Rhetoric and Composition/Writing in Business
Writing for business includes multiple types of formats including, but not limited to, cover letters, resumes, memos, e-mails, letters, proposals, business plans, and formal reports. This section will focus on how to be a successful business writer.
- 1 Purpose of Business Writing
- 2 Audience
- 3 Deadlines
- 4 Memos and E-mails
- 5 Cover Letters and Resumes
- 6 Follow up or Thank you letters
- 7 Other business letters
- 8 Proposals, Business Plans and Formal Reports
- 9 External Links
Purpose of Business Writing
The main purpose of business writing is to convince. For example, as a professional business writer, you often find yourself explaining the value of a complex idea in order to obtain agreement among readers. Or, you find yourself crafting a document intended to persuade people and rouse them to action.
In other respects, business writing is much like any other form of writing that includes pre-writing or brainstorming, writing and revising. The most important aspects of business writing are clear and concise writing and getting the message across in the best way. As with all writing, it is important to keep the audience in mind when coming up with the best format to get the message across.
The most important concept to keep in mind when writing for business is who your target audience is. You need to tailor your writing to fit different audiences in different situations. If you address the document's specific target audience in terms it understands, your document will have a better chance of achieving its goal.
Every business document has a purpose. You could be trying to persuade your boss that you are due a raise in one instance, and trying to persuade the HR Department that the company picnic would have more participation if it were held at a lake in another instance. In both instances, the language and way you would approach each is going to differ.
Much, if not all, professional business writing is performed against a deadline. In fact, making a deadline with time to spare is the hallmark of a pro. That act alone inspires a sense of confidence in a business that is often as persuasive as the document itself. So, a good rule of thumb for business writers would be 'better a B+ document that arrives on time than an A that's late.'
Memos and E-mails
Writing memos and e-mails in a business setting is slightly different than writing to a friend or family member. The biggest difference is that in a business setting, the writing must be professional or formal. A big misconception about e-mailing in business is that formality is not important. Grammar and composition are both important aspects. However, should you receive an email of memo which contains compositional and grammatical flaws, it may be rude or unwise to point these out to the author. Memos and e-mails have a similar approach. The purpose of both is to get a certain message across. This section will cover deciding when it is appropriate to use either a memo or e-mail, content, pre-writing techniques, and effectiveness.
The memo or memorandum has a few types. The memos can be short notes, reports, plans or proposals. The standard memo is most effective when attempting to inform many people within the same organization of upcoming events, changes, thoughts, or ideas.
Most memos will have five basic elements:
- The organization's logo or letterhead
- The "to" line
- The "from" line
- The subject line
Note: When writing your subject line, make sure it is called something accurate, unique and specific. Name your memo something informative.
- The date line
The first sentence of your memo you should clearly state your purpose. Be concise and direct.
Example: An example from "How to write it? (pp.167)"
To: All Department Heads From: Joan Alexander Date: May 10, 2007 Subject:Weekly Department Head Meeting, May 30, 2007, 8:00 am. Room 108 Agenda: 1. Vote on the vacation policy. 2. Elect a media spokesperson. 3. Introduce the new vice president of marketing, Mark Halpern.
Example: The purpose of this memo is to request authorization to travel to Minneapolis to visit the Museum of Natural History to learn more about dinosaur fossils.
Use headings throughout your memo to help the reader decide what they want to read and understand the information they are being presented. Headings can also help the reader understand the purpose of the section (i.e. summary).
If your memo has a lot of information or if it is really long, you may consider summarizing the memo. This can help readers understand the body of the memo, allow readers to skip information that is not relevant to them or to remind the reader of the memos main points. A good memo will record the clear main ideas and every important decision.
Keep in mind your audience when writing your memo. You may need to provide background information or explain the events that led to the situation to which the memo is regarding.
Emails are fast, cheap, easy to use and digital. Because of its widespread use, here are some things to keep in mind when writing "business" emails.
- Use an appropriate level of formality.
- Keep messages brief. If you are replying to an email, don't repeat information from the email, instead establish a general context of the email. Also, if sending the email to more than one person, you may want to consider blocking the original author's name for privacy's sake (BCC = Blind Carbon-Copy).
- Be careful when writing. Because email is often informal, it is easy for them to become sloppy. Make sure you read your email before sending it.
- In formal business email, avoid the use of characters to create emotion faces, such as :), Orz, or > <.
- Use the subject line. All business emails should have a subject so the reader can decide quickly whether or not they need to read the email.
- Don't use all capital letters or use annoying backgrounds. Keep your emails simple. Try to stay away from using italics, bolds or underlining. Even if your email supports these options, others may not.
- Don't forward a message without the permission of the author.
- Above all, have something to say. Don't send emails just for fun or just to reply agreeing with the writer (unless this is requested or expected). In other words, don't send a message just to feel like you are part of the conversation.
- Remember, if you are writing a memo or email during working hours or on a company computer, the company OWNS this material (and has the fully legal right to inspect it). Avoid overtly personal and/or sensitive content in your email while at work. If you are concerned about this possibility, look into message encryption.
Cover Letters and Resumes
Writing a resume or a cover letter is basically a sales pitch to a potential employer. You need to acknowledge that they have a need (an empty position), and that you are the perfect fit for them or at least close enough of a fit to bring into their office for an interview.
The cover letter and resume will form employers’ first impressions of a potential employee. These documents will be the first thing the employer sees, therefore, make every attempt to ensure the documents are without errors (grammatical, spelling, punctuation, etc.). Mistakes in the resume and cover letter are one of the biggest reasons why job seekers fail to secure an interview. If the potential employer finds mistakes, they will have the feeling that the applicant probably will not take the time to be careful with their work when they are on the job.
The cover letter is an opportunity to expand on any specific points in the resume that deserve more attention and can be connected to aspects of the desired position. Remember, there is likely a large pool of people applying for the same position. Use the cover letter effectively to present yourself and distinguish your application from the rest.
Any time a resume is sent in the mail, it must be accompanied by a cover letter. The cover letter is an important factor in getting your resume past the first barrier. The cover letter must be customized for each opportunity. It can also be an opportunity to explain any problems,questions, and things that may not be clear in your resume (such as gaps in employment).
Why is the cover letter so important?
The cover letter:
• is your opportunity to personalize your resume and target your skills to the specific employer;
• connects your past experiences listed on your resume to your potential future position at a new job;
• highlights your strengths, accomplishments, and sparkling personality;
• can be tailored to the needs of the specific company to which you are applying.
Cover Letter Formats
Employer Invited Letter: Use the employer invited letter when an employer has requested a resume. This is often in response to a classified ad or publicized listing. This style focuses on matching your qualifications to the advertised requirements of the position.
Uninvited or Cold Contact Letter: Use the uninvited letter to contact employers who have not advertised or published job openings. The focus is on matching your qualifications to the perceived needs of the employer based on labor market research. This strategy requires that a phone or personal contact with the employer either precede or follow the sending of the resume and cover letter.
Referral Letter: Use the referral letter to contact employers to whom you have been referred. The effective job seeker will receive referrals to many job opportunities through networking and informational interviews. The referral may be to a specific job opening (advertised or unadvertised) or to an employer who may not be hiring. In a referral letter the individual who provided the referral is mentioned in the letter.
Specific points to address in the cover letter.
- Let the company know why you are contacting them. Your intent may seem obvious, but tell the employer you are interested in a job at their company. Opening a letter without stating you intent may seem awkward. Whenever possible address the cover letter to a specific person by name and title.
- Let the employer know how you heard about the open position. For example, "I am interested in X position. I heard about/discovered the opening online/in the newspaper/from one of their a current employees. It is likely that the company has more than one open position so make sure to identify the specific position in which you are interested.
- Include a detailed description of your educational and work experience. Be sure to highlight the areas in your work or educational history that apply directly or closely to your desired position. You can put either paragraph first, but put your strongest information first. If you have a lot of work experience related to the job, then put your work experience first. If your educational experience makes you more strongly qualified, consider putting that information first. Remember, extra-curricular activities can be very valuable, if they are applicable to the position.
- Use terms from the ad that are clearly relevant to you and your experience. Take a cue from the job ad and emphasize how you are specifically qualified for the position. If the job requires a degree in Management and you have a Master's Degree in Management, emphasize that point. Writing your cover letter specifically for the job for which you are applying, will stand out more than a person who has a generic cover letter. Utilize action words and descriptive statements to convey your qualifications and career objectives.
- Reemphasize your interest in the position. Include a polite, but also confident request for an interview. Ask that they contact you and be sure to include how you'd like to be contacted (i.e. give your phone number and/or your email address.
You may also want to state the best time you can be reached. It is also a good idea to reference your resume, if you haven't already done so.
- Remember, be confident! If you don't sound like you think you are qualified for the position, why should a potential employer? Your cover letter needs to persuade the employer that you have skills and abilities that are useful to the company.
Cover Letter Outline
Insert Date Here
Ms. Catherine Smith
Human Resources Director
St. Mary’s Hospital
123 Southview Drive
Minneapolis, MN 55555
Dear Ms. Smith,
First Paragraph: Introduction
1. Explain why you are writing and the position you are applying for
2. Where you learned of the position
3. Who referred you to the job (if someone did)
4. Explain your interest in the employer, company, product/services
Body: Two to four paragraphs
1. Explain why you are qualified for the position
2. Link your cover letter to your resume; expand upon highlights of your resume with specific examples
3. Discuss your most relevant and distinguishing characteristics
Close: One paragraph
1. Indicate that your resume is enclosed/attached
2. Mention your desire for an interview
3. Notify the employer of a day and time you will follow up
4. Express your appreciation for their time and consideration of your application
Cover Letter Example
The cover letter and resume should be no more than a page.
Be creative, original and professional. Avoid using templates and standardized cover letters from books or websites.
If you are asked to supply additional materials or references, do so promptly.
Double check spelling and triple check any names and titles.
Unlike cover letters, resumes are a brief outline used by hiring managers to scan a potential employee. Think of the resume as a "snapshot" of your most relevant work and educational experience. Just like your cover letter, you want to bring out aspects of previous positions that relate to the one you are hoping to obtain.
Resumes need to be brief and descriptive at the same time. How are you going to manage that? You will need to be very selective in your word choice. Each resume usually gets under a one minute chance to make an impression. You should generally be able to get everything that you need to say in one page. Make sure the pertinent information really stands out. If you glance at your resume and can't find what's important right away, someone else will have a hard time finding the information that's important.
Hiring managers expect that your resume be typed or printed, neat, easy to read, clearly outlined. Don't use bright colors of ink or paper. Make sure it looks professional.
There are several elements to a resume:
- Identification - Include your name, address, e-mail, phone number.
- Objective - Write a clear goal, avoid generalities. Objectives are not necessary, but they are really helpful when applying for a volunteer position, internship or other positions that are a little more vague than a job opportunity. If your objective states you want a job, don't include it, but rather specify the particular field of employment.
- Employment - Include your skills and responsibilities, with what equipment you worked. The most important thing to include here is what you gained from your employment, the results of your experience. Use an active voice and strong verbs.
- Education - Include information about your degree and the institution. Again, make sure you talk about the results of your education, not just that your received an education.
- Interests and Activities - Make sure these are relevant to the job and demonstrate the personal impact you made as part of the group or working on a project. Don't just include random hobbies.
- References - There are a variety of opinions about whether or not to include references on the resume. Most employers are aware that they can request references from the job applicant at any point throughout the interview and hiring process. The job application itself, also may ask for references and their contact information. It is important to utilize the "white space" on your resume most effectively. You can list your references or write "available upon request". If you choose to list your references on a separate sheet of paper, make sure your name is on all sheets in case the pages get separated. To provide continuity between your cover letter, resume and references list, consider using the same header with your name and contact information on all three documents.
How to get started:
1. Define your objective. What position do you want to be hired for with the resume you will be working on? Resumes should always be customized to reflect the skills related to the desired position. A resume for a human resources position should look different than a resume for a counseling position.
2. Identify and evaluate your audience. Who in the company will most likely be viewing your resume first: a human resources representative, the CEO or the district manager? What skills, qualities and knowledge will your audience look for?
3. Prioritize your selling points. You have considered who your audience is going to be and what they will be looking for, now consider what areas in your work and educational experience best match the desired skills, qualities and knowledge. Brainstorm the key buzz words and action verbs that would best highlight your relevant qualifications.
4. Showcase your successes. Every employer wants a winner on their team. Demonstrate your successes (e.g. college degrees, educational honors, scholarship winnings, job promotions, leadership and community involvement and any other relevant awards/recognition).
5. Choose your resume format and layout. What resume format (chronological, functional or combination) will best showcase your qualifications for the job. How can the layout be designed to best highlight so that the employer will quickly notice your selling points?
6. Create, Critique and Revise. Nothing good is ever written. It is always rewritten. Start the resume writing process as early as possible. Although your resume will always be a work in progress, revising will continually improve the final product. Ask a career advisor, professor, parent or room mates seriously edit your resume. Any typo, spelling and grammatical error or spacing mistake should be improved. Your goal should be to have your resume error free.
7. Ensure the printing looks professional. Typing your resume is an absolute must. Print your resume on a laser printer and use a heavier paper stock.
Questions to help jog your memory about your college activities for your resume:
•Did you win any academic scholarships? What were the winning criteria?
•Were you on the Dean’s list?
•Do you have a high GPA?
•What major (s) and/or minor (s) did you complete?
•Worked while a student to help fund your education?
•Completed an internship?
•Active in student organizations? Held any positions of office/leadership? If so, what were your responsibilities?
•Played sports? Captain? All conference?
•Student newspaper, radio station, or television station?
•Wrote articles for a publication? Had work published?
•Created a web site?
•Conducted original research?
•Presented papers, served on panels?
•Helped organize a special event or conference?
•Research assistant or teaching assistant?
•Theatre production? Debate team? Choir? Band?
•Field service/practicum as part of your major?
Using Key Action Verbs
What is an action verb? Action verbs describe achievements or results in a concise and persuasive manner.
The following job description uses a non-action verb:
Was the supervisor of ten employees.
The next job description uses an action verb:
Supervised ten employees.
The job description using the action verb is more concise (three words shorter). Concise writing is easier for the reader to understand and carries more impact and power.
Use action verbs as the first word of each bullet point in your resume to emphasize job descriptions in your resume. Examples:
•Developed and wrote content for the organization’s website
•Created and coordinated special events generating product awareness and increased sales
•Evaluated company’s marketing and public relation campaigns’ impact & implementation.
It is common for students to be too brief in their description of their skills, qualities and traits. Key action words will help you best describe and sell your skills and abilities.
1. First read through the entire list below and write down the action verbs (skills) employers look for in your field or particular position.
2. Next, read through the entire list a second time and write down the action verbs you have used in the experience you are describing on your resume.
3. Look back at your written list and highlight the words that appear on both lists. Incorporate these words into your resume and cover letter.Accelerated Corresponded Exhibited Judged Predicted Revamped Activated Counseled Expanded Launched Prepared Reviewed Adapted Created Experienced Lectured Prescribed Revised Administered Decided Explained Led Presented Scheduled Analyzed Delegated Explored Located Presided Served Anticipated Delivered Facilitated Maintained Processed Serviced Appraised Demonstrated Formulated Managed Produced Set up Approved Designed Fostered Marketed Programmed Simplified Assisted Determined Generated Measured Proposed Sold Bargained Developed Governed Mediated Protected Solved Budgeted Diagnosed Handled Moderated Proved Sorted Built Directed Headed Monitored Provided Spoke Calculated Discovered Implemented Motivated Qualified Streamlined Classified Displayed Improved Negotiated Read Structured Coached Distributed Increased Obtained Received Studied Collected Earned Indexed Operated Recommended Supervised Completed Edited Initiated Ordered Recorded Supported Conceived Effected Inspected Organized Recruited Systemized Conducted Eliminated Installed Originated Reduced Taught Conserved Entertained Instituted Oversaw Referred Tested Constructed Established Instructed Participated Reinforced Trained Consulted Estimated Interpreted Performed Reorganized Translated Contributed Evaluated Interviewed Persuaded Repaired Updated Controlled Examined Invented Pioneered Represented Worked Coordinated Executed Investigated Planned Researched Wrote
There are a few different forms of resumes. One gives a chronological breakdown of your work experience while the other shares your skills and prior positions based on function.
Follow up or Thank you letters
After an interview, take that time to write a thank you letter. The follow up letter can do more good for you in less time than most other aspects of the application/interview process. Thank the interviewer for taking time out of their schedule to meet with you. Also, make sure to emphasize your particular qualifications and/or restate your interest in the position. This letter puts your name in front of the interviewer again and also shows that you are truly interested in the position. Plus, if you are basically tied in contention for the job with another person, the thank you letter may tip the scales in your favor.
Mail the thank you letter within a day of your interview. Not only will this help you in remember the details of your interview, it will also help to ensure that your potential interviewer sees your thank you letter before making a final decision about the position.
When to Write Thank You Letters:
A thank you letter should be written after an interview, when someone provides or sends you information at your request, when a contact was particularly helpful to you, or any other contact that you would like to express thanks and develop a good relationship with.
Writing Your Thank You Letter:
The body of your thank you letter is really a “sales” letter. It is an opportunity to restate why you want the job, to reiterate your best qualifications that match the job requirements, and how you will make significant contributions to the establishment. A thank you letter is also the perfect opportunity to discuss anything that your interviewer neglected to ask you or that you neglected to answer as thoroughly as you could have.
Customize Your Thank You Letters:
It’s very important to keep your audience in mind when writing your thank you letter. Typically your thank you letters are typed but research suggests that managers like hand written thank you notes also.
In addition to thanking the person you talked with, thank you letters also reinforce the fact that you want the job.
Follow Up Letter to Recap Important Information:
Remind individuals who attended the meeting of the main events and important dates that were discussed. Remind individuals who attended an important business event of the discussions that were made. This helps keep the work flowing and everyone on the same page. This also promotes further discussion and collaboration.
Follow-up Letter to announce a special Offer:
This type of letter helps improve your relationship with a new customer. Remind the customer that you are willing to help them by stating the advantages that your company can offer. Thank the customer, or announce the special sale or limited time offer. Remind the customer why you are a good business to work with.
Follow-up Letter to Remind Readers of Important Events:
Make sure to include the date, time, location of the event, and any other important information that the reader needs to have in order to attend the event.
Thank you letter example
Other business letters
Besides writing a letter to express appreciation for an interview, there are several other types of follow up letters. Here are some tips for these types of letters.
- Letter accepting a job offer - Express appreciation for the offer. Show enthusiasm for the position. Repeat the major terms of your employment such as start date, job title, or salary.
- Letter of rejection in response to a job offer - Again, express your appreciation for the offer. If it's appropriate, explain your reason for declining the offer. Remember, at some point in the future, you may want to work for this company, so be polite with your rejection.
- Letter acknowledging a rejection - Why bother? This letter maintains good relations with the company. You might get a phone call later on saying that the first choice candidate wasn't able to take the position.
Proposals, Business Plans and Formal Reports
Proposals, business plans and formal reports can be a critical part of your business career. All of these may deal with important outcomes. The goal of all of these is to persuade the readers into agreeing with your ideas. Often times, you are trying to gain something from the readers, such as money, equipment or help.
When starting a proposal, the first thing to consider is what your goals are. If you are asked to write a proposal for someone, make sure you are clear on what their goals and requirements are.
There are four main elements that must be considered with your goals.
- What are the immediate goals and how do they relate to the long-term goals?
- What costs or risks are involved with writing the proposal? This includes time and people needed. Do not forget to explore hidden cost opportunities.
- What kinds of resources are you going to need? Are those resources readily available?
- What will come from an unsuccessful proposal? Will it be helpful if only some goals are met?
After considering your goals, there are still many more things to think about. You must take into consideration the readers, your argument, feasibility, and action.
The more you know about your readers, the more you can tailor your report to appeal to them. If you are lucky, you already know a lot about the reader because they wanted you to write the proposal and have given you specific guidelines. However if you do not know much about your readers, then you better do some research on them. It is important to know what form of research they will be the most receptive to. Surveys may satisfy one reader, while another reader may not find them to be as credible.
- An argument can be summed up as what the main issue is and the importance of that issue. You need to prove to your readers the significance of the issue. You must convince your readers that your issue needs their attention or help. You need to inform them of the issue, tell them why they should care, what they can do to help, the benefits of their help, and why they should find you credible.
- In your report, often as part of your argument, you will have to convince the readers of the feasibility of the issue. Included in this would be offering alternative plans, addressing the costs and risks involved, as well as the resources needed. You should be able to identify why your plan is the best option.
- You will also need to include a plan of action in your report. Most proposals are asking the readers for something. You will need to tell the readers exactly what it is that you want them to do.
What is included in a proposal?
Cover, cover letter, table of contents, executive summary, appendix, and graphics.
- The cover page should include the title of the proposal, who the proposal is for, who the proposal is by, and the date.
- Cover letter
- The cover letter is used to introduce the formal report. It is often less formal than the report itself. The letter usually includes an introduction of the topic and how it was authorized, a brief description of the plan, highlights of the report's findings, conclusions, and recommendations.
- Table of contents
- The table of contents is just as it sounds, a table of the proposal's content and page numbers. In the table of contents you should include section headings/topics and the page they can be found on. Be sure to include leaders (numbers, dots or bullet-points) to link the section with the corresponding page number.
- Executive summary
- The executive summary is a brief overview of the proposal. You should summarize your main points, you should begin with your purpose and follow the order of your proposal. Make sure to avoid including non essential information. The executive summary should not be longer than 10 percent of the length of the proposal. With proposals that are 10 pages or less, it may not be necessary to include an executive summary.
- An appendix is pretty much any supporting material that you either reference in your proposal or may be supporting sources that be relevant to some readers and not others. You may choose to include survey forms, other reports, tables of data, or any related material. They are named Appendix A, B, C, etc.
- While graphics are not a must, they are greatly appreciated. Graphics help to break up all of the text in order to give the reader's eyes a little break. You may choose to include a few small charts or graphs in your reports also. Just be sure that the graphics are relevant to the proposal.
Some tips to consider while writing your proposal...
- Be clear on your topic. Do not try to cover too many aspects in one proposal. Stick to the most important so that you can be clear and concise.
- Create a phrase that will draw in your readers. Pick an aspect of your report that should interest you readers and mention it early on to gain their interest.
- Make sure to include any background information that may be necessary in order to understand the proposal.
- Give yourself enough time to finish the proposal to the best of your ability. You do not want to be in a time crunch while writing such an important document.
- You should not start writing until all of your research has been conducted and you have reached all of your conclusions.
- All basic writing standards apply... you should revise and edit, be consistent with verb tense, and avoid using "I" or "we" because you want the proposal to be objective and credible.
- Business Writing Introduction
- Bull's Eye Business Writing Tips
- Cover Letters
- Guide to Basic Business Letters
- Business Letter Formats
- 10 Secrets of Business Letters
- Letter Writing Rules
- Writing a CV Resume
- Writing Memos
- Business Report Writing
- Tips for Writing a Business Proposal