Written communication for business

Much of the business communication you engage in will involve letters and emails. Although there is less need to think on your feet as with a conversation, writing well for business is no less important if you want your business relationships to last.

Many of the skills required during conversation can also be applied to written communication, such as the need to ask questions and use the right tone. You should be clear in what you're asking or saying to another party, particularly if your written communication requires follow-up actions.

Formal language in written communication

Using the correct level of formality in your written communication can be crucial. Factors to consider include:

Your personal relationship with the recipient

If you have not met the recipient, or your meetings have been in only formal, business settings, it is sensible to continue to remain formal in letters and emails. If you have already struck up a rapport with the recipient you can be more informal, but make sure you keep the communication focused on the business at hand.

The purpose of the communication

If you are, for example, following up a transaction to check that a client is happy with their purchase, you should not need to be as formal as if you were making a complaint or communicating with someone for the first time.

Note that in some situations emails can quickly move back and forth between parties. It is important to gauge the tone of each email carefully. If the other party moves to a more informal style while you remain rigidly formal, you may miss the opportunity to encourage a more informal and cooperative relationship. Equally, being overly informal too soon can be seen as disrespectful in some circumstances.

Rules of writing formally and informally

Some general rules for writing in each different tone include the following:

  • Formal writing avoids contractions such as 'you're' and 'won't'.
  • Informal writing can include more colloquialism and slang, such as 'loads of' in place of 'many'.
  • Formal writing is less likely to use abbreviations, preferring 'television' to 'TV' for example.
  • Informal writing is more likely to use short, simple sentences, while more formal communication prefers longer sentences and complex expressions.

It is safe to apply the rules of conversation to writing. Generally, you should probably be more formal in written communication than you would be in a conversation.

Choosing to send a letter or email

Letters are becoming increasingly rare in the business world due to the speed and ease of email communication. You should only send letters if there is a specific need to do so, such as the recipient has indicated they do not like using email, or they do not have the means to communicate electronically. Alternatively the situation may require a letter, but you may be able to attach it to an email for fast receipt.

It is normal to use letter conventions such as 'Dear…' and 'Yours sincerely' in emails, though the latter is increasingly being substituted with 'Kind regards'.

Style and grammar

Make sure you check your writing and correct any spelling or grammar mistakes. This is particularly important when writing emails. In an age of automated spelling and grammar checkers it is more unforgivable to make such mistakes.

If you are unclear on the spelling of any words there are many online dictionaries you can use. Remember there can be differences between Australian spelling and spelling used in other countries - you should make sure to use Australian spelling in all your written communication.