Chapter 6: Writing

Although I usually think I know what I’m going to be writing about, what I’m going to say, most of the time it doesn’t happen that way at all. At some point I get misled down a garden path, I get surprised by an idea that I hadn’t anticipated getting, which is a little bit like being in a laboratory.
–Lewis Thomas

Getting Started

Introductory Exercises

1. Match each statement in the left column with the most appropriate mode of communication in the right column, and note why.

___ 1. Need the sales figures for the last month available in three days A. Text message or instant message (IM)
___ 2. Inform department employees of face-to-face (F2F) meeting next month B. E-mail
___ 3. International client requests price quote C. Fax
___ 4. Assigned to investigate partnership with supplier to codevelop a new product D. Report
___ 5. Need to inform employee of a discrepancy in their expense report E. Proposal
___ 6. Need to facilitate meeting with two department managers from two distinct time zones. F. Face-to-face (F2F) meeting, interpersonal interaction
___ 7. Need to follow up with customer post sale G. F2F meeting, group or team
___ 8. Need to contact new prospective customer H. Meeting (mediated), teleconference or videoconference

There are no right or wrong answers to this matching exercise, but there are strengths and weaknesses associated with each mode. Does the information need to be received as soon as possible? Will the document require time and preparation? Will the result be comprehensive and require visual representation of data, trends, and their relationships(s)? Associate each statement with what you consider the most appropriate model of communication and note why. Discuss your responses with your classmates.

Introductory Exercises (cont.)

2. These sentences focus on some of the most common errors in English. Can you fill in the blanks correctly?

1. accept or except The office will _______ applications until 5 p.m. on the 31st. accept Attendance is required for all employees _______ supervisors. except
2. affect or effect To _______ the growth of plants, we can regulate the water supply. affect A lack of water has a predictable _______ on most plants. effect
3. e.g. or i.e. Please order 2,000 imprinted giveaways (_______, pens or coffee mugs) e.g. Charge them to my account (_______, account #98765). i.e.
4. its or it’s The department surpassed _______ previous sales record this quarter. its _______ my opinion that we reached peak oil in 2008. It’s
5. lay or lie Please _______ the report on the desk. lay The doctor asked him to _______ down on the examination table. lie
6. pressure or pressurize We need to _______ the liquid nitrogen tanks. pressurize It might be possible to _______ him to resign. pressure
7. principle or principal It’s the basic _________ of farming: no water, no food. principle The _______ reason for the trip is to attend the sales meeting. principal
8. regardless or irregardless _______ of what we do, gas prices are unlikely to go back down. Regardless _______ of your beliefs, please try to listen with an open mind. Regardless (irregardless is not a standard word; see your dictionary)
9. than or then This year’s losses were worse _______ last year’s. than If we can cut our costs, _______ it might be possible to break even. then
10. that or which _______ type of marketing data did you need? Which Karen misplaced the report, _______ caused a delay in making a decision. which
There are several kinds of data _______ could be useful. that
11 there their, or they’re The report is _________, in the top file drawer. there __________ strategic advantage depends on a wide distribution network. Their
__________ planning to attend the sales meeting in Pittsburgh. They’re
12. to too, or two Customers need _______ drive slower if they want to save gas. to After sales meeting, you should visit customers in the Pittsburgh area _______. too
In fact, the _______ of you should make some customer visits together. two
13. uninterested or disinterested He would be the best person to make a decision, since he isn’t biased and is relatively _______ in the outcome. disinterested The sales manager tried to speak dynamically, but the sales reps were simply _______ in what he had to say. uninterested
14. who, whom, who’s, or whose __________ truck is that? Whose __________ going to pay for the repairs? Who’s
__________ will go to the interview? Who To __________ should we address the thank-you note? whom
15 your or you’re My office is bigger than _______ cubicle. your _______ going to learn how to avoid making these common mistakes in English. You’re

If all the world is a stage then you, as a business writer, must be the script writer, correct? Actually, those who employ you, specify your job duties, manage the business, and designate which problems you are to solve are more like the script writers, directors, and producers. So what role does that leave you as a business writer? Actor. You may not be seen “on stage” by the suppliers you write, the departments you inform with your reports, or the customers you serve, but your writing represents you and your organization. As an actor must learn his or her lines, you too must learn the role of a business writer within the context of your business or organization. It may well be that you are allowed a degree of improvisation and creativity when you interpret your role, or it could be the case that many of the written documents you will produce follow a standard template, much like a script, that designates your lines before the writing process begins. Knowing your place on stage and how it relates to your business is an important aspect of business writing best not ignored.

This chapter focuses on several strategies for success when it comes to the creative process of writing, and your awareness of these skills will prove invaluable as your responsibility increases and your ability to shape documents develops. Never lose sight of the fact that each document exists with a universe of relationships and interaction; it does not stand alone. Also remember that what you write today, particularly if you “publish” it on the Internet, will be there for years to come. Always consider how your words will represent you and your organization when you are not there to clarify, defend, or correct them. Your audience will have expectations of you, as will your employer, and as an effective business writer you know that one key to success is meeting these expectations.

Creative writing for exposition, narration, and self-expression is an important part of writing, but in the business context you have a role, job duties, and responsibilities both internal and external to your organization. Your mastery of clear and concise writing will directly affect the interpretation, and misinterpretation, of your message. Your goal remains to reduce misunderstandings through the effective and efficient use of words in business documents, and the well-known mandate to “Omit needless words” stands true. Up to this point you have been preparing to write, but now the moment has come for performance.


Strunk, W., Jr., & White, E. B. (1979). The elements of style (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Macmillian.


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