Formal Business Writing (part 2)
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Formal Business Writing (part 2)

A Guide to Business Writing (Contd.)

All writing should be readable and interesting, and communicate its message clearly and unambiguously. Meet these aims by writing in a good, clear style.

4. Style

There are no hard and fast rules — rules are a substitute for the thought which is essential for improving a writer's style. The most common fault is attempting to impress by style, rather than expressing what you want to say.

Lee Iacocca, the former Chief Executive of Chrysler, was definitely against trying to impress by style. There is a paragraph in his autobiography, which is particularly apt:

'Say it in English, and keep it short. I once read a 15-page paper that was tough to understand. I called in the author and asked him to explain what was in the tome he had written. He did it in two minutes flat. He identified what we were doing wrong, what we could do to fix it, and what he recommended. When he finished I asked him why he didn't write in the paper the way he'd just said it to me. He didn't have an answer. All he said was: 'I was taught that way'.'

Iacocca's wisdom is a guide to all writers: essentially — keep it simple, keep it short. We can train ourselves away from the outmoded fashions of writing that we were schooled into. We can learn to write colloquially and communicate effectively.

Style is not fancy or pompous language added to plain statements of fact. All language has a style. It is created by the words we choose, and the way we structure those words into a sentence.

Main styles of writing

The main styles can be divided into three broad classifications:

  • Formal: The newly inaugurated copying system has enjoyed a most favourable reception.
  • Friendly: Our new copying system is just great.
  • Familiar: Our new copying system has become very popular with the departments that use it.

The more formal the style, the more likely we are to use less familiar words and less simple verb forms — such as the passive voice.

At the other extreme, the familiar style might drop into using some slang and, possibly, phrases in place of complete sentences.

The choice of style is a matter of individual preference, organisational custom and — most importantly — the feelings and expectations of your reader(s). Business readers today, tend to prefer shorter, more easily readable writing; the friendly style of writing is probably best.

Aim for a style that is simple, human and precise. To help you achieve this:

Keep a picture of your main reader in mind — write as if to the individual. This will keep a personal touch in what you say.
If you have problems getting away from the traditional formal report writing style, try to picture your reader(s) in your mind. Think what you would say to them if they were there, with you. Then, write it down. You may have to edit what you have written but you will probably have expressed your thoughts in a clear and simple way.
Do not worry about style while you are writing. Say what you want to say, then sort it out when you review what you have written.