Why General Business Writing Techniques Aren't Always Right

Hex Wrench with Round Hex BoltsEver write something for business purposes and discover you didn’t satisfy your reader’s needs? Hopefully it was just because your reader didn’t like what you wrote. There could, however, be a more subtle reason. Perhaps the writing techniques you used weren’t a good fit for what your reader wanted.

Maybe your reader wanted general information about your products and services, but you sent an email telling them why they should order today. Maybe the opposite happened. Your prospect wanted to buy something now, but the general information you sent didn’t include a call to action telling them how to order your service.

One key to avoiding this mistake is to ensure you understand what your audience’s purpose is in reading what you’re about to write. In the business writing world, there are three reasons to read (shown below in the first column). To satisfy your reader’s need you need to write using the corresponding writer’s goal in the second column.

Reader's GoalWriter's Goal
Learn about somethingInform
Learn how to do somethingInstruct
Make a decisionPersuade

Three Groups of Business Writing techniques

As a professional content writer, I categorize business writing into three broad groups of writing techniques:

  • General business writing
  • Copywriting
  • Technical writing

While all three groups share some characteristics, there are significant differences between them.

Writing GroupCharacteristicsExamples
General Business Writing* Purpose is to provide information to inform reader
* Direct, concise, clear style
* Correspondence
* Reports
* Progress updates
Copywriting* Purpose is to persuade reader to buy
* Conversational style
* Grabs readers
* Satisfies reader's emotional and logical needs
*Marketing brochures and other collateral
* Advertising
* Proposals and recommendations
Technical Writing* Purpose is to enable reader to do
* Provides technical information to reader
* Often uses numbered steps with commands to do something
* Company policies and procedures
* Reference material
* Training material
* "1. Log into the computer."

All business writing should be direct, clear, and concise. But if you’re a small business owner or work in a small business and you’re writing marketing copy or writing procedures, you’ll get a better response from your audience if you use techniques developed for the kind of writing at hand. Otherwise you’ll likely only inform your audience when they want to be motivated to buy or instructed in how do something.


When you’re writing for marketing purposes, you need to attract prospects and move them toward buying your products and services. To do that you must

  1. Grab your reader’s attention
  2. Resonate with them at the emotional level to vibrate their heart strings
  3. Persuade their logical mind to follow the emotional desire you’ve tapped into

Successfully accomplishing those steps often requires developing your copywriting skills or hiring someone with those skills. The purpose and techniques of copywriting, writing to sell something, are very different than general business writing.

Technical Writing

The same is true for technical writing. Whether writing policies and procedures for an operations manual or instructions for a training guide for new hires, there is a distinct set of skills and techniques needed to quickly present information in a way that enables the reader to do something with that information.

Organizing information into small, tightly related groups and providing that information in a chronological sequence of commands to do specific actions is as fundamental to technical writing as the steps listed above are to copywriting.

Use the Right Techniques for the Writing Job

The proverb “use the right tool for the job” most definitely applies to writing, especially when writing for business purposes. Think about what your audience needs from your content and then write using the set of techniques that matches that need.

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides freelance copywriting and business policy and procedure writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at [email protected] or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.

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