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Chapter 4 Effective Business Writing

However great…natural talent may be, the art of writing cannot be learned all at once.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Read, read, read…Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master.

William Faulkner

You only learn to be a better writer by actually writing.

Doris Lessing

Getting Started

Introductory Exercises

  1. Take a moment to write three words that describe your success in writing.
  2. Make a list of words that you associate with writing. Compare your list with those of your classmates.
  3. Briefly describe your experience writing and include one link to something you like to read in your post.

Something we often hear in business is, “Get it in writing.” This advice is meant to prevent misunderstandings based on what one person thought the other person said. But does written communication—getting it in writing—always prevent misunderstandings?

According to a Washington Post news story, a written agreement would have been helpful to an airline customer named Mike. A victim of an airport mishap, Mike was given vouchers for $7,500 worth of free travel. However, in accordance with the airline’s standard policy, the vouchers were due to expire in twelve months. When Mike saw that he and his wife would not be able to do enough flying to use the entire amount before the expiration date, he called the airline and asked for an extension. He was told the airline would extend the deadline, but later discovered they were willing to do so at only 50 percent of the vouchers’ value. An airline spokesman told the newspaper, “If [Mike] can produce a letter stating that we would give the full value of the vouchers, he should produce it.”Oldenburg, D. (2005, April 12). Old adage holds: Get it in writing. Washington Post, p. C10. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A45309-2005Apr11.html

Yet, as we will see in this chapter, putting something in writing is not always a foolproof way to ensure accuracy and understanding. A written communication is only as accurate as the writer’s knowledge of the subject and audience, and understanding depends on how well the writer captures the reader’s attention.

This chapter addresses the written word in a business context. We will also briefly consider the symbols, design, font, timing, and related nonverbal expressions you make when composing a page or document. Our discussions will focus on effective communication of your thoughts and ideas through writing that is clear, concise, and efficient.