“Ugh, writing.” I can hear you saying this now. “That’s not my job!”

Nope. If you ever make a recommendation to a client, provide analysis, or even just want to order lunch, then it’s your job.

First, throw out everything they taught you in 8th grade English Composition. Business writing is not like other writing. Unlike academic writing, you don’t gradually build to a crescendo of conclusion. Start with the conclusion, then explain how you got there.

Use this structure

  1. Summary of why you are writing and what the reader will learn. Use 2-3 sentences, at most.
  2. Your conclusion or recommendation. Be blunt. This is a call to action.
  3. Arguments supporting your recommendation.
  4. Supporting data and analyses.
  5. Restate your conclusion or recommendation. You are repeating this to drive it home.

Principles

  • Get to the point. Put the bottom-line up front. (The military calls this BLUF.)
  • Assume your reader has little time and a short attention span. Don’t waste their time.
  • Have a firm recommendation and analysis of the issue your reader needs to act on. Do not ramble, insert extraneous detail, or stray from the point. You do not need to entertain: a clearly and concisely stated opinion with analysis to back it up is interesting in itself.
  • Give your recommendation or conclusion immediately, while you still have the reader’s attention. Then back it up with analysis, facts and data.
  • What’s in it for me? People are selfish. Tell your reader what they get from this.
  • Have a clear goal. Remove anything that does not contribute to that goal.

Guide your reader

  • Organize with section headings.
  • Use lists or bullet points to organize several points that are related.
  • Are you explaining data? Try a table or a chart.

Make it readable

  • Use fewer words. Ask yourself about every single word and sentence: can I take this out without losing meaning?
  • Keep it simple. If it seems complicated to you, it’s straight up incomprehensibleto your reader.
  • Don’t use a long word where a short one will do. Example: Instead of “utilize”, say “use”. (And instead of “incomprehensible”, say “confusing”.)
  • 8*Don’t use several words where one will do.** Example: Instead of “this is indicative of”, say “this indicates”.
  • 8*Jargon is ok if** you are sure your reader shares it. (Are you sure? Really sure? ELI-5 sure?)
  • Be direct. For example:
    • Bad: “consumer-oriented smartphone software that allows communication between home and restaurant”
    • Good: “a food-delivery app”

Cite your sources

  • Citations are much more credible than your opinion, unless you are acknowledged as an expert on the subject.
    • Pro tip: You probably are not an acknowledged expert yet.
  • The purpose of a citation is to:
    • Give credit where credit is due
    • Allow the reader to independently verify you ** Give an indication of the source so the reader can form an opinion of its validity
  • Citing credible sources makes your writing more credible.
  • SEO: If you are writing for the public, this helps show your “E-A-T” – expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness – to Google.

Lastly…

Don’t be afraid to say it like it is. Your reader will thank you.