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Effective Business Writing: The BEHQ Guide

Since English is today’s language of global communication and international business, it is absolutely necessary that you speak and write English correctly.

It is estimated that globally up to one billion people speak some form of English. There are three times as many non-native English (non-NE) speakers as native speakers. In addition, there exists many varieties of English across countries and cultures.

So what can a high level of written English do for you? If you are beginning your professional career, you could use effective business writing to move you ahead faster. You may need English to write a CV, a job application, a letter, a start-up proposal or a business plan.

On the other hand, you may be an experienced freelance consultant, a  manager, or owner of a company. You need high level business writing skills to gain a competitive edge. Through informative and persuasive writing, you could better catch your reader’s attention, sell your products or services, or motivate your employees.

When you are presenting a talk, you can rely to a great extent on your body language and voice to get your message across.

In writing, however, you don’t have those tools to count on. You have to use the power of your words to convey your message. In addition, as a  non-NE speaker you have another challenge in expressing yourself effectively in writing: English is not your first language.

Fiona Talbot, author of How to Write Effective Business English, recommends a systematic approach to writing:

  • Be clear about what you want to express in your own native language.
  • Think about how you would express the thoughts in English.
  • Write out the thoughts in “correct” written English.
  • Review the written English to see if readers will correctly interpret your thoughts.

If you can do this effectively, readers will respond positively to your message.

An overview of the business writing process

Over my career I’ve written many business documents as a freelance consultant and entrepreneur. I’ve also taught academic writing as a college teacher. Now I’ve simplified the fundamentals of business writing into 15 key elements – divided into five categories – in what I call the BEHQ Guide to Business Writing.

1. Understand your focus

For business writing to be effective and persuasive, you have to be aware of the goals of your writing and situations you are in.

Therefore, you need to know the:

1. Why – the purpose of your writing,
2. Who – the audience you are writing to,
3. What – the context in which you are writing.

To learn more about understanding your focus, see Effective Business Writing: Understand your focus

2. Plan properly

Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Another of my favorite quotes is:  “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.” These are not good practices if you want to succeed in business.

Thus, in order to put yourself on the road to success, you must be able to:

4. Brainstorm – be ready to jot down ideas for your writing projects when they jump to mind,
5. Research – know what you are looking for and how to find it,
6. Ask questions – get good at interviewing or surveying the right people to provide you information, insights or testimonials.

To find out more about planning wisely, see Effective Business Writing: Plan properly

3. Structure your document

Many of the tips and strategies I gave for organizing a talk in “Structuring a Presentation“, Part 1 and Part 2 can apply to structuring writing too, especially in formal documents such as a report.

So, you need to know about:

7. Outlining –  lay out your ideas in a logical and orderly way to help your reader follow your message and persuade,
8. Writing a draft –  begin the writing process by constructing coherent paragraphs,
9. Developing your message – make your arguments clear to the reader by providing convincing supporting points.

To find out more about structuring your business text, see Effective Business Writing: Structure your document

4. Use appropriate writing style

Business writing is very different from academic writing or literary writing. Business writing is about being simple, succinct and clear in your message to inform or persuade the reader. It does not always have to be complex and formal nor involve artistic expression.

For this reason, you need to work on these elements:

10. Clarity – be concise and direct in your sentences,
11. Tone – show the right attitude to the reader by knowing why you are writing and for what purpose,
12. Style – develop an effective business writing “voice” by using simple strategies and techniques.

To find out more about writing appropriately, see Effective Business Writing: Use appropriate writing style

5. Know how to self-edit

As a business professional, it is absolutely critical to get your message right. You would never think of attending a business meeting with your hair uncombed or your face unshaven. So why would you send a business document that is still a draft?

Hence, it pays to follow a proven process for:

13. Revising – ask yourself if your document is crystal clear and accomplishes its objective,
14. Editing –  pay attention to your choice of words and sentences,
15. Proofreading –  check your document for mechanical errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation.

To find out more about self-editing, see Effective Business Writing: Know how to self-edit

Vocabulary Worksheet

Ready to practice your vocabulary? Download the PDF to practice your business English writing skills.


{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Catherine Rondeau September 13, 2012, 2:52 pm

    I really like how you explain the process of writing step by step, it’s perfectly clear!

    • Craig September 14, 2012, 6:15 am

      Thanks, Catherine! If you go through the rest of the lessons, you can see how we take each “topic” and expand on it. It’s also kind of “meta” in that, we use our own system when describing our system. Pretty cool!

  • Noémie Clarke-Jacques September 17, 2012, 4:28 pm

    This article helped me a lot. I now have some tips and some steps to follow when I’m writing a text. I will use these steps in my next text in English to be sure that I’m not going to have some stupid errors that normally I wouldn’t see.

    • Business English September 18, 2012, 1:47 am

      Great! Thanks, Noemie.

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