5 Business Writing Guidelines for the Class of 2013

This post is by Helen Cunningham and Brenda Greene, authors of “The Business Style Handbook, An A-to-Z Guide for Effective Writing on the Job.” 

You’ve graduated. Congratulations and welcome to the business world. It’s competitive out there, so give yourself an edge: Adapt your writing style to the workplace now. Distinguish yourself by showing your employer you know how to communicate effectively on the job.

If you think you can sit back on your engineering degree and leave the writing to others, it’s time to reconsider.  And remember, you’re already a writer. Even if you weren’t producing academic papers, you’re practiced at writing texts, emails and social media content.

“Writing on the job has to be direct and action-oriented, with no fluff,” said Margaret Sinsky, who joined Yelp in 2013 as an account executive after graduating from Seattle University in 2012. “Cut-to-the-chase is a priority. You need to be concise and get it right the first time – and that’s been a big difference.” At school, she noted, when writing a paper, you edit it, think about it, make changes. In business, you rarely have that luxury.

Here are some other shifts.


“Another big thing for me was the tone – you have to get used to a certain formality in business,” said Sinsky, who said that although the environment at Yelp is fairly informal, communication with people outside the company is formal. “You also have to make sure your messages sound confident and respectful.”

And don’t transfer a texting tone to the workplace. “Texting is for people you know; the tone is casual and more excitable, with lots of emoticons and exclamation points,” said Sinsky, who had to make a conscious effort to stop using them at work. “As a professional, you need to sound more level and less emotional.”

How do you get the tone right? “It comes with practice and by looking at the people around you for examples of good writing,” she said, adding that Yelp has a mentor program, document templates and other resources to help new hires get up to speed.


In school, you mainly communicate with friends, classmates, professors and family. “On the job, you’re often dealing with people you don’t know, so you need to think about the image you’re projecting, both for yourself and the company,” said Sinsky.


Every company has commonly used phrases – like “Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.”   Be attuned to them and weave them into your communications. “At first, it feels awkward,” Sinsky said, “but  once you become comfortable with it, you start using them without even noticing – and it makes the job easier.”

And eliminate words that slow communication down, like therefore, however and in order to. Time and space are at a premium at work. You need to come to the point quickly.


If you’ve made a habit of exercising caution on social media platforms, that policy will serve you well in business. “Being careful on social media parallels the caution needed in workplace communications,” said Sinsky. “You always have to remember that anything you write on the job has bigger implications, for you and the company.”  Also be aware there is no such thing as privacy on email or other company systems.

Spelling, grammar, punctuation

Drop the texting conventions and brush up on your grammar. Capitalize as appropriate; spell out words; use proper punctuation; write in complete sentences; avoid run-on sentences; spellcheck and proofread. For questions of tone or style, ask your manager or use a stylebook.

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  • http://buildingbrandyou.com/ Cyndee Woolley

    Job applicants should watch and listen to the culture of the company early on to pick up on the correct tone for their communication. Advancing in a position is much easier when you are in line with the company brand.

    • http://www.amazon.com/Business-Style-Handbook-Second-Edition/dp/0071800107/ref=dp_ob_title_bk Helen and Brenda

      Great comment, Cyndee. Every company has its own culture and communication style, so when you’re new to a job, observe how others communicate and adapt your style accordingly.

      Thanks, Helen and Brenda