Strong writing skills are essential for effectively communicating your message and selling your ideas.
In this article, you’ll learn the different types of business writing and how to use them to engage your audience. And you’ll get a free 22-point checklist to check your content before publishing.
What Is Business Writing?
Business writing is a style of writing meant to deliver a message to a professional audience. It tells readers about business ideas and concepts with clear, effective language.
Well-written, professional communications position you as a trustworthy and knowledgeable source, increasing people’s confidence in and respect for you and/or your company.
People use business writing in a wide range of formats, including the following:
- Business letters
- Company handbooks
- White papers
- Marketing materials (e.g., website product pages, press releases, articles, etc.)
You use business writing inside and outside your company to engage stakeholders, employees, customers, and clients.
Effective business writing nails two main components:
- Audience. It addresses the needs and expectations of the right people, using the right titles, format, language, and tone
- Purpose. It prioritizes clarity and concision to achieve the main objective (e.g., inform, direct, explain, or request an action)
In other words:
Business writing focuses on what matters. And delivers it clearly and concisely. Good business communication should keep readers informed and leave them with clarity on what to do next.
The 4 Types of Business Writing
The four types of business writing are instructional, informational, persuasive, and transactional.
How you want to engage your audience will determine the format for your business writing.
For example, are you asking them to perform an action? In that case, you’d need persuasive business writing.
If you are merely teaching them how to perform that action, then you need instructional business writing.
Instructional Business Writing
Instructional writing aims to teach the reader how to complete a task (e.g., how to use your product or troubleshoot a common issue).
This type of writing has a neutral, knowledgeable tone and presents instructions clearly.
Take Shopify’s guide to getting started with an ecommerce website. Here’s how it helps readers add their first product:
These instructions do three things well:
- Keep the audience’s level of expertise in mind
- Break down instructions in clear, simple steps
- Provide a video tutorial to help people who prefer to learn visually
Users arrive at this page intending to complete a specific task. Shopify helps them do this effectively.
Informational Business Writing
Like instructional writing, informational writing helps readers learn something new. The difference is the end goal.
Rather than helping the audience complete a specific action, informational writing educates them by providing knowledge or insight.
Informational writing works well for internal business documents (e.g., financial reviews or employee handbooks) and educational materials (e.g., white papers and meeting minutes).
The tone of informational writing is neutral. It sticks to the facts and focuses on relevant information.
Take this slide from Facebook’s research about teen mental health:
Facebook avoids presenting opinions and organizes information clearly and thoughtfully. The writing focuses on the what and why, making it easy to understand.
Persuasive Business Writing
Persuasive writing convinces a reader to take a specific action, like purchasing a product or signing up for a demo. It borrows heavily from copywriting, where the aim is to sell the value of your brand and convince potential customers to choose your product.
Persuasive writing often has a more informal tone. However, as with informational writing, it backs all arguments with evidence.
This email from Barnes & Noble about the “Must-Have Credit Card for Book Lovers” is a good example of persuasive writing in action:
Barnes & Noble immediately addresses their target audience—book lovers—and then lists the benefits of the credit card:
- “Earn a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card after your first purchase or balance transfer”
- “Get 5% back on all Barnes & Noble purchases”
- “Earn 2x points for every $1 spent at restaurants”
It makes a compelling case for hitting the “Apply Now” button. The product landing page achieves the same results by highlighting even more benefits like “$0 Annual Fee”:
Persuasive writing highlights the benefits of your offer and helps readers make better decisions.
Transactional Business Writing
Transactional writing is something you likely use in day-to-day communications:
- Sending emails to colleagues
- Creating memos for upcoming meetings or deadlines
- Creating invoices
- Writing letters of recommendation or complaint
All of these are transactions that keep businesses moving in the right direction. The style of writing is concise and to the point. But it doesn’t always have to be formal.
This customer order email from shoe brand 8000Kicks, for instance, provides a status update:
It communicates necessary information with minimal text while still maintaining the brand’s helpful tone.
Every business interaction is a reflection of your company. However brief the involved text is, you should consider your audience in transactional writing just as you would with other business writing styles.
9 Tips to Make You a Better Business Writer
Whether you want to instruct, inform, persuade, or transact, all business writing should demonstrate the same qualities:
- Clarity. Writing is easy to follow and understand
- Valid arguments. It’s backed by evidence (e.g., research, use cases, testimonials, etc.)
- Specificity. It’s focused on one goal or one idea
- Consistent flow. The writing style is consistent and clear
- Simplicity. Writing uses language that matches the audience
We recommend using Semrush’s SEO Writing Assistant to keep your writing consistent. It checks the readability, originality, and tone of voice of your content, among other factors.
With this in mind, here are some writing tips to help you produce communications that tick these boxes:
1. Decide What You Want to Say
Ensure you know why you’re writing before you start creating your content.
As The Economist Style Guide says: “Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought.”
Working out your thoughts as you go can lead to unnecessary tangents, poor structure, and repetitive content. But if you’re clear on what you want to say from the start, it’s easier to stick to the point and get your message across.
- What is the primary goal of communication?
- What do I want my audience to learn or know after reading?
Try to sum up the purpose in one or two sentences.
For example, Shopify might distill its purpose for writing its “Getting Started” guide as:
“We want to show people how to add products so they can launch their store.”
Barnes & Noble’s goal could be:
“Highlight the benefits of the Barnes & Noble credit card to convince people to apply.”
If you can’t quickly clarify your goal, take a step back. Give yourself some thinking time before moving forward. The result will be more effective.
2. Make the Purpose Clear From the Start
Once you’ve established your reason for writing, lead with it. Tell readers what they’re getting from your content—then deliver on that promise.
This helps your audience understand what they’re reading and why it matters. It also stops people from wasting time reading a message that might not be relevant to them.
For example, here’s how MicroStrategy introduces its enterprise analytics report:
From this executive summary, readers are immediately clear on the what and why of the report:
- What? A survey of business intelligence and analytics decision-makers about the current state of their organization’s analytics
- Why? To understand the benefits, challenges, and progress of data analytics
With this information, the audience can decide whether the content is relevant to them.
Once you’ve completed your first draft, look back at the opening paragraph. Does it define the purpose? If the what and why aren’t clear, revise your introduction so readers know the context and can decide whether to read on.
3. Use Active Voice
In writing, there are two grammatical voices: active voice and passive voice. Unless you have a good reason to use passive voice, stick to active.
Active voice tells what a person or thing does. It’s direct, confident, and easy to read.
I wrote the marketing report for the first quarter.
This sentence is clear. There is no question about who wrote the report.
Passive voice can remove this clarity:
A marketing report was written for the first quarter.
Passive voice can also make sentences lengthy and tedious. It can also make your writing seem impersonal.
As you write, make it clear to the reader who is performing the action. And ensure the subject has an active relationship with the verb.
Look back over sentences to find and correct passive voice. For example:
The report was read by the manager, and the team was asked for feedback.
The manager read the report and asked the team for feedback.
The review will be carried out by Jessica.
Jessica will carry out the review.
You can use passive voice when you want to avoid placing focus on individual perspectives and instead look at actions taken and the results.
Using the passive voice is more common in academic and scientific reports, where writers might need to maintain objectivity. Here are some examples from a Dublin City University guide to academic writing:
As a general rule, use active voice when you want to put the focus on the doer of the action (which is most of the time in business writing).
Use passive voice when you want to draw attention to the target of an action or the action itself.
4. Avoid Jargon
Jargon is any word or expression that is common in one industry or group but uncommon outside of it. Jargon is difficult to understand for those who aren’t already familiar with the subject matter at hand.
Jargon is common in the business world. It can make communication easier between colleagues who share the same knowledge. Because of this, it’s easy for jargon to creep into your work.
But don’t assume your audience will understand all the same words as you.
Here’s an example.
Say a marketing company wants to create a digital marketing guide for small businesses. And they want to share some marketing channels people can use to promote their services.
They come up with the following:
You can use SEO to boost the ranking of your website in SERPs. Or you can utilize PPC and target buyers with the intent to drive sales at a low CPC rate.
It makes sense to the marketing company. But it may alienate an audience taking their first steps into the field. What are rankings? What are SERPs?
The writer would do better to use simple language and define jargon as needed:
“Here are two popular ways to attract more people to your website:
- Search engine optimization (SEO). This involves creating high-quality content and providing a great user experience to improve your website’s visibility in search engines.
- Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. This involves running ads on a platform such as Google Ads. You can target ads at people interested in your services, and you pay a fee each time someone clicks on your ad.”
But as stated earlier, it’s easy to miss jargon in your writing. So use a tool like the SEO Writing Assistant to help you identify complex words in your content.
This isn’t to say all jargon is bad. Consider this abstract on the value of glucocorticoid co-therapy published by the National Library of Medicine:
The intended audience is medical professionals who will understand the language used.
Your audience determines how you write. If there’s any doubt about whether a word or phrase will cause confusion, go with the simplest, most broadly understood version.
If you have to use acronyms, write out their full meaning the first time they’re mentioned. And always opt for the universally understood alternative over jargon words.
5. Keep It Simple
When writing for business, it’s often best to take a “less is more” approach. Good business writing is about getting your message across clearly.
This means deleting anything that doesn’t help your message. In other words, not using 50 words when 10 will do.
As television producer Don Hewitt writes:
“There are no hard and fast rules in writing for the ear, but after more than fifty years of working at it, I believe in some rough guidelines. Two of them are: short is usually better than long and don’t waste words.”
Simplicity increases what scientists call “processing fluency.” Our feelings about information are influenced by how easy something is to understand. Simple words and short sentences help us quickly process information and feel more positive about it.
On the flip side, when something is difficult to interact with, we experience “low processing fluency,” resulting in negative feelings and associations.
A quick way to improve brevity is to remove filler words. Take content marketer Erica Schnieder’s hack:
Simply removing the word “then” from the sentence makes it punchier.
Filler words dilute your message. Practice paring down your copy to include only the words needed to communicate your message. You’ll achieve more powerful writing.
Pro tip: Use the SEO Writing Assistant to find difficult-to-read sentences and lengthy paragraphs.
The tool also has AI technology to help you simplify those hard-to-read sentences. Click on any of the highlighted sentences and then hit the button that appears.
Or click on the same button that appears in the summary to the side.
A pop-up will appear. Click the “Simplify” button to get some AI-powered suggestions.
If you’re happy with the suggestion, click on “Replace and close” to simplify your existing sentence.
6. Embrace Storytelling
Storytelling is a powerful way to ensure your business writing hits home. Why?
Because our brains love stories.
Research by Paul Zak at the University of California, Berkeley, found that when humans are engaged in a good story, the brain releases oxytocin. When this happens, people become more trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate:
“Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts.”
Use stories to create an emotional investment, so people buy into your message.
Take this story by Wealthsimple on how to flip streetwear.
Rather than simply creating a list of investment tips, Wealthsimple tells a story about watching entrepreneurs line up outside a Supreme store every Thursday:
The story is a case study and a lesson in investing their resale profits. It teaches an audience of young people how to save toward retirement using a topic that resonates with them.
To weave storytelling into your business writing, map out a hero’s journey. This storytelling framework engages readers by creating a relatable situation and problem. It then takes them through to the solution (e.g., your product or service) and how their lives are better for it.
Document this journey by answering the following questions:
- Who is the hero of the story?
- What are their needs and goals?
- What is their problem?
- How are they solving this problem?
- How can you help?
- What solution are you offering?
- What does a better future look like?
To help place your hero’s journey in a story, use our free brand storytelling template.
7. Make Writing Visually Appealing
If you want people to engage with your writing, make it easy to scan.
Readers make quick decisions about where they’re willing to spend their time. If it’s difficult for them to understand what they’ll get out of your content quickly, they’ll move on.
Make your business writing visually appealing and simple to read by structuring content to be easy on the eye:
- Use short paragraphs. Limit paragraphs to three sentences. One-sentence paragraphs are fine, but use them sparingly so you don’t interrupt the flow.
- Mix sentence length. Too many long sentences can be hard to follow. Use them sparingly alongside shorter sentences. Variation helps maintain flow.
- Use bullet points. For lists of three or more items (e.g., statistics, facts, or examples), use bullet points (like this one). Bullets make information easier to process.
- Write in a standardized font. Choose a font that is easy to read and accessible for screen readers. Arial and Helvetica are good choices. And 12 or 14 will be a good point size.
- Include headings and subheadings. Break up sections with subheadings. They make writing easy to scan and understand.
- Use white space. Create space between large chunks of text to give eyes time to rest. Spacing goes a long way in making your writing more visually pleasing.
- Add images, graphics, and screenshots. Include visual content to break up big chunks of text and add context. Visual content can also help readers visualize complex ideas.
For inspiration, look at how Semrush structures blog content (including the post you’re reading now).
Headings, bullet lists, and short paragraphs with lots of white space keep content scannable. Our formatting comes from years of analyzing how people read our content.
8. Include a Call to Action
A call to action (CTA) tells readers what you want them to do next and encourages them to follow instructions.
In this email from Passion Planner, for instance, a clear CTA lets readers know exactly how to act on the information in the message:
The email informs readers of a free habit tracker. And the large, easy-to-spot button at the bottom shows them how to get it with the instructions “Download Now.”
Generally, you want to stick to one or two CTAs per message, so you don’t overwhelm your audience. Keep it simple to help them take action.
You should also make each CTA specific and actionable. Avoid vague or abstract language.
For example, in an email request to a colleague, don’t simply say, “Please send over the report soon.” Give clear directions so there’s no doubt about what you want (and when): “Please send over the project progress report by Thursday.”
Clear instructions are more likely to be followed correctly.
9. Proofread, Then Proofread Again
Don’t publish a piece of writing until you’ve read back over it. While typos and small grammatical errors can seem trivial, they influence opinion.
A study by customer service platform Tidio found the following:
- 97.2% of people say grammar influences their general perception of a company
- 51.8% of people say grammar influences their perception of a company’s professionalism
- 34.9% of people say grammar influences their perception of a company’s credibility
Writing mistakes make people question your expertise, authority, and relevance. So before hitting send, review and revise your work:
- Set work aside. Step away from your writing for 24 to 48 hours. Returning to it with fresh eyes will give you a new perspective and make it easier to spot errors.
- Read your work out loud. Ask yourself: Does it sound like me/my business? Is the tone consistent? Are sentences clear?
- Use a spell-checker. Built-in spell-checkers in Google Docs and Microsoft Word, or a tool like Grammarly, can help you spot simple mistakes.
- Ask someone else to proofread. Another pair of eyes and additional perspective can help you find errors your brain doesn’t compute.
- Hire a professional proofreader. If you’re publishing writing for an important audience (e.g., investors or potential clients), an experienced proofreader will ensure people see your best work.
Following the above tips will improve your business writing skills. But it’s always nice to have a helping hand. The following tools and courses will help take your work to the next level:
Business Writing Tools
- Grammarly. Paste your text into Grammarly’s free editor to scan for spelling mistakes and over 250 types of grammar mistakes. A paid upgrade can also analyze tone and vocabulary.
- Hemingway App. Use Hemingway to improve readability, spot passive voice, and eliminate unnecessary adverbs
- Semrush SEO Writing Assistant. If you’re publishing content online, use our smart editor to optimize writing for search engines, improve engagement, and maintain a consistent tone
- Readable. Paste your text into this text-scoring tool to find out how easy your writing is to understand and get tips for improving readability
- Write for Business Templates. If you’re unsure what to write, use Write for Business’s Google Doc letter, memo, and form templates to get started
Business Writing Courses
- Coursera. The University of Colorado Boulder’s course shows you how to apply top principles in writing, organization, and structure to become a better business writer
- LinkedIn Learning. LinkedIn’s Business Writing Principles course shows you how to make writing clear, concise, and error-free. It also includes before-and-after samples to help you apply principles.
- Sydney University. This short online course teaches you frameworks and writing structures to improve your business communications
- HBR Guide to Better Business Writing. Not a course, but a valuable book to keep on your desk that includes tips to help you beat writer’s block, grab attention, and earn credibility
Review This 22-Point Business Writing Checklist Before You Press Publish
Use our checklist below to deliver the right message and keep readers engaged.
Communicate Clearly to Get Your Message Across
Clear, concise, and purposeful business writing results in effective communication. It’s easy to understand and act on.
Approach your writing from the perspective of your audience. Ask yourself, “What do they need to learn or accomplish?”
Then, define your purpose and let that guide your writing style and message. And make sure to keep business best practices in mind—from word choice to sentence length.
Make the effort to ensure your writing is useful and readable so that you get your message across to every reader, every time.