“Business writing” is a term that is difficult to define or explain. Two categories of business writing exist, with the first kind of business writing being the writing done in business. The challenge with that descriptor is that each industry/field and, in fact, each business within a particular field has distinctive writing practices and purposes for its writing (e.g. lawyers in different firms will use different formats for the same kind of letter; accountants at one firm might keep quite distinct written records of client requests than another; marketing promotional material will vary greatly from one firm to another).
A second category of business writing is the writing done in business fields for academic purposes. All fields of business are scholarly communities and their members write research papers and give conference presentations; the papers and the presentations, however, do not look the same. For example, academics in accounting, international business, transportation, marketing, human resources, and communication write fairly distinct journal articles using very different formats, methods of research, vocabulary, and so on.
In order to write for “business,” students must learn basic good writing principles – e.g. audience sensitivity; proper grammar and punctuation usage; basic letter, report, and research paper formats; and terms for important concepts in specific fields. They must also be flexible. Most students will work in a number of business fields and move from one firm to another. Knowing accepted basic practices, having sensitivity to audience preferences, and being flexible or responsive to changing requirements will allow students (who will become new business employees) to adapt to and transition into new ways of communicating.
Here, we have tried to educate students in the writing demands of both academic business writing and business/industry writing. The two categories are certainly “worlds apart” (Dias, Freedman, Medway & Paré, 1999), but learning about both will ensure that students move, more or less gracefully, from one to the other – and, perhaps, back.
This guide from Western Michigan University explains differences between academic business writing and writing in business.
Reference: Dias, P., Freedman, A., Medway, P., & Paré, A. (1999). Worlds apart: Acting and writing in academic and workplace contexts. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
What are the basics of good business writing? View this PowerPoint presentation for an overview of types of business writing and their purposes, as well as:
- reminders about your intended audience
- tips for success as you organize your material and as you write
- common errors
Business case analysis is a technique frequently used in management education to give students an opportunity to explore real life business situations and to put themselves in the shoes of business leaders. Read our overview of best practices:
This example is an early draft of a paper by Jan Myers written for publication. Dr. Myers was a professor in Dalhousie's Faculty of Management who later joined the Department of Human Resource Management at Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University.
This version of the paper includes annotations that explain Myers' stylistic choices and organizational strategy. Note that this draft of the paper uses Harvard style, in keeping with the standards of the Journal of European Industrial Training, the target audience.
The final version of the paper may be found through the following reference:
Myers, J. (2004). Developing managers: A view from the non-profit sector. Journal of European Industrial Training, 26 (8/9), 639-656. doi: 10.1108/03090590410566561
This example paper is a published article by Mary Brooks, a professor in the Faculty of Management at Dalhousie University. The article has been annotated with information regarding the author's stylistic choices and organizational strategy.
The article does not use APA style, which is common for management articles; standards vary among publications Refer to your instructor for the appropriate style to use for your paper.