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  Home > InfoWrite > Special Kinds of Writing > Business and Technical Writing

InfoTrac College Edition

Business and Technical Writing

Once you graduate and enter the workforce, you will communicate with others through a variety of documents, ranging from brief email notes to lengthy reports and proposals. Although executives, managers, scientists, and professionals follow the basic rules of English grammar, there are significant differences between academic and business writing:

*     Business writing occurs in a specific context
The tone, style, diction, and format of business and professional documents are greatly shaped by the history of the organization, the discipline, the reader, extended audience, and topic. The writing style suited for an ad agency or interior decorator might be considered unprofessional in a law or accounting firm. A corporation that has experienced strikes and layoffs will address employees differently than a firm with good labor relations. When you write you will have to consider the nature of your career, the image and history of the organization, your superiors' concerns, and the needs and expectations of your reader.
*     Business writing focuses on specific readers
In college you write for professors in specific disciplines. You do not have to worry if they will understand specialized terms or be familiar with background information on the subject. In addition, professors are expected to be objective readers, evaluating your work on its presentation rather than its point of view. In business writing you may find yourself addressing people with limited knowledge of your particular field or readers hostile to your ideas or the organization you represent. Readers will not be objective. They may have fixed views and resist your recommendations.
*     Business writing emphasizes results
College writing demonstrates skills. Your professors are less interested in your opinions and more concerned in the way you develop and support your thesis. In an algebra class, for instance, the numbers are abstract and have no value. Getting the right answer is less important than demonstrating the ability to solve problems. In business and industry, ideas and answers mean money. You are not simply seeking to demonstrate your knowledge but to urge readers to accept your recommendations, purchase your products, or accept your proposals. You will be asking people to invest large sums of money or make commitments involving substantial resources.
*     Business writing is conscious of legal implications
Letters, reports, and contracts can become legal documents. Writers are careful to avoid making statements they cannot support. A poorly worded phrase, even a grammar error, can place writers in legal jeopardy, exposing them and their employers to litigation.
*     Business writing represents the views of others.
In college your papers are individual creations and can express personal views, but in your career you will likely work as a representative of a corporation, organization, partnership, or agency.
* Never write anything that would be unacceptable to to your employer.
* Avoid making promises or commitments unless you know that your organization or employer will honor them.
* Become familiar with company policies regarding questions, disputes, claims, and disputes. Do not take action on your own unless you follow established procedures.
* Never use official stationery for personal letters.


Perhaps the first business document you will have to produce is a resume. Before undertaking this often frustrating task, it is important to understand what a resume is:

*     A resume is a ten second advertisement
Research has revealed that the average executive spends about ten seconds skimming a resume before rejecting it or setting it aside for further review.
*     A resume is not a list of every job you have had or a description of your ultimate goal in life -- it is ad presenting facts and accomplishments relevant to a specific position.
*     The goal of a resume is to secure an interview, not a job
Few, if any applicants, are hired solely on the basis of a one or two page document. The goal of a resume is simply to generate enough interest in the applicant to prompt the employer to schedule an interview.
* Present only the key highlights of your career and education.
*     Applicants usually benefit from having more than one resume
Just as companies design different advertisements to market the same product to different consumers, you may have three or four resumes. An accounting major may have one resume emphasizing auditing expertise and another stressing tax experience.
* Because they are read quickly, highly targeted resumes addressing a single job are more effective than general statements.


1.     Understand that there are no absolute rules in writing effective resumes -- only guidelines.
You may have heard that a resume must be only one page, that it is useless to list hobbies, or that you should never mention your age. Because there is such a range of jobs and applicants, there are instances where "breaking" the rules may be the only effective way of getting attention. An actor's resume is usually accompanied with a photograph. A restaurant manager once secured an interview by designing a resume in the form of a menu.
2.     Focus your resume by carefully reading the want ad or job description.
Note the key requirements employers seek and highlight those skills. Pay attention to key words and phrases and determine if you can repeat them in your resume.
3.     Include your full name, address, telephone number with area code, or email address.
* If you are in the process of moving, you can list two addresses.
4.     Provide a clear objective statement describing the job you seek.
Avoid using general statements such as "A position making use of my skills and abilities" or one that lists too many job titles: "Sales Manager/Marketing Manager/Advertising Director."
Broad objectives make applicants appear indecisive or desperate. It is better to have specific statements: A position in publishing design making use of my experience in graphics.

Assistant Sales Manager
5.     Use a short SUMMARY or OVERVIEW statement to encapsulate key elements in your background.
A short paragraph describing your background, goals, and skills can personalize a resume. It can encourage the reader to view your experience in a certain light, showing how seemingly unrelated jobs or education would be relevant to the job you seek:

Textbook sales

Ten years experience in textbook sales. Increased territory 25% in eighteen months. Introduced on-line marketing. Reduced service budget 18% in first six months. Received extensive sales training as agent for New York Life.

Security consultant

* FBI agent 1980-2000
* Conducted computer fraud investigations for Banker's Life, General Motors Credit Corporation, Miller Brewing, and Westwood Industries.
* Trained New York City detectives in on-line investigative methods.

* You may find it easier to write the summary last, after you have identified your key strengths.
6.     Open your resume with your strongest and most recent credentials.
If you have professional experience, you may find it more effective to highlight your recent job than a new degree. If you are unsure which area to highlight, prepare two resumes, one emphasizing experience and the other stressing education.
* You can use both resumes, selecting the version that best matches a particular job. Before applying to a number of positions, send out a small number of resumes to identify which version produces the best results.
7.     Arrange education and experience chronologically, beginning with the most recent.
8.     If you are a recent graduate with little professional experience, list significant courses, awards, grade point averages, and honors.
* If you have worked as an intern or completed clinical work, place this under the heading Experience rather than Education:

    Intern in marketing program directly assisting two managers introducing new consumer products.
      * Wrote two sales brochures for national distribution.
      * Edited text of promotional video.
      * Attended national sales seminars.
9.     Stress individual accomplishments
Briefly list dates of employment, title, and general job description, then provide examples of specific skills and experiences.
* Use verb phrases to give your resume a sense of action:
1999-     Sales Manager in Miami's third largest book store responsible for hiring, training, purchasing, and promotions.
      * Lowered employee turnover 25% in first year.
      * Resigned promotions to increase point of purchase stationery supplies from $25,000 to $87,500 in first year.
      * Organized book signing receptions drawing national media coverage.
10.     List training seminars, volunteer work, hobbies, and military service only if directly related to the position.
A resume is a fact sheet listing your key skills and experiences. Secondary information can be included in a cover letter or mentioned at a job interview.


Review the following resumes. Each represents a different student with a range of education and experience.

1010 St. Paul Street
Denver, CO 17452
(303) 388-4810
OBJECTIVE     An entry level marketing position in a financial institution offering opportunities for advancement.
Bachelor Degree in Business Administration, 2000
Principal courses in marketing, telemarketing, advertising, and communications.
Minor in English
GPA: 3.8
Intern directly assisting marketing director.
2000     * Edited and revised direct mail promotional literature.
* Assisted in writing script for promotional video distributed at national banking conventions in New York, Chicago, and San Diego.
Bartender working 15-20 hours a week while attending college.
1999-2000     * Acted as assistant manager, scheduling employees and ordering supplies.
* Prepared financial records for annual audit.
HONORS     Dean's List in last four semesters
PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS     International Association of Business Communicators
American Marketing Association
Willing to Relocate


Victoria Cardona
2002 Areo Court
San Diego, CA 92123
(619) 563-7804
Objective     Legal Assistant specializing in civil litigation
Summary     Detail-oriented researcher. Accustomed to organizing documents for legal review. Strong communications skills. Fluent legal Spanish.
Education     ROOSEVELT UNIVERSITY, Chicago, IL
Lawyer's Assistant Program, ABA approved, 2000
Graduate Level Certificate Program

Completed post-graduate extensive paralegal training course, including 50 hours legal research and 150 hours of specialized litigation study.

BA, English 1998
1992-1994     Program Analyst reviewing proposals and monitoring programs organized by anti-crime groups seeking LEAA grants administered through governor's office.
      * Monitored 40 approved programs in spending and hiring policies.
      * Assisted in preparing materials for grant renewal.
      * Secured private funding following grant expiration.
      Program Director of LEAA funded program assisting ex-offenders and their families.
      * Worked directly with California Correctional Legal Services, a private United Fund recipient assisting ex-offenders resolve legal issues.
      * Developed job placement network assisting ex-offenders through weekly speaking engagements to business and civic organizations.
References     Available on Request


The content and format of business letters is dictated by the industry or organization. Many companies will have style manuals that illustrate how the text of letters should be arranged on the page. No matter how the text is displayed, however, it is important that your letters and reports are accurate, objective, and reader-oriented.
*     Avoid false elegance and wordy expressions:
render a study of
strike situation
inclement weather conditions
inclement weather
*     Maintain a "you" attitude. Focus on the needs of the reader.
*     Maintain a positive attitude. Examine the tone of the following letters. Both state the same message -- that Downey & Gelb will not make a charitable donation to a scholarship fund.
Dear Ms. Lendel:
We regret to inform you that Downey & Gelb will be unable to contribute to your scholarship fund. We are swamped with so many requests each year, that we establish a budget for charitable contributions. As our funds are exhausted, we are unable to honor your request. We hope that you appreciate our situation.
    Dear Ms. Lendel:
We congratulate you on the work you are doing to assist local students. At Downey & Gelb, we are interested in being good corporate citizens. That is why each year we dedicate as many resources as we can to support community development. As our funds for this year have already been pledged, we will place your organization under consideration for next year.

What image of Downey & Gelb does each letter project?

Consider how even routine correspondence can influence how people perceive an organization.

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From The Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark Connelly.