Contributed by Barbara (Canberra ESL Team)

Struggling to write at your job is not an uncommon experience. Even some native speakers find it difficult to adapt their hard-won essay writing skills to the workplace. This isn’t surprising - business writing is a very different style from anything you have likely used before. In school, at university, and in the ESL classroom, we write to demonstrate what we have learnt. “Yesterday, I woke up, brushed my teeth, got dressed, and ate breakfast. After that, I took the bus to work, where I pushed paper around for 8 hours.” or “According to Heidegger, the existential spatiality of Dasein is characterized most fundamentally by what he calls de-severance…

By contrast, in business writing, we write concisely and with a clear purpose. Consider this example from a post-meeting email to a colleague: “After our team meeting on Friday, we agreed to prepare a final report. The report will be presented at next month’s all-staff meeting.” The world of business moves fast, and the writing reflects this. In business, we write to communicate what we need and what we want the reader to do. We write for action.

Adapting and refining your business writing skills takes time. To get you started, here is my list of the 7 golden rules for business writing:


1. Use authoritative, active language.

Whether in an email, presentation, or formal business report, it’s important to speak with authority, confidence and active language. You’re the expert - don’t be afraid to write that way. Active language focuses on the action and who does the action (e.g. ”I told my boss about this matter.”) Passive language puts the focus on who received the action (e.g. “My boss was told about the problem.”) Passive language has a place in business writing, but it should rarely be used.


2. Use the same writing style throughout your document.

If you start your email with “To whom it may concern” continue writing in this formal tone. Don’t sign off your email with “Cheers!” Rather, choose endings such as “Sincerely” or “Yours Respectfully”. Consistency is key!


3. Keep your language friendly, professional, respectful, and concise.

You are writing for a reason. Chances are you want your reader to do something for you. Showing your reader professional courtesy and respect while being polite is more likely to get you the result you need - action! Don’t forget that the world of business moves fast, your reader has very little time.


4. Each sentence should only give the reader one new piece of information.

If one sentence has two pieces of information, break it into two sentences. If the sentence has more than three pieces of information, consider making a bullet list.


5. Each paragraph should only discuss one main point.

If you find yourself talking about something else, start a new paragraph.


6. Never use a long word where you can use a short word.

Your reader is smart, but big words take time to read and understand. Remember - business moves fast, if your reader can’t understand in one pass, they will unlikely have the time to read through it again.


7. No more than 23 words in a sentence!

Contractions count in this case! In a pinch, you can include 25 words but aim for only 23. If a word isn’t adding new meaning, delete it.


At ESL Tutoring Services, we aim to help our students to succeed in all areas of their life, including business writing. If the 23-word limit seems impossible, or for customised lessons with focused feedback to take your business writing to the next level, book in for a session with one of our highly trained tutors at ESL Tutoring Services. Contact us to learn more about what we can offer through the form on our page, alternatively you can email us at or call 1300 137 186.


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