Rhetoric and Composition/Teacher's Handbook/Writing in Business

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Importance of Business Writing Skills[edit]

Communication skills, including writing, are one of the most important transferrable skills that students should learn when they are in college.[1] Most professions require high competency in written communication. It could be a chance for one to shine or hinder one's success. With emails, memos, letters, texts and even Tweets, most people spend a fair amount of time at work communicating via the written word. Whether you are messaging a colleague, writing to your manager, crafting the company newsletter, or writing a press release to the media, your writing skills can boost or hinder your career easily, even if you do not have a “writing” profession. Basically, writing skills make a difference in how you come across.

Through business writing exercises, students learn to convey messages and ideas in a concise way. Concise and self-explanatory messages help increase productivity at the workplace as they save time by eliminating the need to ask for further instructions. Good writing reflects not only the credibility of the writer but also projects a positive image for the company.

Academic Writing vs. Business Writing[edit]

Unlike academic writing, where ideas are explored and length is encouraged, business writing needs to be clear and concise. Business writing takes place in many forms, as categorized in internal and external communications; the major differences between academic writing and business writing are as followed:[2]

  1. Writing at work focuses on problem solving.
  2. Work-related writing targets multiple audiences with different perspectives.
  3. Writing at work may be read by unknown readers.
  4. Writing produced at work can be used indefinitely and can be used in legal proceedings.
  5. The format for work documents varies greatly from the format for academic documents.

Typically, business writing are taught in the English department with by professors or technical professionals. The course can be taught as undergraduate lower level coursework with emphasis on practical work or writing projects.

Writing Across the Workplace[edit]

Communication in the workplace may be categorized into internal and external purposes. Depending on the nature of work, these two categories demand different writing styles and structures. Therefore, students should be taught to identify the elements of the communication before they begin writing.

  • Writer: The encoder or the party that creates a message through writing
  • Audience: The decoder or the party that receives a message and interprets it accordingly
  • Medium: The channel in which a message is communicated (examples: print, electronic, broadcast)
  • Noise: The interference that could potentially distort the transmission of a message
  • Context: The circumstance under which a message is created, including the writer's and audience's frame of references

Internal Communications[edit]

Internal communications is the function responsible for the dissemination of information within an organization. Memo, business letters, internal publications, e-mails, internal announcements and promotions, etc. are examples of internal communications. Modern communication technologies today have greatly enhanced the feasibility of communication in the workplace by allowing real-time and asynchronous writing. Hence, it is important for students to learn how to work with others when writing for internal purposes. Students can experience collaborative writing in the classroom using MUD (Multi-user Domains) or open-access web applications such as Google Drive and Wiki. Following is an example of in-class activity that incorporates collaborative writing:

Lesson in Collaborative Writing and Editing[edit]

Students write synchronously in collaborative exercise.

This copyediting exercise needs to be conducted in classroom with sufficient computers for all students, or students can bring their own laptop or tabloid computers to class. Break students into groups of five. You may choose a MUD application that you are more comfortable working with. For explanation purposes, Google Docs is used as the collaborative tool in this activity. Ask students to create an account on Google if they have not already have a user account. You should have several sample memos that are already saved on your Google Drive. Depending on the number of students in class, you need to have at least one memo for each group. Use the sharing feature on Google Docs to allow access for students to edit the sample memo assigned to their groups. Ask students to utilize the chat and comment features to communicate synchronously as they edit the text together. When the activity is over, conduct a class discussion about the pros and cons in collaborative writing practices and how to maximize productivity through collaborative writing.

External Communications[edit]

Corporate branding, public relations, investor relations, marketing and publicity, advertising, sales, promotions, event announcements, media and press releases are practices of external communications. Writing for external communications is usually audience-directed and aims to build corporate identity. Another objective of such writing is to sell a product or service provided by the company. Students should practice persuasive writing that fits into various media, including radio, television, press, and the Internet. The following is an activity that can be used to teach business writing pertaining to external communications:

Lesson in Marketing Writing[edit]

For this exercise, students can work individually or in small groups. Give students an item (it can be a stationary, electronic gadget, or other items you can find in the classroom) and tell them to write an advertisement that sells it in a magazine. Students should identify the target market/audience, determine selling strategy, develop copy/text, and provide explanations for their creative plan. Students can use online open-source programs such as Picnik and Pixlr to create marketing materials for the item they are selling. Have students vote on their most favorite creative work by the end of the session. The purpose of this activity is to let student explore the marketing writing process and experience writing for external communications.

Writing for Crisis Communication[edit]

Crisis communication can be for either internal or external purposes. It is sometimes considered a sub-specialty of both the public relations profession and business continuity that is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation.[3] Writing for crisis communication should focus on communicating urgency and possible solutions to react upon. Students can be given a problem situation whereby they plan a mock strategic outline through writing.

Stay Professional[edit]

Students tend to sway from their objective when they are not adept in business writing. Aside from practicing to write with clarity and completeness, teachers should remind students to reserve some acts of professional courtesy in their writing. As business writing is increasingly getting into shorthand fashion, students must learn to avoid sloppiness in their writing. It can be troublesome if messages become too abrupt or incomplete and thus causing misunderstanding. Even if it was an email, the writer should take time to check spellings and write in complete sentences. Whenever necessary, graphical elements can help to better explain a message than lengthy paragraphs.

External Links[edit]