Just like in any other industry, communication in business has a few specific peculiarities.
A good way to think about business communication is to remember that businesspeople are first and foremost salespeople.
Whether they’re communicating with a client, an investor, or each other—their main objective is always effectiveness.
Business communication includes relaying messages and sharing information, as well as pitching and promoting products and services.
In this article, we’ve put together the top tips for effective written and verbal business communication, as well as helpful guidelines for writing business reports, executive summaries, and business proposals.
Business Writing 101
Good business writing is very conversational, like talking to a friend.
When writing for business, your two main objectives are to respect your readers’ time and use appropriate vocabulary.
- Keep it succinct.
When revising your business documents, always ask yourself whether every single word you use is important and necessary. Here’s a great example of how you can make a sentence really succinct.
Use the Paramedic Method to write more concisely.
- Avoid archaisms and jargon.
For instance, “we’ve inaugurated” is unnecessary jargon, whereas “we began” is simpler and clearer.
- Use meaningful verbs.
The use of the verb “to be” weakens business writing. Try to use concrete action verbs instead whenever possible.
For example, the sentence “There will certainly be a transformation of the material by the sun” can be rewritten into a much stronger and clearer version: “The sun will certainly transform the material.”
You can download the Complete List of Action Verbs from Wellesley College.
- Be specific.
Just write exactly what you mean. Avoid confusing readers with vague terms, such as “some tool” or “many businesses.”
- Make it natural.
Remember that your main goal is to tell your readers something specific, not puzzle them or make them think, “Wow, what a nice metaphor.”
Delete unnecessary metaphors (like “climb the ladder of success”) and last-century clichés (like “graciously thank you”).
Make sure you’re using the most appropriate sentence constructions to avoid potential misunderstandings.
- Make sentences active and personal.
Delete “there is” or “there are” constructions, and minimize the number of “it is” constructions.
- Use proper word order for emphasis.
Be sure to give proper emphasis to the right words.
For example, replace “Enclosed is a document, brief but important” with “Enclosed is a brief but important document.”
- Maintain parallelism.
Keep an eye on the type of sentence constructions you use, ensuring that all phrases have a parallel construction.
Here’s an example:
Wrong: “Reading a book isn’t hard, but to write a report on it is another story.”
Right: “Reading a book isn’t hard, but writing a report on it is another story.”
- Be personal and friendly.
Don’t hesitate to use personal pronouns (e.g. “I,” “we,” “you”) when necessary.
Use polite words like “hello,” “if it is possible,” and “sincerely yours” whenever it’s appropriate.
Writing a Business Report
A business report typically conveys all of the information required for decision-making.
To get started:
- Choose your writing goal. What is the purpose of this report?
- Make sure your goal is neither too general, nor too specific.
- Study your audience.
- Obtain statistics, survey results, or any other data that can be helpful in your research.
- Manage your information. Rearrange and sort it while you are determining your presentation plan.
- Carefully analyze the gathered information.
- Write down possible solutions to the problem.
When assembling information, be selective and skeptical. Always double-check data before putting it into your reports.
A standard business report consists of five important parts:
- Terms of Reference
Gives background information on the reason for the report. It usually names the person requesting the report.
Lists the exact steps taken and methods used for the report.
Point out discoveries made during the course of the report investigation.
Provide logical conclusions based on the findings.
State actions to be taken based on the findings and conclusions.
There are five types of business reports:
- Business profile report
Provides a complete and detailed description of a company’s credit history.
- Intelliscore report
A condensed, one-page overview that measures a company’s credit risk. This report enables you to accurately predict future business performance on a scale of 0 to 100.
- Business owner profile
Assesses the owner’s complete financial history and creditworthiness to understand the risks associated with the business.
- Business summary
Provides data about company background and public record information to speed up the decision-making process on marginal accounts.
- Credit reference report
Analyzes specific information obtained from a customer’s credit application, determines recent and historical payment activity, and includes reference information about the customer’s primary banking relationships.
For more detailed guidance, check out our article on report writing tips.
Alternatively, download this helpful guide from the University of South Wales Business School.
Or this fantastic help sheet from the University of Melbourne Faculty of Business and Economics.
Writing an Executive Summary
Executive summaries are short versions of business reports written for busy executives, so messing one up can potentially be very costly for you.
An executive summary (sometimes called an executive review) is a very concise statement of your findings and recommendations.
Executives often have no time to read and understand full reports. Therefore, this brief summary is your chance to say everything you want to say to your executives and to convince them to choose certain solutions over others.
There are six main things that you should always include in your executive summary:
- Statement of the problem
- Research methods
Don’t forget to be brief.
Include only the most important data, being careful not to omit any significant facts.
Never assume that the data you provide is self-explanatory. Make comments and give simple explanations for anything that might be unclear.
When writing a summary report, consider the following recommendations from Griffith University:
- Make the summary no longer than 10% of your full report.
- Use simple language and consider the background knowledge of your intended readers.
- State the purpose of your report directly.
- Use short paragraphs for different parts.
- Use bullet points and numbered lists to separate different findings and recommendations.
- Present your findings and recommendations in the order they appear in your report.
- Do not hesitate to use supportive materials, such as graphs and tables.
- Make certain that your summary can be read as a separate document.
- Make it accurate so that executives can make informed decisions without reading the whole detailed report.
- Avoid unnecessary technical details and professional jargon.
Here are some good and bad examples of an executive summary from the University of Wollongong.
Writing Business Proposals
A business proposal is a pitch that introduces your idea to someone. Its goal is to gain support, funding, or an alliance.
To write a good proposal, you must first do the following:
- Summarize your concept in two to three sentences. Your idea should be clearly understandable.
- Think about the potential customer, and adjust your writing to his or her needs.
- Make sure your outline answers the five questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
A proposal has to be persuasive as well as communicative.
Think of the customer not as a machine, but as a human being. You want to sell, and he or she wants to buy—but to buy a good product or service.
The layout of your proposal will depend on the requirements of the person or company you’re pitching your idea to.
If they don’t provide requirements, then you are free to decide how to design and organize your proposal.
Here are some basic tips for writing a good proposal:
- Outline a two-part proposal.
- In the first part, describe the business opportunity and your plans to take advantage of it. Limit this part to 10 pages.
- In the second part, present financial data, such as tax returns, a balance sheet, and a summary of your operating plan.
- Cite all sources.
- Explain why your proposal is different, new, and promising.
- Name the market segment you will pursue.
- Describe your potential audience.
- Summarize your marketing plan.
- Detail your expectations regarding revenue and cash flow.
In a proposal, organization and formatting can make all the difference, and brevity and persuasiveness are your best friends.
Begin with a title page that includes images, the name of the proposal recipient, the name of the project, your company name and address, the date, and your copyright symbol.
To leave a good impression, choose a layout that is highly readable, include graphics and color, and print your document on good quality, heavy-bond paper.
Check out these 7 Steps To A Winning Business Proposal from Entrepreneur Magazine.