story in their publications.

If you have a new product or service in the works, you might want to write a press release to get the word out there. They need to be well-targeted with a newsworthy headline, a summary of the news in the opening paragraph, and a compelling quote. They are usually written in the third-person.

A press release typically has seven components:

Check out Amazon’s in-car delivery  press release  for inspiration:

Amazon press release

This is a great example of persuasive business writing. Amazon starts with an eye-catching headline that summarizes the story. Then clearly identifies the core product benefits and how it helps its customers. If you read the full press release , you’ll notice they also use testimonials from a customer who was given early access to the service—a great way to show the product works.

As a business writing exercise, write your own press release using these different narrative devices.It can be on unicorns or UFOs, the idea is to practice. Once you’ve finished your first draft, check to see if you’ve followed the correct hierarchy of information.

Now you’ve got the business writing skills to shine

As you can see, good writing can help you stand out and shake up the professional world. With what you’ve learned in this guide, you could get a business writing job (like copywriting, technical or academic writing), or use the writing skills you’ve learned to enhance your own marketing and communication skills.

Whatever you decide to do, keep on doing purposeful, focused, and intentional practice with business writing exercises. Practice writing emails, press releases, headlines, product content, whatever tickles your fancy. In time, you’ll become a master of business writing style.

Want to improve your business writing skills today? Sign up for a free trial of Writer .

What is business writing?

Business writing is a type of professional communication written to be direct, purposeful, concise, and clear. Grammar and spelling should always be correct to maintain professionalism.

What is the importance of business writing?

The importance of business writing is to establish credibility and trustworthiness for the company you are writing for. Each piece of writing should be well-written and mistake-free.

How can you improve your business writing skills?

You can improve your business writing skills by reading different forms of business writing, engaging with different styles, practicing using active voice; eliminating jargon, and using a grammar checking tool like Writer.

What are the 10 C’s of business writing?

How do I learn business writing skills?

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May Habib CEO, Writer.com

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Business Writing

The type of writing that is used in a professional setting

What is Business Writing?

Business writing is a type of writing that is used in a professional setting. It is a purposeful piece of writing that conveys relevant information to the reader in a clear, concise, and effective manner. It includes client proposals, reports, memos, emails , and notices. Proficiency in business writing is a critical aspect of effective communication in the workplace.

Business Writing

Types of Business Writing

The broad field of business writing can be distilled into four categories based on their objective, such as:

1. Instructional

The instructional business writing type is directional and aims to guide the reader through the steps of completing a task. A user manual falls aptly under the instructional category, as well as a memo issued to all employees outlining the method of completing a certain task in the future.

2. Informational

Informational business writing pertains to recording business information accurately and consistently. It comprises documents essential to the core functions of the business for tracking growth, outlining plans, and complying with legal obligations. For example, the financial statements of a company, minutes of the meeting , and perhaps the most important, report writing.

3. Persuasive

The goal of persuasive writing is to impress the reader and influence their decision. It conveys relevant information to convince them that a specific product, service, company, or relationship offers the best value. Such a type of writing is generally associated with marketing and sales. It includes proposals, bulk sales emails, and press releases.

4. Transactional

Day-to-day communication at the workplace falls under the transactional business writing category. The bulk of such communication is by email, but also includes official letters, forms, and invoices .

Business Writing - Types

Principles of Good Business Writing

1. clarity of purpose.

Before beginning a business document, memo, or email, one should ponder two primary questions:

Clarity of purpose gives a direction to the writing and develops its tone, structure, and flow.

2. Clarity of thought

Thinking while, rather than before writing, makes the writing less structured, meandering, and repetitive. Business writing requires the skill to reduce long, rambling sentences into concise, clear ones. One needs to extract what is significant to write clearly.

3. Convey accurate and relevant information

The primary goal of business writing is to convey valuable information. Inaccurate or irrelevant content affects the purpose of the document. For effective business writing, information must be value-additive and complete.

4. Avoid jargon

A simple and uncluttered writing style goes a long way in communicating the message to the reader. Grandiose writing full of industry-specific buzzwords and acronyms should be avoided to the maximum possible extent. Otherwise, the reader may be unable to comprehend the document or lose interest in it.

5. Read and revise

Reading the passages out loud after completion can reveal flaws and gaps in the arguments. It is recommended to welcome constructive feedback from colleagues and revise the document for improvement.

6. Practice is the key

Proficiency in business writing can be attained through regular practice. Paying attention to the vocabulary, sentence structure, and style of writing while reading can help to develop the same instinct while penning one’s thoughts down.

7. Be direct

Presenting the crux of the passage in the first 150 words is a good idea when it comes to business writing. It saves the reader time and sharpens the argument.

8. Avoid verbosity

If the meaning can be conveyed in three words, it should not be stretched to five. Verbosity works against making the writing engaging to the reader. For example, instead of writing “the article uses more words than are needed,” write “the article is verbose.”

9. Correct grammar and sentence structure

While a grammatical error may come across as unprofessional, good grammar portrays both attention to detail and skill – traits that are highly valued in business.

Business writing evolves with time, so does grammar and conventions. For example, emoticons , when used judiciously, are gaining acceptance in business writing. A good writer needs to stay updated with the conventions to hone their skill.

10. Easy to scan

Business executives value a document that can convey its message in a cursory glance. Business documents can be enhanced through the use of numbered or bulleted lists, clear headings, concise paragraphs, and judicious use of bold formatting to highlight the keywords.

More Resources

CFI now offers the Business Essentials Bundle with courses on Microsoft Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, as well as business communication, data visualization, and an understanding of corporate strategy. To keep learning, we suggest these resources:

business writing writing style

4 Types of Business Writing Styles

Tom DuPuis

The world of business writing can seem vast. Each office seems to have variations of documents, each with its personalized templates and industry focus. Varying scenarios require varying forms of business writing. However, the innumerable documents can be distilled into four main style categories.

Each category has its overall goal. Based on the objective, each of the many business documents falls within these four broad segments. Understanding these conceptual divisions will help guide your decisions about your document choice and goal.

1. Instructional writing

Instructional business writing provides the reader with the information needed to complete a task. The task may need to be accomplished immediately or it may be for future reference.

This type of business document must break down a process into steps that are understandable to the reader. The written record must account for the reader's knowledge of the area, the scope of the task while integrating variations or potential problems.

Examples of instructional business writing:

2. Informational writing

Not all business writing requires action. A large volume of writing is created for reference or record. This category can include some of the less glamorous but still essential documents.

Recording business information accurately and consistently is important for marking progress, predicting future work, as well as complying with legal and contractual obligations.

Examples of business writing:

3. Persuasive writing

The goal is two-fold: to convey information and to convince the reader that the presented information offers the best value. The text is written to impress the reader and sway their decision.

Examples of persuasive business writing:

4. Transactional writing

Examples of transactional business writing:

Learn how to write a business email.

Style reminders for each type of business writing

While the document goal varies, the core of business writing does not. Here are some helpful style reminders for professional communication.

Effective business writing is written with a clearly defined audience and purpose in mind. This is results-oriented writing. The text helps the reader do or know something.


Our courses cover all types of business writing styles.

Our online, virtual, and onsite business writing training is available for individuals and groups. We can customize training to match your team's unique needs.

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11.2: Writing Style

Learning Objectives

You are invited to a business dinner at an expensive restaurant that has been the top-rated dining establishment in your town for decades. You are aware of the restaurant’s dress code, which forbids casual attire such as jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers. What will you wear? If you want to fit in with the other guests and make a favorable impression on your hosts, you will choose a good quality suit or dress (and appropriately dressy shoes and accessories). You will avoid calling undue attention to yourself with clothing that is overly formal—an evening gown or a tuxedo, for example—or that would distract from the business purpose of the occasion by being overly revealing or provocative. You may feel that your freedom to express yourself by dressing as you please is being restricted, or you may appreciate the opportunity to look your best. Either way, adhering to these style conventions will serve you well in a business context.


The same is true in business writing. Unlike some other kinds of writing such as poetry or fiction, business writing is not an opportunity for self-expression. Instead it calls for a fairly conservative and unadorned style. Writing style, also known as voice or tone, is the manner in which a writer addresses the reader. It involves qualities of writing such as vocabulary and figures of speech, phrasing, rhythm, sentence structure, and paragraph length. Developing an appropriate business writing style will reflect well on you and increase your success in any career.

Formal versus Informal

There was a time when many business documents were written in third person to give them the impression of objectivity. This formal style was often passive and wordy. Today it has given way to active, clear, concise writing, sometimes known as “Plain English” (Bailey, 2008). As business and industry increasingly trade across borders and languages, writing techniques that obscure meaning or impede understanding can cause serious problems. Efficient writing styles have become the norm. Still, you will experience in your own writing efforts this “old school versus new school” writing debate over abbreviations, contractions, and the use of informal language in what was once considered a formal business context. Consider the following comparison of informal versus formal and bureaucratic styles.

Bureaucratic: Attached is the latest delivery data represented in topographical forms pursuant to the directive ABC123 of the air transportation guide supplied by the Federal Aviation Administration in September of 2008.

While it is generally agreed that bureaucratic forms can obscure meaning, there is a debate on the use of formal versus informal styles in business communication. Formal styles often require more detail, adhere to rules of etiquette, and avoid shortcuts like contractions and folksy expressions. Informal styles reflect everyday speech patterns and may include contractions and colloquial expressions. Many managers prefer not to see contractions in a formal business context. Others will point out that a comma preceding the last item in a series (known as the “serial comma”) is the standard, not the exception. Some will make a general recommendation that you should always “keep it professional.” Here lies the heart of the debate: what is professional writing in a business context? If you answered “it depends,” you are correct.

Keep in mind that audiences have expectations and your job is to meet them. Some business audiences prefer a fairly formal tone. If you include contractions or use a style that is too casual, you may lose their interest and attention; you may also give them a negative impression of your level of expertise. If, however, you are writing for an audience that expects informal language, you may lose their interest and attention by writing too formally; your writing may also come across as arrogant or pompous. It is not that one style is better than the other, but simply that styles of writing vary across a range of options. Business writing may need to meet legal standards and include references, as we see in the bureaucratic example above, but that is generally not the norm for communications within an organization. The skilled business writer will know his or her audience and will adapt the message to best facilitate communication. Choosing the right style can make a significant impact on how your writing is received.

You may hear reference to a conversational tone in writing as one option in business communication. A conversational tone, as the name implies, resembles oral communication in style, tone, and word choice. It can be appropriate for some audiences, and may serve you well in specific contexts, but it can easily come across as less than professional.

If you use expressions that imply a relationship or a special awareness of information such as “you know,” or “as we discussed,” without explaining the necessary background, your writing may be seen as overly familiar, intimate, or even secretive. Trust is the foundation for all communication interactions and a careless word or phrase can impair trust.

If you want to use humor, think carefully about how your audience will interpret it. Humor is a fragile form of communication that requires an awareness of irony, of juxtaposition, or a shared sense of attitudes, beliefs, and values. Different people find humor in different situations, and what is funny to one person may be dull, or even hurtful, to someone else.

Although there are business situations such as an interview or a performance self-evaluation where you need to state your accomplishments, in general business writing it is best to avoid self-referential comments that allude to your previous successes. These can come across as selfish or arrogant. Instead, be generous in giving credit where credit is due. Take every opportunity to thank your colleagues for their efforts and to acknowledge those who contributed good ideas.

Jargon is a vocabulary that has been developed by people in a particular group, discipline, or industry, and it can be a useful shorthand as long as the audience knows its meaning. For example, when writing for bank customers, you could refer to “ATM transactions” and feel confident that your readers would know what you meant. It would be unnecessary and inappropriate to write “Automated Teller Machine transactions.” Similarly, if you were working in a hospital, you would probably use many medical terms in your interactions with other medical professionals. However, if you were a hospital employee writing to a patient, using medical jargon would be inappropriate, as it would not contribute to the patient’s understanding.


Finally, in a business context, remember that conversational style is not an excuse to use poor grammar, disrespectful or offensive slang, or profanity. Communication serves as the bridge between minds and your written words will represent you in your absence. One strategy when trying to use a conversation tone is to ask yourself, “Would I say it in this way to their face?” A follow-up question to consider is, “Would I say it in this way in front of everyone?” Your professional use of language is one the hallmark skills in business, and the degree to which you master its use will reflect itself in your success. Take care, take time, and make sure what you write communicates a professional tone that positively represents you and your organization.

Introductions: Direct and Indirect

Sometimes the first sentence is the hardest to write. When you know the two main opening strategies it may not make it any easier, but it will give a plan and form a framework. Business documents often incorporate one of two opening strategies regardless of their organizational pattern. The direct pattern states the main purpose directly, at the beginning, and leaves little room for misinterpretation. The indirect pattern, where you introduce your main idea after the opening paragraph, can be useful if you need a strong opening to get the attention of what you perceive may be an uninterested audience. Normally, if you expect a positive response from the reader you will choose a direct opening, being clear from the first sentence about your purpose and goal. If you do not expect a positive reception, or have to deliver bad news, you may want to be less direct. Each style has its purpose and use; the skilled business writer will learn to be direct and be able to present bad news with a positive opening paragraph.

Adding Emphasis

There are times when you will want to add emphasis to a word, phrase, or statistic so that it stands out from the surrounding text. The use of visual aids in your writing can be an excellent option, and can reinforce the written discussion. For example, if you write that sales are up 4 percent over this time last year, the number alone may not get the attention it deserves. If, however, near the text section you feature a bar graph demonstrating the sales growth figures, the representation of the information in textual and graphical way may reinforce its importance.

As you look across the top of your word processing program you may notice bold , italics , underline, highlights, your choice of colors, and a host of interesting fonts. Although it can be entertaining to experiment with these visual effects, do not use them just for the sake of decoration. Consistency and branding are important features of your firm’s public image, so you will want the visual aspects of your writing to support that image. Still, when you need to highlight an important fact or emphasize a key question in a report, your readers will appreciate your use of visual effects to draw their attention. Consider the following examples:

Take care when using the following:

Emphasis can be influenced by your choice of font. Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman and Garamond, have decorative ends that make the font easy to read. Sans serif fonts, like Arial, lack these visual cues and often serve better as headers.

You can also vary the emphasis according to where you place information within a sentence:

The information at end of the sentence is what people often recall, and is therefore normally considered the location of maximum emphasis. The second best position for recall is the beginning of the sentence, while the middle of the sentence is the area with the least recall. If you want to highlight a point, place it at the beginning or end of the sentence, and if you want to deemphasize a point, the middle is your best option (McLean, 2003).

Active versus Passive Voice

You want your writing to be engaging. Which sentence would you rather read?

Most readers prefer sentence B, but why? You’ll recall that all sentences have a subject and a verb, but you may not have paid much attention to their functions. Let’s look at how the subject and verb function in these two sentences. In sentence A, the subject is “Mackenzie,” and the subject is the doer of the action expressed by the verb (processes). In sentence A, the subject is “sales orders,” and the subject is the receiver of the action expressed by the verb (are processed). Sentence A is written in active voice—a sentence structure in which the subject carries out the action. Sentence B is written in passive voice—a sentence structure in which the subject receives the action.

Active sentences tend to be shorter, more precise, and easier to understand. This is especially true because passive sentences can be written in ways that do not tell the reader who the doer of the action is. For example, “All sales orders are processed daily” is a complete and correct sentence in passive voice.

Active voice is the clear choice for a variety of contexts, but not all. When you want to deemphasize the doer of the action, you may write, “Ten late arrivals were recorded this month” and not even mention who was late. The passive form doesn’t place blame or credit, so it can be more diplomatic in some contexts. Passive voice allows the writer to avoid personal references or personal pronouns (he, she, they) to create a more objective tone. There are also situations where the doer of the action is unknown, as in “graffiti was painted on the side of our building last night.”

Overall, business communication resources tend to recommend active voice as the preferred style. Still, the styles themselves are not the problem or challenge, but it is how we use them that matters. A skilled business writer will see both styles as options within a range of choices and learn to distinguish when each style is most appropriate to facilitate communication.

Commonly Confused Words

The sentences in Table \(\PageIndex{6}\) focus on some of the most common errors in English. You may recall this exercise from the introduction of this chapter. How did you do? Visit the “Additional Resources” section at the end of the chapter for some resources on English grammar and usage.

Making Errors at the Speed of Light

In business and industry there is increasing pressure to produce under deadlines that in some respects have been artificially accelerated by the immediacy inherent in technological communication devices. If you receive an e-mail or text message while you are in the middle of studying a complex problem, you may be tempted to “get it out of the way” by typing out a quick reply, but in your haste you may fail to qualify, include important information, or even check to make sure you have hit “Reply” and not “Reply to All” or even “Delete.” Take care to pause and review your text message, e-mail, or document before you consider it complete. Here is a quick electronic communication do/don’t list to keep in mind before you click “send.”

Do remember the following:

Key Takeaway

An appropriate business writing style can be formal or informal, depending on the context, but it should always reflect favorably on the writer and the organization.

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9 Best Style Guides for Business Writing

Finding the best style guide for business writing is easy with this simple guide on the best guides for the industry.

Many writers have a varied scope of work so they must constantly change hats depending on the assignment. One client may want a conversational, relaxed style, while another prefers a more formal tone. The different styles of writing may also be command-specific styles.

For instance, a blog for a personal trainer will probably be more informal and motivational while a corporate blog will lean more toward the formality of business writing.

Business writers are often left wondering what style guide is best to follow. After all, there is a certain level of professionalism that is expected in content for businesses. The industry standards dictate lean toward a couple of popular style guides, but which is best for your business writing?

If the client has not given clear parameters on the desired style, it is best to err on the side of caution and go with a style guide that is widely accepted and used in business today.

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What is a Style Guide?

What does a style guide do, why does a style guide matter, create professional looking copy every time, stand out with style, who should use a style guide, you need a style guide for business writing, the 9 most common types of style guides, the final word on the best style guide for business writing, faqs about the best style guide for business writing.

Best Style Guide For Business Writing

If you have done any academic writing or professional writing you have likely encountered style guides at some point. They provide a certain writing style for journalistic pieces, academic papers, business correspondence, web pages, blog posts, and more.

The two that are probably the best known are the “ APA Publication Manual ” and the “ Chicago Manual of Style ,” although “ AP Stylebook ” is popular too. There are many different types. Some like these two, which are aimed at American writers, are country-specific, while others are more universal. Check out these top 6 house style guide examples .

A style guide provides guidelines for handling certain material within a written document or copy, including:

These areas and more are addressed in a style guide so that the writer has a clear direction for handling the copy and it will be consistent throughout the organization.

In the past, they were only available in book form. There were comprehensive manuals and smaller, pocket-sized versions that highlighted the areas most often used. Today, you can easily find style guides online with not only the rules of the chosen style, but examples, discussions, explanations, and even videos to help the writer better understand how to apply the style to their own writing.

Adhering to the rules of a style guide for business writing gives the copy a higher level of professionalism. Of course, the content is important too, but it’s the style guide that determines how the content is presented. It also allows for standardization throughout the company.

Everyone who is writing content for the organization is using the same style guide and following the same writing rules. This means everything that is created within the organization is consistent in style.

It is this consistency that is a key concept of branding.

Another good reason to use a style guide is that it just looks more professional to have a uniform copy in regard to style and formatting. Every published piece, whether it’s internal copy such as memos or policy, a newsletter to customers, or communication with vendors, will all be consistent in style. That matters.

We live in a world where consumers, talent, and suppliers/vendors can access as many companies as they like before deciding which they want to do business with.

The internet brought the world to our fingertips which is great but it also ups the stakes because of the increased competition in the marketplace.

Suddenly we are all in a spotlight and in order to stand out from the crowd, we must make sure we put our best foot forward, dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. A style guide helps with that, with maintaining a consistent, professional image. And when you think about it, people will see the text on our website or in our ads, which means that the copy they see where they draw their first impression is dictated by the style guide we use.

Any person or business with a brand should have a style guide. It addresses elements that are consistent with just about every business such as communication, website, blog, marketing, reports, and other aspects of business writing.

No matter if you are writing for a local pet store or a multi-million dollar corporation, you will see many of these things and a style guide can help you by providing important guidance on business writing assets including:

Some industries may have specific needs, especially with handling citations or highly technical material, but style guides can be adjusted for them as well. The beauty of these guides, though is that you can often apply them just as easily to a Standard Operating Procedures manual for the federal government as you can to a blog post or web content.

They are flexible, helpful, and necessary for business writing.

Most companies have guides to help keep their branding consistent, but they aren’t the only ones who should use a style guide. As a writer, you need a style guide too. While you will often use whatever style guide your client requests for an assignment, there will be times that you have no guidance. What then?

Keeping your own style guide, either one you created or one of the popular versions out there is essential to being an effective business writer. Either way, you won’t have to think about whether you should use an Oxford comma or not or how you should best list resources at the end of an article.

You already have your guidance and you know it gives your copy a professional polish every time. You need that consistent style and clean, crisp, professional copy that will be as visually appealing as the content is engaging.

There are hundreds of different types of guides out there. While some are for general writing, others are geared toward legal writing, scientific writing, journalism, academic writing, editorials, and business writing.

There are several very popular guides for business writing. They cover all aspects of business communication such as email, letters, memos, social media, and social sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. You may need to review several before you find a writing style guide that suits your needs.

1.  The Associated Press Stylebook

The  AP Stylebook  is in its 55th edition of the print. It is commonly used by journalists, magazine writing, and news writing. It has a number of focused sections for areas such as sports, food, and fashion – topics that you might see in a print publication like a newspaper or magazine.

AP style is bare-bones than some of the other styles out there. Italics, symbols, accents, and other extras are very minimal. This is due to the original intent which was to prepare a copy for the newswire.

2.  The Business Style Handbook

The Business Style Handbook  is a classic guide for basic business writing. Written by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene, it focuses specifically on writing for business. It includes information on email, using emojis, communicating on portable devices, word choice, and more.

It has an A to Z section that provides insights on communication from executives at companies all over the world.

3.  The Gregg Reference Manual

The Gregg Reference Manual  is popular with writers, editors, and business communicators. It is considered the best style manual for maintaining the standards of business professionals and those in content marketing. Students preparing for a career in business often use this guide. It also has additional resources online for students, instructors, and trainers.

4.  Modern Language Association Handbook

MLA Style  has long been a standard for writers, particularly those who work heavily in documentation and citations.  It is often thought to be geared for academic writing, but many organizations that deal heavily in research and reporting choose this style for its straightforward ease. The MLA Handbook Plus  is a digital product that is subscription-based allowing the user to have online access wherever they are.

5.  The Chicago Manual of Style

Writing style guide for business

CMOS  is a time-tested guide for business writing style, grammar, and usage. It is used by editors, writers, designers, proofreaders, publishers, and business writers.

Purchase of the manual comes with video tutorials and other vital resources.

6.  Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association

APA Style  is the style of choice for the American Psychological Association but has been adopted by editors, writers, educators, and students in behavioral and social sciences and other areas as well.

It is best known for its ease of use, particularly in regard to citations and references. There are online tutorials available as well as other online resources.

7.  Words into Type

Words into Type  by Marjorie E. Skillin and Robert M. Gay is the style manual typically chosen for copyediting, manuscripts, content marketing, and publications. It is used by editors, writers, and proofreaders as a reference guide for grammar, style, abbreviations, and usage.

It is geared more toward publishing and copywriting but is a valuable reference guide for business writers in those industries.

8.  The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage

The New York Times doesn’t follow a standard style guide, they created their own. This guide is great for journalists writing a feature story, creative writers developing a story, proofreading, or business writers creating a business plan. It is versatile, easy to follow, and a little fun.

This guide covers the most current and relevant issues that writers face today from traditional business writing to digital era communication like email and social media.

9.  The Elements of Style

Just about every person who has written for high school, college, or on the job has perused the pages of  The Elements of Style . This classic is one of the first style guides writers are introduced to and it remains timeless.

It is the go-to for English style in writing of all types.

Choosing a style guide is a matter of personal preference. Take some time to review several that appeal to you and apply them to your writing. See which style feels most natural to you and looks the most professional.

Many of these guides have tremendous online resources with tutorials, templates, and indices for easy reference and application. But at the end of the day, it has to be your decision based on what works best for you and the type of writing that you do. Even in business, there are significant differences in communication and publication needs.

Now it’s time to find your style. Want to learn more? Read our article about style guide templates . It’ll help you pick the right one.

What style guide do most businesses use?

There is not one single style guide that is appropriate for all businesses. Different businesses have different needs depending on the scope of work, industry, and other factors.

1. The Chicago Manual of Style is the most popular guide for writers in the publishing industry and is very popular in business as well. 2. AP style is another very popular business style as is MLA style. Many government agencies use AP style for their publications, releases, and internal communication. AP style is also commonly used by those in public relations and marketing.

What is the best style guide for business writing?

The best style guide for business writing is the one that best meets the needs of the organization. Not all organizations have the same requirements for their writing.

When you are deciding on a style guide for your business writing services, examine several different styles to find one that works for you and your clients.

If you want a good style to start with, the New York Times Manual of Style and AP style are both exceptional choices.

Where can I find a good style guide?

Just about any bookstore has a business section and you can usually find a great selection of style manuals available. However, the internet has made it even easier with sites like Amazon and even AbeBooks. You can also check your local library.

Just make sure that when you do get ready to purchase a copy that you are getting the most current version available so that you won’t get outdated information.

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Business Writing: Definition, Format, and Style

business writing writing style

Communication in the corporate sector requires a certain level of seriousness, formality, and accuracy. This specificity dictates the formatting and style of written documents, including the grammar, sentence structure, wording, and presentation. You may have noticed that most job adverts specify the need to have strong written and verbal communication skills. Well, most people export their academic and information knowledge to the business world, often leading to catastrophic failure or exclusion. One must understand the complexities of the corporate sector to communicate effectively without risking their engagement with the recipient. Hence, business writing is the type of writing adopted in professional settings with definitive principles for purpose, information, format, and style. But what is business writing?

A Simplified Business Writing Definition

business writing writing style

The primary objective of any professional piece of writing is to convey a message in a precise and concise manner. Writing is the means through which the communicator will achieve the purpose of the communication. Hence, the objective of the written document is to deliver the writer’s message.

business writing writing style

The audience is the most important component of business writing as knowledge of the recipient determines the format, style, and message sent. The communicator must have a readable and comprehensible message for their specific target. For instance, writing a business letter in English to a French client is a waste of time. Knowing your audience will determine not only the language of your writing but also the diction, sentence structure, and length of the document.

Standard Business Writing Format

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Writing a Business Letter Format

Business letters assume a specific format based on the five components of business writing. A good business letter is written in precise and concise wording with short sentences and correct grammar. It must contain the six sections regardless of the format chosen or intended purpose.

Sections of a Business Letter

Effective Business Writing Style

Although business documents may differ, they all adopt the same writing style. Business writing adheres to the basic rules of conciseness and preciseness of the message with correct sentence structures and grammar. Often, the organization’s culture will determine what writing style is used in business. As a result, different companies have unique characteristics that influence effectiveness in message delivery. However, some features of business writing seem to apply across various sectors and cultures. Below is a simplified business writing style guide.

Clarity of Purpose

Business writing requires one to be direct and concise. You must always put your main point first by communicating the purpose of the correspondence at the start of the message. Clarity implies specifying the objective and setting the agenda for the engagement from the beginning. The reader should be able to decipher the message by skimming or scanning through the first few phrases.

Avoid Jargons

Use simple language with everyday words. Although the target audience will determine the diction, choosing simple words and easy-to-understand phrases guarantees the accuracy of information and message delivery.

Convey Accurate and Relevant Information

Your business writing must contain the correct data where necessary. You should only provide the required information to support your message. Digressing from the relevant details may confuse the reader and impede message delivery.

Use Correct Grammar and Sentence Structure

Grammatical mistakes often communicate disorganization and inexperience. Using the correct grammar and sentence structure enhances the message and emphasizes the importance of communication. Always proofread your documents or seek professional assistance where necessary to avoid unnecessary embarrassment.

Avoid Wordiness

Do not use too many words to drive a point. You may even use contractions, where necessary, to avoid wasting the reader’s time. Business writing sometimes targets very busy clients or people in managerial positions. Hence, the recipient may not have the time to read long sentences. Conciseness ensures that the reader can derive critical details from a few direct phrases.

White Space

With space in professional writing implies the spaces around the text. It exists between words, paragraphs, and sentences. White space is the visual representation of the rhythm in your document. Thus, effective business writing uses short sentences and small paragraphs to avoid boring the reader with blocks of text. White space retains the viewer’s focus on the text.

Lists and bullet points are essential to business writing as they allow room for scanning and skimming when the reader has no time to analyze the whole document. Bullets also attract attention to the important points.

Use Headings

Headings subdivide the text into sections, acting as highlights for message segments. Readers can peruse the document faster and focus only on important information. Business writing is about communicating the right message to the right audience efficiently. Headings promote efficiency through ease of access to information.

Use a Standardized Font

Your chosen font must be easy to read and acceptable to the reader. The font type and size will determine the attractiveness of the text. Some businesses have preferred fonts for use in their official documents. However, in most cases, the writer must choose a suitable font type and size for their document, including the choice of serif or san serif text type.

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How to Improve Your Business Writing Skills: 9 Proven Tips

Semrush Team

Strong writing skills are essential for effectively communicating your message and selling your ideas.

In this article, you’ll learn the different types of business writing and how to use them to engage your audience. And you’ll get a free 22-point checklist to check your content before publishing.

What Is Business Writing?

Business writing is a style of writing meant to deliver a message to a professional audience. It tells readers about business ideas and concepts with clear, effective language.

Well-written, professional communications position you as a trustworthy and knowledgeable source, increasing people’s confidence in and respect for you and/or your company.

People use business writing in a wide range of formats, including the following: 

You use business writing inside and outside your company to engage stakeholders, employees, customers, and clients.

Effective business writing nails two main components: 

In other words:

Business writing focuses on what matters. And delivers it clearly and concisely. Good business communication should keep readers informed and leave them with clarity on what to do next.

The 4 Types of Business Writing

The four types of business writing are instructional, informational, persuasive, and transactional.

four types of content with examples infographic

How you want to engage your audience will determine the format for your business writing.

For example, are you asking them to perform an action? In that case, you’d need persuasive business writing.

If you are merely teaching them how to perform that action, then you need instructional business writing.

Instructional Business Writing

Instructional writing aims to teach the reader how to complete a task (e.g., how to use your product or troubleshoot a common issue). 

This type of writing has a neutral, knowledgeable tone and presents instructions clearly. 

Take Shopify’s guide to getting started with an ecommerce website. Here’s how it helps readers add their first product:

Shopify’s guide

These instructions do three things well:

Users arrive at this page intending to complete a specific task. Shopify helps them do this effectively. 

Informational Business Writing

Like instructional writing, informational writing helps readers learn something new. The difference is the end goal.

Rather than helping the audience complete a specific action, informational writing educates them by providing knowledge or insight. 

Informational writing works well for internal business documents (e.g., financial reviews or employee handbooks) and educational materials (e.g., white papers and meeting minutes). 

The tone of informational writing is neutral. It sticks to the facts and focuses on relevant information. 

Take this slide from Facebook’s research about teen mental health:

Facebook’s research objectives slide

Facebook avoids presenting opinions and organizes information clearly and thoughtfully. The writing focuses on the what and why, making it easy to understand.

Persuasive Business Writing

Persuasive writing convinces a reader to take a specific action, like purchasing a product or signing up for a demo. It borrows heavily from copywriting , where the aim is to sell the value of your brand and convince potential customers to choose your product. 

Persuasive writing often has a more informal tone. However, as with informational writing, it backs all arguments with evidence. 

This email from Barnes & Noble about the “Must-Have Credit Card for Book Lovers” is a good example of persuasive writing in action: 

Barnes & Noble email

Barnes & Noble immediately addresses their target audience—book lovers—and then lists the benefits of the credit card:

It makes a compelling case for hitting the “ Apply Now ” button. The product landing page achieves the same results by highlighting even more benefits like “$0 Annual Fee”:

Barnes & Noble persuasive writing example

Persuasive writing highlights the benefits of your offer and helps readers make better decisions. 

Transactional Business Writing

Transactional writing is something you likely use in day-to-day communications:

All of these are transactions that keep businesses moving in the right direction. The style of writing is concise and to the point. But it doesn’t always have to be formal.

This customer order email from shoe brand 8000Kicks, for instance, provides a status update: 

transactional writing by 8000kicks

It communicates necessary information with minimal text while still maintaining the brand’s helpful tone. 

Every business interaction is a reflection of your company. However brief the involved text is, you should consider your audience in transactional writing just as you would with other business writing styles. 

9 Tips to Make You a Better Business Writer

Whether you want to instruct, inform, persuade, or transact, all business writing should demonstrate the same qualities:

We recommend using Semrush’s SEO Writing Assistant to keep your writing consistent. It checks the readability, originality, and tone of voice of your content, among other factors.

With this in mind, here are some writing tips to help you produce communications that tick these boxes: 

1. Decide What You Want to Say

Ensure you know why you’re writing before you start creating your content.

As The Economist Style Guide says: “Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought.”

Working out your thoughts as you go can lead to unnecessary tangents, poor structure, and repetitive content. But if you’re clear on what you want to say from the start, it’s easier to stick to the point and get your message across.

Ask yourself: 

Try to sum up the purpose in one or two sentences. 

For example, Shopify might distill its purpose for writing its “Getting Started” guide as: 

“We want to show people how to add products so they can launch their store.”

Barnes & Noble’s goal could be:

“Highlight the benefits of the Barnes & Noble credit card to convince people to apply.” 

If you can’t quickly clarify your goal, take a step back. Give yourself some thinking time before moving forward. The result will be more effective. 

2. Make the Purpose Clear From the Start

Once you’ve established your reason for writing, lead with it. Tell readers what they’re getting from your content—then deliver on that promise. 

This helps your audience understand what they’re reading and why it matters. It also stops people from wasting time reading a message that might not be relevant to them. 

For example, here’s how MicroStrategy introduces its enterprise analytics report: 

introduction to enterprise analytics report by MicroStrategy

From this executive summary, readers are immediately clear on the what and why of the report: 

With this information, the audience can decide whether the content is relevant to them. 

Once you’ve completed your first draft, look back at the opening paragraph. Does it define the purpose? If the what and why aren’t clear, revise your introduction so readers know the context and can decide whether to read on. 

3. Use Active Voice

In writing, there are two grammatical voices: active voice and passive voice. Unless you have a good reason to use passive voice, stick to active. 

Active voice tells what a person or thing does. It’s direct, confident, and easy to read. 

For example: 

I wrote the marketing report for the first quarter. 

This sentence is clear. There is no question about who wrote the report.

Passive voice can remove this clarity: 

A marketing report was written for the first quarter. 

Passive voice can also make sentences lengthy and tedious. It can also make your writing seem impersonal.

As you write, make it clear to the reader who is performing the action. And ensure the subject has an active relationship with the verb.

Look back over sentences to find and correct passive voice. For example:

You can use passive voice when you want to avoid placing focus on individual perspectives and instead look at actions taken and the results.

Using the passive voice is more common in academic and scientific reports, where writers might need to maintain objectivity. Here are some examples from a Dublin City University guide to academic writing: 

Dublin City University guide to academic writing

As a general rule, use active voice when you want to put the focus on the doer of the action (which is most of the time in business writing).

Use passive voice when you want to draw attention to the target of an action or the action itself. 

4. Avoid Jargon

Jargon is any word or expression that is common in one industry or group but uncommon outside of it. Jargon is difficult to understand for those who aren’t already familiar with the subject matter at hand.

Jargon is common in the business world. It can make communication easier between colleagues who share the same knowledge. Because of this, it’s easy for jargon to creep into your work. 

But don’t assume your audience will understand all the same words as you. 

Here’s an example.

Say a marketing company wants to create a digital marketing guide for small businesses. And they want to share some marketing channels people can use to promote their services.

They come up with the following:

You can use SEO to boost the ranking of your website in SERPs. Or you can utilize PPC and target buyers with the intent to drive sales at a low CPC rate.

It makes sense to the marketing company. But it may alienate an audience taking their first steps into the field. What are rankings? What are SERPs?

The writer would do better to use simple language and define jargon as needed: 

"Here are two popular ways to attract more people to your website:

But as stated earlier, it’s easy to miss jargon in your writing. So use a tool like the SEO Writing Assistant to help you identify complex words in your content.

SEO Writing Assistant

This isn’t to say all jargon is bad. Consider this abstract on the value of glucocorticoid co-therapy published by the National Library of Medicine :

National Library of Medicine abstract

The intended audience is medical professionals who will understand the language used. 

Your audience determines how you write. If there’s any doubt about whether a word or phrase will cause confusion, go with the simplest, most broadly understood version.

If you have to use acronyms, write out their full meaning the first time they’re mentioned. And always opt for the universally understood alternative over jargon words.

5. Keep It Simple

When writing for business, it’s often best to take a “less is more” approach. Good business writing is about getting your message across clearly. 

This means deleting anything that doesn’t help your message. In other words, not using 50 words when 10 will do.

As television producer Don Hewitt writes : 

“There are no hard and fast rules in writing for the ear, but after more than fifty years of working at it, I believe in some rough guidelines. Two of them are: short is usually better than long and don't waste words.”

Simplicity increases what scientists call “ processing fluency .” Our feelings about information are influenced by how easy something is to understand. Simple words and short sentences help us quickly process information and feel more positive about it.

On the flip side, when something is difficult to interact with, we experience “low processing fluency,” resulting in negative feelings and associations. 

A quick way to improve brevity is to remove filler words. Take content marketer Erica Schnieder’s hack :

filler words

Simply removing the word “then” from the sentence makes it punchier. 

Filler words dilute your message. Practice paring down your copy to include only the words needed to communicate your message. You’ll achieve more powerful writing.

Pro tip : Use the SEO Writing Assistant to find difficult-to-read sentences and lengthy paragraphs.

difficult-to-read sentences and lengthy paragraphs

The tool also has AI technology to help you simplify those hard-to-read sentences. Click on any of the highlighted sentences and then hit the button that appears.

Or click on the same button that appears in the summary to the side.

navigation to simplify button

A pop-up will appear. Click the “ Simplify ” button to get some AI-powered suggestions.

simplify your existing sentence in rephraser

If you’re happy with the suggestion, click on “ Replace and close ” to simplify your existing sentence.

6. Embrace Storytelling

Storytelling is a powerful way to ensure your business writing hits home. Why?

Because our brains love stories.

Research by Paul Zak at the University of California, Berkeley, found that when humans are engaged in a good story, the brain releases oxytocin. When this happens, people become more trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate: 

“Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts.”

Use stories to create an emotional investment, so people buy into your message.

Take this story by Wealthsimple on how to flip streetwear. 

Rather than simply creating a list of investment tips, Wealthsimple tells a story about watching entrepreneurs line up outside a Supreme store every Thursday:

Wealthsimple storytelling

The story is a case study and a lesson in investing their resale profits. It teaches an audience of young people how to save toward retirement using a topic that resonates with them. 

To weave storytelling into your business writing, map out a hero’s journey . This storytelling framework engages readers by creating a relatable situation and problem. It then takes them through to the solution (e.g., your product or service) and how their lives are better for it.

Document this journey by answering the following questions: 

hero journey by semrush

To help place your hero’s journey in a story, use our free brand storytelling template .

7. Make Writing Visually Appealing

If you want people to engage with your writing, make it easy to scan.

Readers make quick decisions about where they’re willing to spend their time. If it’s difficult for them to understand what they’ll get out of your content quickly, they’ll move on.

Make your business writing visually appealing and simple to read by structuring content to be easy on the eye:

For inspiration, look at how Semrush structures blog content (including the post you’re reading now). 

Semrush blog content structure

Headings, bullet lists, and short paragraphs with lots of white space keep content scannable. Our formatting comes from years of analyzing how people read our content. 

8. Include a Call to Action

A call to action (CTA) tells readers what you want them to do next and encourages them to follow instructions.

In this email from Passion Planner, for instance, a clear CTA lets readers know exactly how to act on the information in the message: 

Passion Planner email with clear CTA

The email informs readers of a free habit tracker. And the large, easy-to-spot button at the bottom shows them how to get it with the instructions “ Download Now .”

Generally, you want to stick to one or two CTAs per message, so you don’t overwhelm your audience. Keep it simple to help them take action. 

You should also make each CTA specific and actionable. Avoid vague or abstract language. 

For example, in an email request to a colleague, don’t simply say, “Please send over the report soon.” Give clear directions so there’s no doubt about what you want (and when): “Please send over the project progress report by Thursday.” 

Clear instructions are more likely to be followed correctly. 

9. Proofread, Then Proofread Again

Don’t publish a piece of writing until you’ve read back over it. While typos and small grammatical errors can seem trivial, they influence opinion. 

A study by customer service platform Tidio found the following: 

Tidio study results

Writing mistakes make people question your expertise, authority, and relevance. So before hitting send, review and revise your work:

Business Writing Tools and Courses to Help You Write Like a Pro

Following the above tips will improve your business writing skills. But it’s always nice to have a helping hand. The following tools and courses will help take your work to the next level: 

Business Writing Tools

Business Writing Courses

Review This 22-Point Business Writing Checklist Before You Press Publish 

Use our checklist below to deliver the right message and keep readers engaged.

22-Point Business Writing Checklist by Semrush

Communicate Clearly to Get Your Message Across 

Clear, concise, and purposeful business writing results in effective communication. It’s easy to understand and act on. Approach your writing from the perspective of your audience. Ask yourself, “What do they need to learn or accomplish?”

Then, define your purpose and let that guide your writing style and message. And make sure to keep business best practices in mind—from word choice to sentence length.

Make the effort to ensure your writing is useful and readable so that you get your message across to every reader, every time.

How to Write Using Proper Business Style

Last Updated: March 29, 2019

wikiHow is a “wiki,” similar to Wikipedia, which means that many of our articles are co-written by multiple authors. To create this article, volunteer authors worked to edit and improve it over time. This article has been viewed 53,318 times.

Writing using proper business style is very different than using personal or academic styles. A business document is not a place to show off your vocabulary and grammar skills or to highlight your creativity. Instead, you should strive to be as clear as possible in the fewest words possible, so your readers know what action to take without wasting time reading and re-reading complicated prose.

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High-Impact Business Writing

Image of instructor, Sue Robins, M.S. Ed.

Financial aid available

University of California, Irvine

About this Course

Effective writing is a powerful tool in the business environment. Learn how to articulate your thoughts in a clear and concise manner that will allow your ideas to be better understood by your readers. Improve your business writing skill by learning to select and use appropriate formats for your audience, use the correct medium and adjust your writing style accordingly, as well as identify your objective and communicate it clearly. You'll also learn to spot, correct and avoid the most common writing pitfalls, and gain valuable experience analyzing, writing and revising a wide spectrum of business documents. From a simple email to a complete report, learn how to put good business writing to work for you.

Upon completing this course, you will be able to: 1. Write effective business communications, including bad news, good news, persuasive writing, presentations, emails, memos, business reports and press releases 2. Learn how to edit and proofread business documents 3. Learn how to write for a global market

Could your company benefit from training employees on in-demand skills?

What you will learn

Write effective presentations, emails, writing for visual communication

Edit and proofread business documents

Create business reports and press releases

Spot, correct and avoid the most common writing pitfalls

Skills you will gain


Sue Robins, M.S. Ed.


University of California, Irvine

Since 1965, the University of California, Irvine has combined the strengths of a major research university with the bounty of an incomparable Southern California location. UCI’s unyielding commitment to rigorous academics, cutting-edge research, and leadership and character development makes the campus a driving force for innovation and discovery that serves our local, national and global communities in many ways.

See how employees at top companies are mastering in-demand skills

Syllabus - What you will learn from this course

Business writing, channels and message formats.

In this first Module of High-Impact Business Writing, you will learn the necessity and utility of understanding your audience for a business document. You will learn how to write with clarity and brevity as well as how to make appropriate language and word choices for that audience. This module also addresses the structure and important considerations for the most frequently used document types for business applications.

Spelling, Grammar, Sentence and Paragraphs

Module 2 is focused on the frequently mistaken or overlooked aspects of impactful writing. Common spelling errors, incorrect word usage, and judicious word selection that are important for business writing will be highlighted. Subject-verb and noun-pronoun agreement as well as verb tense and common rules of punctuation are reviewed. This module concludes with some rules of sentence structure and paragraph development to aid in the creation of universally understandable, cogent documents.

Strategies and Techniques for Common Message Types

In Module 3, we study some of the more common message types: positive messages, negative messages, and persuasive messages. Each type of message will be characterized and strategies for common forms of documents within each of these message types will be presented and practiced. This module also includes best practices for email use, including when email is the preferred choice, creating effective subject lines, and pertinent content choices.

Writing Reports, Virtual Communications, and Finalizing Your Work

The final module of this course begins with an overview of report preparation, including structure and content considerations. The three forms of review for a document: editing, revising, and proofreading are explained in detail and their purposes explained. This module also includes some best practices for writing in a virtual and shared virtual environment as well as recommendations regarding the visual appeal of documents, both on paper and online.


Universally applicable, presented in an entertaining manner, and quite thorough. Even experienced writers will pick up on one or two aspects they usually overlook. Highly recommended!

I am glad that I decided to do this course.The topics covered are very helpful for a beginner . Tutoring was also well organised and easily understandable. Thank you.

It was a very informative and useful course for officials involving business writing. I feel considerable improvement in my writing after passing of this course.

The structure of course is very interesting,easy to understand and very informative.Its definitely helps me to improve my communication skills over digital platform.

Frequently Asked Questions

When will I have access to the lectures and assignments?

Access to lectures and assignments depends on your type of enrollment. If you take a course in audit mode, you will be able to see most course materials for free. To access graded assignments and to earn a Certificate, you will need to purchase the Certificate experience, during or after your audit. If you don't see the audit option:

The course may not offer an audit option. You can try a Free Trial instead, or apply for Financial Aid.

The course may offer 'Full Course, No Certificate' instead. This option lets you see all course materials, submit required assessments, and get a final grade. This also means that you will not be able to purchase a Certificate experience.

What will I get if I subscribe to this Specialization?

When you enroll in the course, you get access to all of the courses in the Specialization, and you earn a certificate when you complete the work. Your electronic Certificate will be added to your Accomplishments page - from there, you can print your Certificate or add it to your LinkedIn profile. If you only want to read and view the course content, you can audit the course for free.

Is financial aid available?

Yes. In select learning programs, you can apply for financial aid or a scholarship if you can’t afford the enrollment fee. If fin aid or scholarship is available for your learning program selection, you’ll find a link to apply on the description page.

More questions? Visit the Learner Help Center .

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Purdue Online Writing Lab College of Liberal Arts

business writing writing style

Writing the Basic Business Letter

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Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

Media File: Writing the Basic Business Letter

This resource is enhanced by an Acrobat PDF file. Download the free Acrobat Reader

Parts of a Business Letter

This resource is organized in the order in which you should write a business letter, starting with the sender's address if the letter is not written on letterhead.

Sender's Address

The sender's address usually is included in letterhead. If you are not using letterhead, include the sender's address at the top of the letter one line above the date. Do not write the sender's name or title, as it is included in the letter's closing. Include only the street address, city, and zip code.

The date line is used to indicate the date the letter was written. However, if your letter is completed over a number of days, use the date it was finished in the date line. When writing to companies within the United States, use the American date format. (The United States-based convention for formatting a date places the month before the day. For example: June 11, 2001. ) Write out the month, day and year two inches from the top of the page. Depending which format you are using for your letter, either left justify the date or tab to the center point and type the date. In the latter case, include the sender's address in letterhead, rather than left-justified.

Inside Address

The inside address is the recipient's address. It is always best to write to a specific individual at the firm to which you are writing. If you do not have the person's name, do some research by calling the company or speaking with employees from the company. Include a personal title such as Ms., Mrs., Mr., or Dr. Follow a woman's preference in being addressed as Miss, Mrs., or Ms. If you are unsure of a woman's preference in being addressed, use Ms. If there is a possibility that the person to whom you are writing is a Dr. or has some other title, use that title. Usually, people will not mind being addressed by a higher title than they actually possess. To write the address, use the U.S. Post Office Format. For international addresses, type the name of the country in all-capital letters on the last line. The inside address begins one line below the date. It should be left justified, no matter which format you are using.

Use the same name as the inside address, including the personal title. If you know the person and typically address them by their first name, it is acceptable to use only the first name in the salutation (for example: Dear Lucy:). In all other cases, however, use the personal title and last/family name followed by a colon. Leave one line blank after the salutation.

If you don't know a reader's gender, use a nonsexist salutation, such as their job title followed by the receiver's name. It is also acceptable to use the full name in a salutation if you cannot determine gender. For example, you might write Dear Chris Harmon: if you were unsure of Chris's gender.

For block and modified block formats, single space and left justify each paragraph within the body of the letter. Leave a blank line between each paragraph. When writing a business letter, be careful to remember that conciseness is very important. In the first paragraph, consider a friendly opening and then a statement of the main point. The next paragraph should begin justifying the importance of the main point. In the next few paragraphs, continue justification with background information and supporting details. The closing paragraph should restate the purpose of the letter and, in some cases, request some type of action.

The closing begins at the same vertical point as your date and one line after the last body paragraph. Capitalize the first word only (for example: Thank you) and leave four lines between the closing and the sender's name for a signature. If a colon follows the salutation, a comma should follow the closing; otherwise, there is no punctuation after the closing.

If you have enclosed any documents along with the letter, such as a resume, you indicate this simply by typing Enclosures below the closing. As an option, you may list the name of each document you are including in the envelope. For instance, if you have included many documents and need to ensure that the recipient is aware of each document, it may be a good idea to list the names.

Typist initials

Typist initials are used to indicate the person who typed the letter. If you typed the letter yourself, omit the typist initials.

A Note About Format and Font

Block Format

When writing business letters, you must pay special attention to the format and font used. The most common layout of a business letter is known as block format. Using this format, the entire letter is left justified and single spaced except for a double space between paragraphs.

Modified Block

Another widely utilized format is known as modified block format. In this type, the body of the letter and the sender's and recipient's addresses are left justified and single-spaced. However, for the date and closing, tab to the center point and begin to type.

The final, and least used, style is semi-block. It is much like the modified block style except that each paragraph is indented instead of left justified.

Keep in mind that different organizations have different format requirements for their professional communication. While the examples provided by the OWL contain common elements for the basic business letter (genre expectations), the format of your business letter may need to be flexible to reflect variables like letterheads and templates. Our examples are merely guides.

If your computer is equipped with Microsoft Office 2000, the Letter Wizard can be used to take much of the guesswork out of formatting business letters. To access the Letter Wizard, click on the Tools menu and then choose Letter Wizard. The Wizard will present the three styles mentioned here and input the date, sender address and recipient address into the selected format. Letter Wizard should only be used if you have a basic understanding of how to write a business letter. Its templates are not applicable in every setting. Therefore, you should consult a business writing handbook if you have any questions or doubt the accuracy of the Letter Wizard.

Another important factor in the readability of a letter is the font. The generally accepted font is Times New Roman, size 12, although other fonts such as Arial may be used. When choosing a font, always consider your audience. If you are writing to a conservative company, you may want to use Times New Roman. However, if you are writing to a more liberal company, you have a little more freedom when choosing fonts.


Punctuation after the salutation and closing - use a colon (:) after the salutation (never a comma) and a comma (,) after the closing. In some circumstances, you may also use a less common format, known as open punctuation. For this style, punctuation is excluded after the salutation and the closing.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Business Writing

What this handout is about.

This handout explains principles in business writing that apply to many different situations, from applying for a job to communicating professionally within business relationships. While the examples that are discussed specifically are the application letter and cover letter, this handout also highlights strategies for effective business writing in general.

What is business writing?

Business writing refers to professional communication including genres such as policy recommendations, advertisements, press releases, application letters, emails, and memos. Because business writing can take many forms, business writers often consider their purpose, audience, and relationship dynamics to help them make effective stylistic choices. While norms vary depending on the rhetorical situation of the writer, business writers and audiences tend to value writing that communicates effectively, efficiently, and succinctly.

If you have been assigned a genre of business writing for a class, it may help to think about the strategies business writers employ to both gather and produce knowledge. A business communicator or writer may use the following forms of evidence: statistics, exploration of past trends, examples, analogy, comparison, assessment of risk or consequences, or citation of authoritative figures or sources. Your knowledge of and relationship to your audience will help you choose the types of evidence most appropriate to your situation.

Who is your audience?

To communicate effectively, it is critical to consider your audience, their needs, and how you can address all members of your audience effectively. As you prepare to write, think about the following questions:

When answering the last question, don’t overlook the following considerations:

Title. Is it appropriate to address your audience by their first name, or is a salutation needed? Are you addressing someone who prefers to be addressed by a formal title such as Dr. or Professor? If you are writing about a third party, do you know what title and pronouns to use? When the name of the person you’re writing to is unknown, then it is customary to address your letter “To Whom It May Concern.” But this may be impolite if the person’s name is known or easily discovered. You can find more information on titles, names, and pronouns in our handout on Gender-Inclusive Language .

Language . If you’re writing in English, ask yourself: Is English the first language of all your audience members? Are you using idioms or other expressions that might not be clear to someone with a different background in English? For example, are you using expressions that require U.S.-specific cultural knowledge?

Culture . Does your audience have different customs and cultural norms? How might these customs and norms impact the way they receive your message?

Once you understand your purpose and your audience, you can begin to consider more specific elements, like organization and style.

What is your purpose?

To get a better sense of how the purpose of your writing will impact your style, it can be useful to look at existing messages and documents from the organization with the following questions in mind:

How is business writing organized?

A common organizational pattern used across genres in business writing is OABC: Opening, Agenda, Body, and Closing. While the exact content of your opening, agenda, body, and closing may change depending on your context, here is the overall purpose of each component of the OABC pattern:

What style considerations are common in business writing?

Business writers tend to prioritize clear and concise communication. When writing in business, carefully considering the following style elements, along with your purpose and audience, can help you communicate more effectively:

Active voice. One skill in business writing is how to tactfully take ownership or distribute blame for certain actions. Active voice refers to a sentence structure that places the actor of the sentence as its grammatical subject. In general, active voice comes across as clearer, more direct, and more concise than passive voice, which are all elements of good business writing. However, the passive voice can be a useful tool in legally-sensitive writing, because the passive voice can convey what has occurred without naming names.

Jargon. Generally, your audience will prefer plain, straightforward language over jargon, because it allows them to read your writing quickly without misunderstandings. However, you may encounter what looks like jargon. Ask yourself if this language may be functioning as shorthand or whether it’s helping establish expectations or norms in business relationships. Understanding your audience and why they may choose to either use or avoid jargon will help you determine what is most appropriate for your own writing.

Tone. While business writing should be clear and concise, “concise” does not necessarily mean “blunt.” As you write, think about how your relationship to the reader and about how your audience may interpret your tone. Consider the following examples:

Nobody liked your project idea, so we are not going to give you any funding. After carefully reviewing this proposal, we have decided to prioritize other projects this quarter.

While the first example may be more direct, you will likely notice that the second sentence is more diplomatic and respectful than the first version, which is unnecessarily harsh and likely to provoke a negative reaction.

If you are wondering how your audience will respond to your writing, it may also be helpful to have a disinterested reader provide you with their impression of your message and tone after reading the document. What is the take-home message? Does any language stand out as surprising, confusing, or inappropriate? Where is the writing more or less persuasive? If you would like more ideas, see our handout on getting feedback .

There are many circumstances in which business writing is your opportunity to make a first impression, such as in a cover letter. In these scenarios, attention detail is especially important. A useful strategy for revising a piece of business writing is to use the acronym CLOUD: Coherence, Length, Organization, Unity, and Development. Contemplating each of these elements can help you to think about how each section communicates your ideas to your audience and how the sections work together to emphasize the most important parts of your message.

Going through the CLOUD acronym, you can ask yourself questions like:

As you answer these questions and start revising, revisiting your purpose, audience, style, and structure can help you address the concerns you’ve identified through CLOUD. Once you’ve considered these elements, soliciting feedback from another person can help you ensure your draft is clear and your ideas are fully-developed . Proofreading can help you identify errors and assess the tone of your document, while reading your draft aloud lets you hear your words and estimate your own tone.

Examples of business writing

Now that you’re ready to start writing, you may want to see some examples of business writing to guide your drafting process. Below, you can learn more about and see examples of two business writing contexts: cover letters for applications and cover letters for sending information. For more examples, explore the University Career Services’ Resumes and Letters portal .

Cover letters for applications

Maybe you have been asked to write an application cover letter for a job or a scholarship. This type of cover letter is used to introduce yourself and explain why you are qualified for a given opportunity, and your objective is to catch the reader’s attention and convince them that you are a qualified candidate for the job. Although this type of letter has some unique considerations and conventions, it still follows the OABC organization pattern and is generally 3-4 paragraphs in length.

Two sample letters of application are presented below. The first letter (Sample #1) is by a recent college graduate responding to a local newspaper article about the company’s plan to build a new computer center. The writer is not applying for a specific job opening but describes the position he seeks. The second letter (Sample #2) is from a college senior who does not specify where she learned of the opening because she is uncertain whether a position is available.

6123 Farrington Road Apt. B11 Chapel Hill, NC 27514

January 11, 2020

Taylor, Inc. 694 Rockstar Lane Durham, NC 27708

Dear Human Resources Director:

I just read an article in the News and Observer about Taylor’s new computer center just north of Durham. I would like to apply for a position as an entry-level programmer at the center.

I understand that Taylor produces both in-house and customer documentation. My technical writing skills, as described in the enclosed resume, are well suited to your company. I am a recent graduate of DeVry Institute of Technology in Atlanta with an Associate’s Degree in Computer Science. In addition to having taken a broad range of courses, I served as a computer consultant at the college’s computer center where I helped train users to work with new systems.

I will be happy to meet with you at your convenience and discuss how my education and experience match your needs. You can reach me at (919) 233-1552 or at [email protected] . Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Raymond Krock

6123 Farrington Road Apt. G11 Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Dear Ms. LaMonica Jones:

I am seeking a position in your engineering department where I may use my training in computer sciences to solve Taylor’s engineering problems. I would like to be a part of the department that developed the Internet Selection System but am unsure whether you have a current opening.

I expect to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering from North Carolina State University in May and by that time will have completed the Computer Systems Engineering Program. Since September 2019 I have been participating, through the University, in the Professional Training Program at Computer Systems International in Raleigh. In the program I was assigned to several staff sections as an apprentice. Most recently, I have been a programmer trainee in the Engineering Department and have gained a great deal of experience in computer applications. Details of the academic courses I have taken are included in the enclosed resume.

If there is a position open at Taylor Inc., please let me know whom I should contact for further information. I look forward to hearing from you soon. I may be reached at my office (919-866-4000, ext. 232) or via email ( [email protected] ). Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rebecca Brock

Cover letters for sending information

Some cover letters simply provide a record of the transmittal of information—say, sending your resume to a recruiter or submitting your project for a class—and may even take the form of an email. Although they are short, to-the-point, and often only one or two brief paragraphs in length, these messages still follow the basic guidelines of business writing by using the OABC organization pattern in a more condensed format:

The following are examples of these kinds of cover letters. The first letter (Sample #1) is brief and to the point. The second letter (Sample #2) is slightly more detailed because it touches on the manner in which the information was gathered.

Your Company Logo and Contact Information

Brian Eno, Chief Engineer Carolina Chemical Products 3434 Pond View Lane Durham, NC 27708

Dear Mr. Eno:

Enclosed is the final report, which we send with Eastern’s Permission, on our installment of pollution control equipment at Eastern Chemical Company,. Please call me at (919) 962-7710 or email me at the address below if I can answer any questions.

Nora Cassidy Technical Services Manager [email protected]

Enclosure: Report

Brian Eno, Chief Engineer Ecology Systems, Inc. 8458 Obstructed View Lane Durham, NC 27708

Enclosed is the report estimating our power consumption for the year as requested by John Brenan, Vice President, on September 4.

The report is the result of several meetings with Jamie Anson, Manager of Plant Operations, and her staff and an extensive survey of all our employees. The survey was delayed by the transfer of key staff in Building A. We believe, however, that the report will provide the information you need to furnish us with a cost estimate for the installation of your Mark II Energy Saving System.

We would like to thank Billy Budd of ESI for his assistance in preparing the survey. If you need more information, please let me know.

Sincerely, Nora Cassidy New Projects Office [email protected]

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Baker, William H., and Matthew J. Baker. 2015. Writing & Speaking for Business , 4th ed. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Academic Publishing.

Covey, Stephen. 2002. Style Guide for Business and Technical Writing , 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Franklin Covey.

Locker, Kitty, and Donna Kienzer. 2012. Business and Administrative Communication , 10th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

O’Hara, Carolyn. 2014. “How to Improve Your Business Writing.” Harvard Business Review , 20 Nov. 2014. https://hbr.org/2014/11/how-to-improve-your-business-writing .

United States Government. 2011. “Federal Plain Language Guideline.” Plain Language, March 2011. https://www.plainlanguage.gov/guidelines/ .

University of North Carolina Writing Program. 2019. The Tar Heel Writing Guide , rev. ed. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Writing Program.

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Microsoft 365 Life Hacks > Writing > What Is Formal Writing Style and When Should You Use It?

What Is Formal Writing Style and When Should You Use It?

Writing style is the way a writer expresses their thoughts. It includes choices in grammar and punctuation , as well as the overall tone and organization of a written piece. Style varies with the subject matter, audience and context. For example, an academic paper will have a much different style than a text message to a friend.

Top down view of a desks with an open notebook, pencil, glasses, coffee and other things

Writing also follows a particular style guide that dictates specific grammar, punctuation and word choice—like Associated Press (AP), American Psychological Association (APA), or Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS).

Regardless of the specific guidelines used, all writing can be described as either formal or informal style.

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What’s the difference between formal and informal writing styles?

Informal writing is for everyday use. It reflects how you naturally speak and write to friends, family, and casual acquaintances. It has a more personal tone and includes contractions, slang, and figures of speech. Informal writing sounds similar to a personal conversation.

Formal writing is written for an audience you don’t know on a personal level. It’s typically more complex than informal writing. Formal writing has a less personal tone and the language is more proper.

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Characteristics of formal writing style

In formal writing, the writer uses a more objective approach, stating main points and then supporting those points with arguments. Formal writing is less emotional in style, so it avoids things like exclamation marks and emojis.

Here are three quick rules you can follow to write in a more formal style:

Traditional rules of formal writing style also say to use the passive voice and to make sentences longer and more complex. However, these rules are changing as it becomes more widely recognized that the passive voice and long, complex sentences make writing harder to read and understand.

When to use a formal writing style

Informal and formal writing styles each have a time and a place. Choose the most appropriate style based on the purpose of your communication, as well as your audience and the method you’re using to communicate.

While most of your day-to-day communication is informal, it’s worth learning more about writing in a formal style. Use great writing software with built-in document editing features to flag informal language and slang words so you can make adjustments before you publish.

When used correctly, a formal style goes a long way toward creating writing that’s clear and better received.

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Writing the business report

Now that you have an idea of the typical structure of a report, consider the purpose and audience of your writing. This will help you decide which sections to add or remove, the writing style of each section and how to convey your argument and demonstrate critical thinking .

Planning a Business Report

When planning your report, you may find it helpful to follow these steps:

Writing style

You will use different types of writing for different sections within a report. For example:

Below is an excerpt from Discussion of a report published in 2019 by the ACCC entitled the Gas Inquiry Report 2017–2020 Interim Report .

Source: Competition, A., & Consumer Commission. (2019). Gas inquiry 2017-2020: interim report-December 2018. https://www.accc.gov.au/publications/serial-publications/gas-inquiry-2017-2025/gas-inquiry-january-2020-interim-report

Note the use of tentative language in this excerpt: ‘ overall ’, ‘ suggests that ’, ‘ may be ’, ‘ there may not be ’, ‘ are likely to ’, ‘ may not have ’. Tentative language is used when interpreting or speculating. Adopting this more tentative stance protects the writer from challenge and provides the opportunity to build on or later correct these findings. To some extent a report is an argument and tentative language is one strategy that enables the writer to persuade the reader, especially in the discussion.

Working with data

Data may play an important role in your report, particularly when preparing finance-related business reports, and may feature prominently in the findings/results/discussion sections. How you present your data will have an impact on how effectively you communicate your ideas throughout the report.

Key questions to consider include:

Demonstrating critical thinking

Critical thinking is exercised throughout the whole process of writing a report, as you must continuously make decisions about how the purpose of the report and the requirements of the audience can best be met. Critical thinking is exercised in the process of understanding and interpreting the problem, in analysing and evaluating information, in the way you apply relevant theories to your research, and then in formulating your conclusions and devising recommendations.

Examples of critical thinking

Click on the tabs below to view examples for the findings, recommendations and discussion sections of business reports.

The following extract is from the findings section of a management report written for an assignment. In this case, the objective is to state the results of an investigation into the impact of technology on how a manager leads a team.

Find where the writer has demonstrated their critical thinking in this extract, then click on the hotspot to check your answer.

Now, let’s look at an extract from the recommendations section of the same report we viewed earlier when we looked at findings. The author’s objective in this section is to present recommendations to the company to help overcome the challenges that technology presents to a manager in leading a team.

How do you think the writer has demonstrated their critical thinking in the recommendations? Click on the hotspot below to check your answer.

Below is another extract from the discussion section of a marketing report written for another assignment. Its objective is to discuss the implications of the report’s findings, which show the increasing importance of social media as a part of an organisation’s marketing mix.

How do you think the writer has demonstrated their critical thinking in the extract from the report’s discussion section? Click on the hotspots below to check your answer.

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You can navigate the pages in this resource by either clicking on the page links here or by clicking the navigation buttons below.

What makes up the business report

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Business Writing Style Guide

business writing writing style

John Morris, Oregon State University

Julie Zwart, Oregon State University

Copyright Year: 2020

Publisher: Oregon State University

Language: English

Formats Available

Conditions of use.


Learn more about reviews.

Reviewed by Susan Waldman, Associate Professor, English, Leeward Community College on 3/26/21

This text covers all aspects of the writing process from brainstorming to revision to formatting, with an emphasis on the writing specifically needed for business students in order to write business reports. The TOC is very complete, including... read more

Comprehensiveness rating: 5 see less

This text covers all aspects of the writing process from brainstorming to revision to formatting, with an emphasis on the writing specifically needed for business students in order to write business reports. The TOC is very complete, including links for every section so that the student can easily jump to whatever is needed or assigned. One aspect that I especially appreciated was making the connection between essay writing, which the student might already be familiar with, and business report writing, the subject at hand. In particular, there was a chart included with comparisons of style and formatting between academic writing and business writing. Although business writing includes many other types of products, such as memos and letters, the concepts and practices included in this text are applicable across the board. The examples offered will no doubt mirror concepts being included in their Management courses, making this text a good companion for those classes.

Content Accuracy rating: 5

The text seemed error-free and unbiased to me.

Relevance/Longevity rating: 5

This is an invaluable resource for today's business students who are making the writing transition into the specific style needs of their discipline. A revision history is included at the end of the text, indicating that the authors are continuously reviewing the text for errors and made revisions as of November 2020. The inclusion of business concepts in the examples section will directly connect the writing process to the students' business courses.

Clarity rating: 5

The writing style of the text reflects the authors' stand that business writing is clear and concise, with a directness not typically found in academic writing. Topic headings such as, "What is good writing?" or "What does this mean?" help guide the students to answers to frequently asked questions, including a thorough explanation of what a counterargument is, among many other relevant topics for the beginning business writer.

Consistency rating: 5

Terms are explained, reviewed, and referenced from section to section.

Modularity rating: 5

The thoroughness of the TOC allows for the assignment of specific sections, including exercises and writing samples.

Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 5

Extremely well-organized.

Interface rating: 5

I found no interface issues.

Grammatical Errors rating: 5

I found no grammar errors.

Cultural Relevance rating: 3

The text uses examples I consider culturally neutral, focusing on process rather than content.

As a professor of Business Writing at a community college, I will select sections of this text appropriate to beginning writers, but I can also see how the more advanced sections would be appropriate for a 4-year program. At the freshman/sophomore level, all of the general writing process chapters will be very useful to guide my students from academic writing to business-appropriate writing for reports. The concepts of concision, persuasion and clarity can be applied to all types of writing assignments.

Table of Contents

Ancillary Material

About the Book

It is the goal of this book to help students do the following:• Apply basic concepts for effective and concise business writing.• Compile a well written report acceptable within a business context.• Follow a writing process designed for business students.• Demonstrate critical thinking, reasoning, and persuasion.• Communicate in writing using a business model.• Apply resources for improving business writing skills.

About the Contributors

In 2009, John Morris transitioned from a three decades long career in private industry to teach at OSU; his first course incorporated the university’s Writing Intensive Course (WIC) requirement, for the College of Business. As a stipulation of its accreditation process, AAC&U requires that each college have a WIC that teaches students how  write in the profession . Having worked extensively with recent college graduates in private industry, John had some very specific ideas about what was needed to write for business, but he found little in existence in the way of universal business writing standards beyond academic writing guides. During the interim nine years of teaching WIC, a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses, and collaborating with other business instructors and professors, he developed a variety of job aids to help students write for business.

Julie Zwart is an instructor in INTO Oregon State University’s Graduate Pathway program. The Pathway program was established in 2008 to provide language, culture, and academic support for international students as they transition into their masters programs at OSU. Julie began teaching at INTO OSU in 2014, and shortly after worked on a project to redesign a foundational MBA pathway course, which is how she met John. Later she worked with him as co-instructor in the MBA Pathway teaching writing and analysis. Over the course of working together and assessing the needs of students in terms written communication for business purposes, the two undertook creating this writing textbook.

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4.4 Style in Written Communication

Learning objectives.

One way to examine written communication is from a structural perspective. Words are a series of symbols that communicate meaning, strung together in specific patterns that are combined to communicate complex and compound meanings. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and articles are the building blocks you will use when composing written documents. Misspellings of individual words or grammatical errors involving misplacement or incorrect word choices in a sentence, can create confusion, lose meaning, and have a negative impact on the reception of your document. Errors themselves are not inherently bad, but failure to recognize and fix them will reflect on you, your company, and limit your success. Self-correction is part of the writing process.

Another way to examine written communication is from a goals perspective, where specific documents address stated (or unstated) goals and have rules, customs, and formats that are anticipated and expected. Violations of these rules, customs, or formats—whether intentional or unintentional—can also have a negative impact on the way your document is received.

Colloquial, casual, and formal writing are three common styles that carry their own particular sets of expectations. Which style you use will depend on your audience, and often whether your communication is going to be read only by those in your company ( internal communications ) or by those outside the organization, such as vendors, customers or clients ( external communications ). As a general rule, external communications tend to be more formal, just as corporate letterhead and business cards—designed for presentation to the “outside world”—are more formal than the e-mail and text messages that are used for everyday writing within the organization.

Style also depends on the purpose of the document and its audience. If your writing assignment is for Web page content, clear and concise use of the written word is essential. If your writing assignment is a feature interest article for an online magazine, you may have the luxury of additional space and word count combined with graphics, pictures, embedded video or audio clips, and links to related topics. If your writing assignment involves an introductory letter represented on a printed page delivered in an envelope to a potential customer, you won’t have the interactivity to enhance your writing, placing an additional burden on your writing and how you represent it.

Colloquial language is an informal, conversational style of writing. It differs from standard business English in that it often makes use of colorful expressions, slang, and regional phrases. As a result, it can be difficult to understand for an English learner or a person from a different region of the country. Sometimes colloquialism takes the form of a word difference; for example, the difference between a “Coke,” a “tonic,” a “pop, and a “soda pop” primarily depends on where you live. It can also take the form of a saying, as Roy Wilder Jr. discusses in his book You All Spoken Here: Southern Talk at Its Down-Home Best (Wilde, 2003). Colloquial sayings like “He could mess up a rainstorm” or “He couldn’t hit the ground if he fell” communicate the person is inept in a colorful, but not universal way. In the Pacific Northwest someone might “mosey,” or walk slowly, over to the “café,” or bakery, to pick up a “maple bar”—a confection known as a “Long John doughnut” to people in other parts of the United States.

Colloquial language can be reflected in texting:

“ok fwiw i did my part n put it in where you asked but my ? is if the group does not participate do i still get credit for my part of what i did n also how much do we all have to do i mean i put in my opinion of the items in order do i also have to reply to the other team members or what? Thxs”

We may be able to grasp the meaning of the message, and understand some of the abbreviations and codes, but when it comes to business, this style of colloquial text writing is generally suitable only for one-on-one internal communications between coworkers who know each other well (and those who do not judge each other on spelling or grammar). For external communications, and even for group communications within the organization, it is not normally suitable, as some of the codes are not standard, and may even be unfamiliar to the larger audience.

Colloquial writing may be permissible, and even preferable, in some business contexts. For example, a marketing letter describing a folksy product such as a wood stove or an old-fashioned popcorn popper might use a colloquial style to create a feeling of relaxing at home with loved ones. Still, it is important to consider how colloquial language will appear to the audience. Will the meaning of your chosen words be clear to a reader who is from a different part of the country? Will a folksy tone sound like you are “talking down” to your audience, assuming that they are not intelligent or educated enough to appreciate standard English? A final point to remember is that colloquial style is not an excuse for using expressions that are sexist, racist, profane, or otherwise offensive.

Casual language involves everyday words and expressions in a familiar group context, such as conversations with family or close friends. The emphasis is on the communication interaction itself, and less about the hierarchy, power, control, or social rank of the individuals communicating. When you are at home, at times you probably dress in casual clothing that you wouldn’t wear in public—pajamas or underwear, for example. Casual communication is the written equivalent of this kind of casual attire. Have you ever had a family member say something to you that a stranger or coworker would never say? Or have you said something to a family member that you would never say in front of your boss? In both cases, casual language is being used. When you write for business, a casual style is usually out of place. Instead, a respectful, professional tone represents you well in your absence.

In business writing, the appropriate style will have a degree of formality. Formal language is communication that focuses on professional expression with attention to roles, protocol, and appearance. It is characterized by its vocabulary and syntax , or the grammatical arrangement of words in a sentence. That is, writers using a formal style tend to use a more sophisticated vocabulary—a greater variety of words, and more words with multiple syllables—not for the purpose of throwing big words around, but to enhance the formal mood of the document. They also tend to use more complex syntax, resulting in sentences that are longer and contain more subordinate clauses.

The appropriate style for a particular business document may be very formal, or less so. If your supervisor writes you an e-mail and you reply, the exchange may be informal in that it is fluid and relaxed, without much forethought or fanfare, but it will still reflect the formality of the business environment. Chances are you will be careful to use an informative subject line, a salutation (“Hi [supervisor’s name]” is typical in e-mails), a word of thanks for whatever information or suggestion she provided you, and an indication that you stand ready to help further if need be. You will probably also check your grammar and spelling before you click “send.”

A formal document such as a proposal or an annual report will involve a great deal of planning and preparation, and its style may not be fluid or relaxed. Instead, it may use distinct language to emphasize the prestige and professionalism of your company. Let’s say you are going to write a marketing letter that will be printed on company letterhead and mailed to a hundred sales prospects. Naturally you want to represent your company in a positive light. In a letter of this nature you might write a sentence like “The Widget 300 is our premium offering in the line; we have designed it for ease of movement and efficiency of use, with your success foremost in our mind.” But in an e-mail or a tweet, you might use an informal sentence instead, reading “W300—good stapler.”

Writing for business often involves choosing the appropriate level of formality for the company and industry, the particular document and situation, and the audience.

Key Takeaway

The best style for a document may be colloquial, casual, informal, or formal, depending on the audience and the situation.

Wilde, J., Jr. (2003). You all spoken here: Southern talk at its down-home best . Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Business Communication for Success by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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What citation style to use for business [Updated 2023]

Top citation styles used in business

In this post, we discuss the most frequently used citation styles for business. We highlight the main features and provide examples of both in-text and bibliographic references for each style.

Harvard is the number one citation style used for business

Harvard style is a popular format used in business papers. Its author-date citation system consists of in-text citations that include the author's last name and the year of publication. Full references for each source are listed at the end of the paper.

Harvard referencing resources

🌐 Official Harvard style guidelines (Cite Them Right)

🗂 Harvard style guide

📝 Harvard citation generator

Harvard referencing examples

Here is an example of an in-text citation in Harvard style:

A similar research was carried out in the field of entrepreneurship (Dheer, 2018) .

Here is a bibliography entry in Harvard style:

Dheer, R. J. S. (2018) “Entrepreneurship by immigrants: a review of existing literature and directions for future research,” International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal , 14(3), pp. 555–614.

MLA is the number two citation style used for business

MLA (Modern Language Association) style is used by a number of fields, including business. It uses an author-page citation system. In-text citations are formed by putting the author's last name and the page number of the borrowed material in parentheses. Full bibliographic references are included in a works cited list at the end of the paper.

MLA style resources

🌐 Official MLA style guidelines

🗂 MLA style guide

📝 MLA citation generator

MLA style examples

Here is an in-text citation in MLA style:

However, a research proved this theory right (Falk and Hagsten 123) .

Here is a bibliography entry in MLA style:

Falk, Martin, and Eva Hagsten. “Employment Impacts of Market Novelty Sales: Evidence for Nine European Countries.” Eurasian Economic Review , vol. 8, no. 2, 2018, pp. 119–137.

APA is the number three citation style used for business

APA (American Psychological Association) style is a citation format used in the social sciences, education, and engineering, as well as in business. APA consists of two elements: in-text citations and a reference list.

It uses an author-date system, in which the author’s last name and year of publication are put in parentheses (e.g. Smith 2003). These parenthetical citations refer the reader to a list at the end of the paper, which includes information about each source.

APA style resources

🌐 Official APA style guidelines

🗂 APA style guide

📝 APA citation generator

APA style examples

Here is an in-text citation in APA style:

Recently, much debate has been stirred regarding digital economy (Banalieva & Dhanaraj, 2019) .

Here is a bibliography entry in APA style:

Banalieva, E. R., & Dhanaraj, C. (2019). Internalization theory for the digital economy. Journal of International Business Studies , 50(8), 1372–1387.

Chicago is the number four citation style used for business

Chicago style is another form of citation used for business papers and journals. It has two formats: a notes and bibliography system and an author-date system.

The notes and bibliography system is mostly used for the humanities, whereas the author-date system is used in science and business. The latter uses in-text citations formed by the author's last name and date of publication. A bibliography at the end of the paper lists the full information for all references.

Chicago style resources

🌐 Official Chicago style guidelines

🗂 Chicago style guide

📝 Chicago citation generator

Chicago style examples

Here is an in-text citation in Chicago author-date style:

Clearly, an opposing view dominated the topic (Tuncay 2018) .

Here is a bibliography entry in Chicago author-date style:

Tuncay, Merve. 2018. “Do Political Risks Matter in the Financial Markets?: Evidence from Turkey.” Eurasian Economic Review 8 (2): 209–27.

JBR is the number five citation style used for business

The Journal of Business Research offers a guide on how to format citations for any submission. It follows a straightforward author-date system, which you can see on the JBR style guide linked below.

JBR style resources

🌐 Official JBR style guidelines

🗂 JBR style guide

📝 JBR citation generator

JBR style examples

Here is an in-text citation in JBR style:

As seen in the journey of becoming an entrepreneur (Mahto & McDowell 2018) .

Here is a bibliography entry in JBR style:

Mahto, R. V., & McDowell, W. C. (2018). Entrepreneurial motivation: a non-entrepreneur’s journey to become an entrepreneur. International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal , 14(3), 513–526. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11365-018-0513-8

JBE is the number six citation style used for business

The Journal of Business Ethics has specific rules on how to format citations for any submission. It follows a simple author-date system, which you can see on on the JBE style guide linked below.

JBE style resources

🌐 Official JBE style guidelines

🗂 JBE style guide

📝 JBE citation generator

JBE style examples

Here is an in-text citation in JBE style:

As a result, high-tech and low-tech industries were studied (Aldieri and Vinci 2018) .

Here is a bibliography entry in JBE style:

Aldieri, L., & Vinci, C. P. (2018). Innovation effects on employment in high-tech and low-tech industries: evidence from large international firms within the triad. Eurasian Business Review , 8(2), 229–243. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40821-017-0081-9

Frequently Asked Questions about citation styles used for business

The top 3 citation styles used for business papers are Harvard, Chicago and APA styles.

The easiest way to create a reference list for business papers is by using the BibGuru citation generator . This fast, free, and ad-free generator creates accurate citations with just one click.

The author-date citation styles used for business papers are JBE, JBR, Chicago and Harvard.

Some of the most popular business journals are: American Economic Review , Journal of Financial Economics , and The Journal of Finance , among others.

Whether your business paper requires a cover page or not will depend on the specific requirements of the assignment or submission.

Annotated bibliography Chicago style

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An Email Can Change Your Life: How to Write a Pitch Email

young entrepreneur writing a pitch email

People are always asking me: How did you get published in [insert prominent publication here]? How did you get an interview with [insert celebrity here]? How did you snag [insert big company here] as a client ? 

It’s simple, I tell them: I sent an email.

I don’t have any special connections. There is no big secret to my success. I’m just really good at finding the right email addresses and crafting an enticing pitch . 

By sending an email, you could accomplish your dreams , just like I have. For over a decade, I’ve worked as a journalist, marketer and publicist, and have interviewed celebrities like Mayim Bialik , Bill Maher and Rachel Bloom , created content for companies like Mastercard, Visa, IBM and Dell, and have done publicity for influencers with millions of followers . I credit all of my achievements to being really good at email pitching.

Whether you’re working in the media business like I am, or you’re running your own business and looking for leads , learning the art of the email pitch is key to achieving your goals . Here’s where to begin.  

Do research before sending an email pitch

Before sending a pitch email, do the research on your contact and the company they work for. That way, you can guarantee that you’re sending the right person the right email at the right time. 

For instance, let’s say I’m writing to pitch an article about how I spent my winter vacation to a parenting website. I would first need to see if the website covers topics like this and whether or not they covered it already. 

Then, I would make sure that I’m contacting the correct person. I would look at the masthead or LinkedIn and find the editor who assigns stories. 

Let’s say you aren’t sure whom to contact even after doing your research. You could always make an educated guess. I’ve had contacts forward my pitch emails onto their colleagues, who then got back to me. Nobody has ever gotten upset with me for sending them an email by accident. 

Tools to find email addresses to send pitches

Back in the day, I’d have to find the email format for a company and then guess a contact’s email address. I would receive tons of bounced-back emails, because I was usually wrong. It would take many tries to get the correct email address. 

Thankfully, however, now there are tools that can help you find emails. Some of them are free, while others will charge you a monthly or yearly fee. 

My favorite email finder is GetEmail , which you can install on LinkedIn. Once you’ve installed it, go to the profile of the person whose email you wish to find. Then, hit GetEmail, and most of the time, it will be able to locate the email for you. This tool has a free and paid version. 


If a contact isn’t on LinkedIn or GetEmail can’t find the email, then try RocketReach instead. RocketReach is a paid tool, but it gives you a free trial so you can try it out. I find that RocketReach is the best tool out there, but note that it’s $80/month at minimum. It could be a business expense that ends up paying off big time. 

If you’re trying to reach celebrities—like I often do— IMDbPro is the tool you’ll need. It has a free 30-day trial so you can see what it’s all about. I always opt to contact a celebrity’s publicist instead of an agent or manager. If you choose to sign up for IMDbPro, it’s $149.99 per year, and totally worth it if you work in the entertainment business. 

Social media

If these tools don’t work, you could try to find someone’s email address in their Twitter bio, Instagram or YouTube. Note: You should stick with professional email addresses instead of personal ones. People don’t like receiving business emails to their private addresses.

The guessing game

If these tools and tips don’t work, you can then do the guessing game. Typically, email formats are the first initial of the first name coupled with the last name (i.e. [email protected] ), the first name dot the last name ( [email protected] ) or the first name if that company is on the smaller or more modern side ( [email protected] ). 

How to write a great pitch email

Once you find your contact’s email address, it’s time to write that perfect email pitch. 

Create a short, descriptive subject line so that your contact knows exactly why you’re reaching out. You can include a question mark as well—it can make you stand out in their inbox. 

For example, when I pitch a publication, I’ll write something like: 

“Pitch from a Writer: How I Spent My Winter Vacation?”

I like to say whom the pitch is coming from, because oftentimes, people receive spam. When you identify yourself in the subject line, you’re being transparent, and people are more likely to open your email. 

Next, keep the pitch email itself short and sweet. Talk about the value you can deliver to the contact, not what they can do for you. Then, provide proof that you are the perfect person for this task. For me, that comes in the form of prominent publications I’ve written for in the past, as well as samples of my articles. Here’s a typical cold email pitch I’ll send.

Pitch email example

“Hi [First name here],

I hope you’re well. I’m writing to pitch an article on [subject here]. I believe it’d be a great fit for your publication. What do you think?

I’ve written for [list a few publications here].  

Here are samples of my work:

Sample No. 1 link

Sample No. 2 link

Thank you so much for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Now, you may notice how I included niceties like “I hope you’re well” and “Sincerely.” Some people may cut to the chase and state the pitch right away, but I believe it’s better to be courteous. It’s just my style. Your industry may operate differently, so you’ll have to make that call. Either way, always be as polite and gracious as possible. 

You may be wondering: What happens if I don’t receive a response? Usually, I give someone six days to respond, but if it’s a time-sensitive matter, I give two or three days instead. I’ve had to follow up with people three times to receive a response, since everybody is so busy these days. Every time I follow up, I make sure to be respectful and not aggressive. 

Getting started with email pitching

Are you ready to begin pitching potential new clients? Now is the time to be fearless. 

You may receive a “no,” and that’s totally OK. Don’t give up. 

After so many years of doing this, I have absolutely no fear of rejection anymore. For all the visible wins I have, there are many, many more failures. And you know what? I’m still here. I’m still going. 

Even if it doesn’t work out the first 10, 20 or 100 times, keep pushing on. After so many rejections, when you finally do get that “yes,” it’ll be that much sweeter.  

Your dream could be one pitch email away. So start sending.

Photo by muse studio/Shutterstock

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Kylie Ora Lobell

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