September 20 2021

How Business Writing Skills can improve Business Results

What is business writing?

Business writing is a form of written communication that takes place in a business environment. It is a piece of writing with a purpose, that provides relevant information to the reader in a clear, concise, and effective manner. Business writing can include sales and marketing materials; training and educational content; communications like emails and memos; reports and presentations; administrative materials like Onboarding Documents and Standard Operating Procedures etc.

Why is business writing important?

Communication is vital for success in business, this is not just my opinion, I believe if you ask any management consultant, they will tell the same thing. When we think about what business actually is, it is essentially all about getting other people to do things, whether that means getting your employees to be more productive or getting customers to buy what you are selling etc. When it’s done effectively, business becomes more efficient and effective. Proposals that are well-written can lead to more revenue; clearly written reports lead to deeper understanding; smart marketing materials help improve your company’s reputation in the market. But when writing is not done well, it creates multiple business problems, damaging business performance and ultimately having a negative impact on the company’s revenue. That’s why we believe it is one of the most important business skills.

Unfortunately, despite how important business writing clearly is, many companies are yet recognise this. Companies spend money every year on multiple types of skills and learning for their employees, but based on feedback from our clients we can see that writing is deeply under-represented in company learning objectives. So much so, that in many cases, companies do not offer any writing courses to their employees at all! There seems to be a misconception that writing courses should only be undertaken by non-native speakers; as educated native speakers can surely write, right?

I hope you can now appreciate just how vital good writing skills are for everyone in your company. Writing expert Josh Bernoff has studied the importance of writing and has quantified the annual cost of poor business writing to U.S. businesses at $396 billion! That’s a lot of loss in revenue!

What is the ROI of effective writing?

Effective writing saves time and money for everyone, can help improve customer service, results in increased sales, and helps employees do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. Professor Joseph Kimble, as chair of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Research & Writing Department, is a leading international expert on this subject. Professor Kimble has been advocating for Clarity in Legal and Business English as well as plain language in government documents for over 35 years. The research in Kimble’s book, Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please, focuses on organisations that have benefitted from improved writing. His book includes a variety of case studies of organisations that have saved time and money and improved business practices by making their copy easier to read, reinforcing the clear benefits of good writing.

  • FedEx saved $400,000 annually when it rewrote its operations manuals. The goal was to ensure that users spent 80 percent less time looking for information; however, that 80 percent didn’t account for costs of mistakes when readers were unable to find answers.
  • In 2001, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries began a “Plain Talk” project to rewrite 100 of its form letters into plain language. Some other agencies followed suit, and in 2003 the Department of Revenue rewrote a letter that tripled the number of businesses paying a commonly ignored use tax. In just one year, the letter produced $800,000 more in revenue than the department had projected.
  • GE rewrote its software manuals, resulting in a decrease of 125 calls per representative from customers asking questions about the software. With its revised manual, GE estimates that it saves up to $375,000 a year for each business customer.
  • The Department of Revenue wrote clearer instructions to businesses for returning unclaimed property (usually funds) because many were ignoring the old, unclear notice. The new notice increased the response rate from 41% to 76% in one year.
  • The US Navy rewrote its business memos to officers and saved $27 to $37 million a year in officer time because they could read the revised memos in 17 to 27 percent less time.


How to fix the problem

If poor business writing is an issue in your organisation or even if you feel there is something that could be done to improve the business writing skills of your employees to help them write more effective documents in less time, then the time is right to consider business writing courses. The Harvard Business School has published a study called “The Great Training Robbery,” and the core concept of the study is that a lot of money is spent by companies on training but that only 10% of corporate training is effective and it’s not because the content of the training is bad, it’s because companies are not creating the correct environment to get the most value out of what is being taught.

Although the Harvard Business School study focuses on leadership training, some of these basic principles can be applied to effective business writing skills as well:

  • Management must value the results of the training.
  • Company culture must provide opportunities for practice and honest feedback.
  • If organisational changes are necessary to support the desired outcomes, they should be made before training takes place.
  • Help and coaching must be provided to teach employees how to enact new behaviours in the workplace.
  • HR should not be expected to lead successful training efforts unless the broader organisation is ready and willing to support necessary changes.

And of course, it’s essential to choose a training company and programme that supports your organisation’s culture and matches the value your business places on quality writing. Ultimately, customised training helps learners apply what they’ve learned to their specific needs and challenges.

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