Want to Improve Your Business Writing Skills? Do This

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you often write for business? What are some things to keep in mind when writing a professional e-mail, memo, or report?

If you want to improve your business writing skills, the number one thing to keep in mind is simplicity. And don’t be afraid to add some personality rather than sounding like a robot.

Here are some tips on how to improve your business writing.

Business Writing 

In most companies, employees use some form of written communication, such as emails, memos, copywriting, newsletters, or social media captions. All of these different forms are types of business writing. In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser believes his principles of simplicity and clarity are important for business writing—employees and customers who read business writing should understand it. Remember that your whole purpose in writing is to convey an idea to someone. If no one understands your confusing email or memo, why write it? 

Zinsser notes that it can be easy to stray from simplicity in business communication. Like scientific or technical writing, business writers often use jargon and confusing sentences to sound important or intelligent. But Zinsser explains that this kind of complex writing confuses a reader and makes her think a company is pretentious. Someone with real business writing skills doesn’t try to bump up their language.

(Shortform note: The authors of Rework echo Zinsser’s belief in the importance of business writing. They take the idea one step further, saying that companies should hire people who can write simply and clearly, even if it’s for a programming or engineering position. According to a 2013 study, 73.4% of employers now look for good writing skills for new hires. Like Zinsser, these experts believe clear writing is an indicator of clear thinking, which is a skill 93% of employers want. Thus having good writing skills may improve your hiring chances.)

Additionally, Zinsser recommends that you make your business writing sound personal. He believes a reader wants to know that she’s reading the words of a person, not a business. Organizations can’t write emails or memos—people do. 

(Shortform note: Companies have embraced Zinsser’s version of personal business writing and are now creating consistent brand voices, or the unique personality of their communications with consumers. One key element of a brand voice is identifying what kind of person your business would be and using that idea to communicate with customers. For example, Nike’s brand voice persona is an athlete who uses strong, inspiring language to motivate consumers.) 

Want to Improve Your Business Writing Skills? Do This

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of William Zinsser's "On Writing Well" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full On Writing Well summary:

  • A back-to-basics approach to the craft of writing
  • How to practice simple, clear, and engaging writing—even if you're not a writer
  • How to effectively put your ideas into words

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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