Business writing, like many other forms, should always start with the question, “What is my reason for writing this document?” Then the question, “Who is my intended audience?” should always follow. Whether in the form of memoranda, proposals, or reports, the purpose of the writing will likely convey information to internal or external audiences with such intended purposes as clarifying, persuading, informing, explaining, or directing action.
Is there a difference, then, in the manner in which business writing is composed that will enhance its ability to be fully understood?
Yes, and in my opinion it is a matter of writing style.
The two most important characteristics in business writing are clarity and precision. Writing that lacks clarity cannot be persuasive; likewise, writing that lacks precision can create confusion or perhaps even suspicion about its assertions or conclusions. The other elements of writing style, especially whether written in a conversational or legalistic tone, can be balanced as appropriate.
Clarity. Writing that is clearly composed will have a far better opportunity of being understood as the writer intended. By any measure, the convergence of reader and writer onto a joint place of comprehension should be the primary goal. First, there must be understanding; all else can then follow. Even under the best of circumstances, however, this is no easy task. We have all at some point struggled in an attempt to decipher writing that is jumbled and unclear. What exactly is the writer trying to say? How many readers have reached a different view of what is being communicated? Readers have predispositions and biases, and a writer who is sloppy in composition, especially with regard to clarity, will confuse and fail the reader in this important way. It is always worthwhile for the writer to assume that a lack of clarity exists with readers before the writing has begun. Thus, the writing is thereby composed to alleviate that condition.
Precision. Precision and conciseness are helpful in the sense that not only are the right words being chosen and employed in the body of the writing, but the overall material is organized in such a way that the flow is easily and logically followed by the reader. While precision could also be taken to mean the accuracy or integrity of any data or supporting information provided in the text, my intent here is drawn more toward the idea of precision in word choice and information flow. Hence, there is support of and reinforcement to the aforementioned clarity goal that is brought by the precision of the writing.
One last point about clarity and precision. Remember, the readers of business writing are often busy, harried business managers and executives. Consider the audience and the time they will need to read and digest the writing. A clearly written document, composed thoughtfully and organized logically, won’t necessarily guarantee success, but a poorly written and haphazardly composed document will virtually guarantee some measure of aggravation, and perhaps outright rejection.