5 Essentials of Effective Business Writing

1. Clarity – This aspect tops William Zinsser’s four principles of good English and many writing teachers’ lists. Effective business writing is easy to understand. It leaves readers without questions. Clear thinking leads to clear writing.

As part of effective business writing, a fountain pen writes on a lined sheet of paper in black ink.

Example (blog post): The Elder Law Center of Kirson and Fuller: How Much Money Can You Give Away and Still Qualify for Medicaid?

One way to test writing for clarity is to check the readability level. The longer the words and sentences, the higher the reading level, which goes by grade-school levels. To reach more people, grammar experts prefer writing that reads at a sixth-grade level.

Depending on your readership, aim for higher or lower levels. Measure them with the Flesch-Kincaid scale or the Hemingway App, which calculates the readability and highlights passages in a work that affect it.

2. Conciseness – Concise writing includes only the information a reader needs to understand it. As Strunk and White advised in “The Elements of Style,” every word or sentence doesn’t have to be short, but every word should “tell.” Essentially, remove passages that detract from the meaning of the work, are vague, or repeat the same information. Concise content is written in plain English — like you speak — free of jargon.

Example: In order to process your order, we need more information.
Revised: To process your order, we need your shipping address.

3. Correctness – Effective business writing meets basic grammar rules and contains proper spelling and punctuation. Beyond that, views on style vary. Depending on the style you prefer, you may format words or punctuation differently.

Example: The term “health care”: some organizations don’t place a space between the words (“healthcare”).

Regarding facts, AI software can “hallucinate,” or make up information and sources. Verify any data and prefer reputable sources.

4. Tone – Zinsser calls this “humanity.” Your target audience, your subject matter, and the type of document you’re writing can determine the proper emotion to convey. In some contexts, humor requires care because not everyone can get the joke or find it appropriate. AI software could write in a flat tone. Sentences written in the passive voice are also emotionless, as they avoid referring to the subject (“Mistakes were made.”). While you write to them, slip on your readers’ shoes and imagine how they think and feel.

5. Scannability – Online, people tend to skim rather than read text fully. Formatting for scannability also aids accessibility. If you think more verbally than visually, you can overlook this part of effective business writing.

For example, sort items in a series with bullet points or organize related, but separate sentences into a numbered list. Separate blocks of paragraphs with graphics or subheadings. (If your paragraphs are long, they might need more editing.) Words highlighted with hyperlinks stand out.

To assess whether to format for scannability, the Digital Marketing Institute suggests taking the five-second usability test:

  • If you see a web page for five seconds, can you recall important parts of it?
  • Did you notice the purpose of the content?
  • Did you see which steps the author wanted you to take next?

Boost your business writing with one-on-one advice that solves your writing problems.


What do you think are hallmarks of effective business writing? Feel free to comment below.


“Never use jargon words like ‘reconceptualize,’ ‘demassification,’ ‘additudinally,’ ‘judgementally.’ They are the hallmarks of a pretentious ass.” ~ David Ogilvy

“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” ~ Lee Iacocca

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