Posted by: wordsmithsuk | March 22, 2013

Business writing – the good, the bad and the ugly

Professional business writers read a lot, and they read reports, emails and even posters or notices actively. This means that they look at anything with a IMG_0443critical eye and decide whether it is good or bad.  If they decide a piece of writing is good, they anlyse what is it that makes it good (or effective or successful or enjoyable to read). If they decide a piece of writing is bad, they analyse what is it that makes it bad (or unsuccessful or boring or irritating to read). If something fails as a document, I will often try to work out how it could
be improved.

The picture above shows a notice that appears in the bathrooms of a leading hotel chain. What a mouth full! I think it would be much quicker and simpler to say something like:

This bath has been treated with a non-slip surface. But please ask for a bath mat if you need extra comfort and safety while you are taking a shower

A key step in developing your own abilities as a writer is to train yourself to identify the good features (which you will try to copy) and the bad features (which you will try to avoid) of any business document.

The points that you identify may be concerned with style, tone, content, user-friendliness, layout, design and language. By changing all the negatives to positives, you can come up with a list of quality criteria which you will try to meet in your own writing. For example, if ‘too many words on the page’ is a negative, then ‘page not overloaded with words’ is your standard style.

A group of writers who took part in this activity during a recent training workshop came up with the following list:


  • Page not overloaded with words
  • Appropriate use of colour in text
  • Plenty of white space
  • Looks appealing
  • Material split into paragraphs and topics

  • Jargon avoided
  • User friendly language
  • 1 idea per sentence
  • 1 topic per paragraph
  • Maximum of 5 sentences per paragraph.

  • Clear, logical layout
  • Fonts used are easy to read
  • Text highlighted using ‘icons’/boxes etc

  • Graphics such as pictures, photographs, diagrams, forms, tables help to break up the text and make it more ‘user- friendly’
  • Graphics are appropriate and

  • Purpose of the document clear
  • Logical structure
  • Contents listed to ease navigation
  • Additional material in appendices

  • Consistent use of capitalisation and hyphenation throughout
  • Correct grammar and spelling
  • Document written in plain English

You can use your own list in a number of ways:

  • Refer to it while you are writing to make sure that you are continuing to meet your own standards
  • Use it to review your first draft and to decide what changes need to be made
  • Refer to it when evaluating materials that you are editing or rewriting.
  • Use it as the basis for a personal or team style guide which you and your whole team will use to ensure accuracy and consistency in anything that you write.

Our lovely audio book Effective Business Writing for Success is packed with techniques and tips for becoming a better business writer. Find out more about this on our website.

What do you like or dislike about the reports, emails and business papers that you read? I’d love to hear about your pet loves and hates!




  1. Short, sweet and to the point

  2. Reblogged this on Bambusa Solutions and commented:
    I do a lot of business writing (and re-writing) in my 9-to-5 job. This is a great and simple guide to how it’s done.

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