General Rules for Business Communication

This resource was prepared by the Business Communications Lab at the Sam M. Walton College of Business
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Business communication is about exchanging information. In order for business communication to be successful, the information has to be clear, concise, and comprehensive. While the information is the core of the exchange, the way the information is delivered can determine the success or failure of the transaction. Business communication depends on the reader receiving and understanding enough relevant information to make informed decisions.

Determining what constitutes as relevant will depend on audience analysis. Once you know who your audience is, and what they need to know, you can customize the tone, front-load the information, and write with concision.

What does it mean to be audience-driven?

Effective business communication is audience-driven. Analyze the individual or group whom you intend to address. Ask yourself, “Who are they? What do they know? And what do they need to know?” Answering these questions will determine the specifics of your message and will shape which details to include/exclude.

Note that business communication relies on brevity; do not include all the details, only give vital and relevant information. In other words, tell them only what they need to know. This is what it means to be comprehensive; to provide enough information for your audience to understand you.

What is tone?

It’s not what you say, but how you say it. The tone is the way the message sounds. Think of tone as the attitude of the writing. Your situation will dictate your tone. For example, you would speak differently to a peer than a supervisor or CEO. After you have considered your audience, consider your tone. How should you sound? Formal? Personal? Humorous? Sad? Remember that professionalism is key to successful business communication.

Examples of tone:

INEFFECTIVE: It’s very important that YOU COME PREPARED TO THE MEETING. Notice how the use of all caps seems demanding.

EFFECTIVE: It’s very important that you come prepared to the meeting. Note how the tone is more positive, less directive, yet still firm and to-the-point.

What is front-loading?

Communicating in a front-loaded manner means to get straight to the point. In short, put the main idea first and then follow with explanations and examples. Most readers skim, especially when pressed for time, so placing the purpose of the communication first allows the audience to understand the purpose of the communication quickly and efficiently.

Examples of front-loading information:

INEFFECTIVE: In a meeting with our director this morning we went over several changes in the company policies and procedures. It was a very productive meeting and we made some major progress on many things. We are especially excited about the upcoming company-wide conference next quarter. I know many of our floor managers were wondering about the possible change in the production processes and whether or not deadlines would be met with the possibility of upcoming changes. I just wanted to let you all know that the new changes will be implemented next quarter and all can continue as normal until further notice. Notice how the purpose of the message is last. The audience may mistakenly think the message may not be for them and stop reading before they get to the point.

EFFECTIVE: Our director has informed me that floor processes can continue as normal for the time-being. However, new processes will be implemented in the next quarter. We will keep floor manages updated on the timing and changes. Notice how this example gets straight to the message and then includes the details immediately after.

What is concise writing?

Concise communication eliminates all unnecessary jargon. In short, it gets to the point. Concision is an important element of business communication because it provides the information without all of the “fluff.” You avoid having too many long and complex sentences and avoid nominalizing verbs. For example:

Wordy: The board’s recommendation is the consideration of the development of software.

Concise: The board recommends that we consider developing software.

 

You avoid redundancy (e.g., free gift, extra bonus, unintended mistake) and “fluffing up” your communication with unnecessary modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) For example:

 

Wordy: I really hope you will truly consider this very amazing, once-in-a-lifetime offer.

Concise: I hope you will consider this offer.

Replace wordy phrases with shorter ones. For example:

 

Due to the fact that à Because          In spite of the fact that à Although

In the event that à If                        At the present time à Now

 

Avoid filler phrases that do not really mean anything. For example:

Be advised that                                 Please do not hesitate to

It is important to note that                  I am writing this to inform you that

 

Example of concise writing:

INEFFECTIVE: According to quality-control best practices with our innovative products, it is vital that every single component part that is a part of our packaging process be individually checked after it is received from the supplier before the final product is finally assembled.

EFFECTIVE: Quality-control requires that each component be checked individually before the final product is assembled. Notice how the message has not been compromised and the directions are clear.

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