3 Idiot Proof Principles for Effective Business Writing

January 27, 2014

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3 Idiot Proof Principles for Effective Business Writing

When you are an entrepreneur, no matter the business, your job demands some level of effective writing. Here at Flight Media, our job consistently requires us to write proposals, company documents, business articles, marketing strategies, business plans, etc. Even the day-to-day communication with co-workers and clients calls for us to effectively communicate in the form of writing. A survey by discovered that most professionals use 40 percent of their day just in emailing alone — the survey clearly states that 1/3 of those emails are deemed a waste of time. In the U.S. alone, that is equivalent to 300 billion dollars wasted a year in communication. There seems to be a problem here. With every problem, however, there is a solution. Jack E. Appleman wrote a wonderful book titled, “10 Steps to Successful Business Writing.” A section of this book suggests that business writing is typical purposed around 4 aspects:

  1. To explain a situation
  2. To suggest solutions to a problem
  3. To offer instructions
  4. To recommend action

By reading this book, teamed up with my years of experience in business writing, I have drawn out 3 Idiot Proof Principles to Effective Business Writing.

1. Understand Your Audience

Before you even start writing, you need to understand your audience and what you are trying to communicate to them. Unless you are writing in your personal journal, you have some type of audience and you need to understand them and know how to address them. I always ask myself questions as I begin to write.

  • Is this piece of writing even necessary? If so, why?
  • Who am I addressing?
  • What purpose does the writing serve?
  • Which type of action do I want them to take, when they are done reading?

Sometimes, to further understand your audience, you have to think like them and converse with yourself. Pretend that your piece of writing is a verbal dialogue between you and your audience. What would you say? How would they respond? What type of information is necessary and what information needs to be left out? What do they want to hear? Start answering questions by having a conversation in your head. This allows you to truly understand your audience by simplifying your approach.

2. Stay Structured

I always begin with an index of points for whatever piece of writing I am creating, in order to stay structured. You can use bullet lists or numbers to jot down focal points of your writing. Once this list is created, go back through and ‘beef up’ the list by adding subcategories. For example, when we were drawing up plans for our 2014 inbound marketing strategy, we started with a list that may have looked like this: A. Purpose for focusing on inbound B. Execution of strategy C. Related costs D. Goals, milestones, ROI E. Examples of companies that do it right Once the main points were indexed, we began adding detail by subcategorizing each point.

A. Purpose for focusing on inbound

  • Increase sales
  • Minimize time and resources spent on outbound marketing
  • Scale the company more rapidly
  • Increase prices for products since customers are coming to us

B. Execution of strategy

  • Focus on content marketing
  • Create a product offer continuum system
  • Write eBooks to increase inbound leads
  • Use social marketing to leverage traffic
  • Create several effective landing pages
  • Develop a series of conversion focused CTA’s (Calls to action)

C. Related costs

  • Time invested
  • Writers
  • Social media management
  • Web development
  • Graphic design

D. Goals, milestones, ROI

  • To see a 60-80% shift from outbound to inbound marketing and sales
  • Increasing traffic by over 1200%
  • Increasing leads by over 500%

E. Examples of companies that do it right

As you can see, a very clear picture begins to be painted as you structure a blueprint for your writing piece. From here, we were able to write a complete 3 month plan that covered all aspects of the outlined blueprint.

3. Use Precision

Intentions and results are two very different things. We could have the best intentions in the world, yet still not communicate effectively. This causes a whirlwind of confusion and frustration for everyone. When you are writing, you can often save time (and money,) by being precise in what you are saying.

Vague and confusing:

Dear Client, Sending this to confirm your meeting with us next week that we talked about over the phone the other day. We really want to talk about some of the marketing ideas we have, that will definitely help your business in the near future. Let me know if you are still planning on the meeting. We look forward to talking! Regards, Bill Nye


Dear Client, This email is to confirm our meeting:

  • Time: Monday, February 2nd
  • Location: Downtown offices -- 123 Sesame Street.

You will be in attendance along with myself and my partner, Frank. We will be discussion direct marketing strategies for quarter 1, so please come prepared with the information that was outlined in the brief we gave you last Tuesday. (Brief is attached to this email for reference.) Kindly respond via email or phone within 48 hours to confirm this meeting. Kind Regards, The Science Guy, Inc. Bill Nye — VP of Communications bill.nye@thescience.guy Office: 111-222-3333 Mobile: 222-333-4444 While the second email is slightly longer, it delivers much more precise information. Most people don't want to take the initial time to communicate like this because they think that they are wasting time. Well, the exact opposite is true.  Had Bill Nye sent that first email, there would have been wasted communication if the client came back and asked, “What day and time is the meeting again? Is this video chat or in person? Do you want just me to come or for me to bring my partner? etc.” This type of precision needs to be applied to all of your business writings. The difference between vague and precise could ultimately be the different between getting a promotion, landing a client or expanding your company.


While this article outlines simple principles, I believe they are principles that need addressed. I witness, on a daily basis, entrepreneurs who do not know how to effectively communicate through writing and it ultimately hurts their career. Take time to make sure your communication is effective. Understand your audience, stay structured and be precise.

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Josh Coffy

Josh has an exhaustive understanding of technology and a creative marketing approach that drives client results. In his free time, Josh does CrossFit and travels with his wife.