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Business communications allows students to explore a vast stretch of unchartered territory that may seem a bit intimidating at first. Students new to the field are sometimes hesitant to adapt their many practices and techniques that they've used in past writing assignments. While business writing does differ from the types of writing students might be more familiar with, it is important to note that many of the ideas and techniques students have used so often in the past are necessary to writing within the business world as well; formal writing standards do still apply.
Some of the major differences within business writing involve how language is used and how the writing is organized. Professor Patricia Bowman Carey, a professor in the Robins School of Business here at the University of Richmond, provides a bit of expert advice regarding the major differences between writing for a business oriented audience and writing for other academic disciplines:
[Business writing] needs to have a specific purpose, and that purpose needs to be stated right away. It should be more condensed and concise than other writing, and I advise students to avoid using elaborate vocabulary or flowering prose.
Often times, students attempt to sound overly "academic" in their writing, but what Professor Carey suggests for business writing would help to eliminate that problem. By avoiding unnecessary language, students not only clarify their writing, but they also establish a stronger "corporate" sounding voice. Wordiness and overly poetic prose simply take away from the purpose of a student's writing. Remember, the goal is not to impress a business audience through an artful command over language, but to state your point clearly and fairly quickly while still upholding formal conventions that remain consistent within all disciplines.
There are certain steps that need to be taken in preparation for all business communication tasks that will ultimately make the writing process easier and more effective. Mary Ellen Guffey, author of Business Communication: Process and Product, combines these steps into what she calls, "The 3 X 3 Writing Process." This process is composed of three stages: pre-writing, writing, and revising. Each stage is then broken into three subdivisions:
- Analyze: Ask what the purpose of the message is and how the message is to be delivered (i.e. via email, letter, memo, presentation, etc.).
- Anticipate: Determine what type of audience will be receiving the message and how they are likely to react to it in order to determine the tone of the message. For example, if a message is being sent to a supervisor of some sort, the tone one one's writing will necessarily be more formal than a message being sent to a fellow worker.
- Adapt: This step combines the analysis and anticipation stages. Guffey explains that "adaptation is the process of creating a message that suits your audience" (109). When adapting the message to a specific audience, try to imagine how the receiver will most likely react to the message. By keeping the needs and interests of the receiver in mind, business writers can help cultivate an empathetic relationship with the reader and, in turn, are more likely to achieve their purpose.
- Research: This stage allows the writer to gather any information, data, and facts that are needed to write the message. Research can involve search engines, books, personal surveys and interviews, among other methods.
- Organize: Use diagrams and outlines to help group similar ideas together and narrow the focus of the message. A good rule of thumb is to combine information into groups of three to five categories which will ultimately become the main ideas or headings of the message.
- Compose: First drafts are often written quickly and are in no way perfect, but they serve as a way to initially lay thoughts down on paper for future refinement.
- Revise: Guffey describes revision as the stage where writers can "edit the message to be sure it is clear, conversational, concise, and readable. Look for ways to highlight important information" (125). Here, you'll want to read and re-read drafts to eliminate wordiness ad redundancies and find places where bulleted lists, bold fonts, and other visual aids would be helpful and appropriate.
- Proofread: Always check for spelling or grammatical errors. The sense of credibility and professionalism could be quickly lost with a single mechanical error. See the Writer's Web pages on Punctuation, Sentence Structure & Mechanics, and Clarity & Style for more help.
- Evaluate: Ask if the final product ended up suiting both the purpose and the needs of the audience. Writers will often have to go through the revision stage quite a few times before feeling comfortable enough to actually send the message, so writers are encouraged to do so.
Guffey, Mary Ellen. Business Communication: Process & Product. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.
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