What are the seven traits?

The seven traits are the qualities of effective business writing. By focusing on each trait, writers can improve their work.

State Ideas Clearly

If a good idea is stated clearly, the reader can understand it and use it. Construct a clear idea statement by following this formula:

Formula: A specific subject + a specific thought, conclusion, opinion = a good idea statement or claim.
Example: Rankin Industries needs to update its automated phone system.

Support Your Ideas

Once you have clearly stated your main idea, you need to provide strong support. Suppose you need to support the following idea statement:

Rankin Industries needs to update its automated phone system.

To support your ideas, you need to provide details that accomplish your goal. Here are different types of details and the reasons to use them in your writing:

Type of Detail Reason Example
Use facts and statistics to prove something. The automated call system requires callers to wait through six options before they hear the feature that handles 90 percent of calls: the catalog-request service.
Use sensory details to engage the reader. The “on hold” music is too loud, it bristles with static, and it loops abruptly in the middle of a trumpet solo.
Use anecdotes to connect to life. Once, our president’s wife was waiting on hold when the system hung up on her.
Use quotations to appeal to authority. President Blastovich said, “We need to reconsider our public face, and our phone system is an important part of that public face.”
Use definitions to explain terms. We could provide service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, if we hired an off-site call center with interactive voice recognition software—an automated system capable of understanding speech.
Use predictions to imagine the future. If we update our phone system, our customer satisfaction rating will rise, as will the number of catalogs sent and orders received.

Qualify Your Ideas

Your main ideas and support should be plausible. Overly positive or negative words (such as best, worst, or never) make statements hard to prove and details hard to believe. Words and phrases like those listed below can qualify and lend credence to your ideas.

almost many often tends to
frequently maybe probably typically
likely might some usually

Trait 2: Logical Organization

1: Strong Ideas

2: Logical Organization

3: Appropriate Voice

4: Precise Word Choice

5: Smooth Sentences

6: Correct Copy

7: Polished Presentation

Be Direct or Indirect

Before you begin writing, consider how your reader will respond to your message. Then choose either a direct or an indirect organizational approach.

Good- or neutral-news messages

If your reader is likely to respond to your message as good or neutral news, be direct. Use the SEA organization formula:

Situation + Explanation + Action.


Situation: Explain your reason for writing.

Explanation: Expand on the main point.

Action: Focus positively on what’s next.

Bad-news messages

If your reader will likely be unhappy or angry with your message, be indirect. Use the BEBE formula:

Buffer + Explanation and Bad News + Exit.


Buffer: Open with a neutral statement.

Explanation: Build toward the bad news.

Bad News: State the bad news honestly.

Exit: End as positively as possible.

Persuasive messages

When your reader may be indifferent or even resistant to your message, be indirect. Use the AIDA formula:

Attention + Interest and Desire + Action.


Attention: Use a creative opening.

Interest: Create curiosity about your cause.

Desire: Encourage your reader to “take ownership” of your cause.

Action: Inspire your reader to take action.


Trait 3: Appropriate Voice

1: Strong Ideas

2: Logical Organization

3: Appropriate Voice

4: Precise Word Choice

5: Smooth Sentences

6: Correct Copy

7: Polished Presentation

Levels of Formality

Just because business writing is considered professional doesn’t mean it should be stuffy. The key is to write with a conversational yet professional tone. That means making your writing sound natural. When writing is natural, its tone or level of formality is right. Consider the chart below.

Tone Characteristics Example
Formal
Use for
  • major documents.
  • messages to some people outside your company.
  • bad-news messages with legal implications.
  • No contractions
  • Few personal pronouns
  • Serious, objective tone
  • Specific (sometimes legal or technical) terminology
The goal of UpWrite Press is helping businesspeople become better writers and communicators. UpWrite Press strives to provide quality materials for communicating in a globally connected world.
Semiformal
Use for
  • average documents.
  • messages to coworkers, equals, familiar people outside the company.
  • Occasional contractions and personal pronouns
  • Serious, objective tone
  • Specific (sometimes legal or technical) terminology
Our goal is making you a better writer and communicator. Today’s business environment requires you to communicate quickly and easily with a global audience, and our materials will help you do so.
Informal
Use for
  • quick documents (lists, questions).
  • e-mail and memos to coworkers and possibly some people outside the company.
  • Frequent contractions and personal pronouns
  • Appropriate humor
  • Some jargon, slang
Hi JT,
Could you please make 12 copies of the stipends report for the finance meeting on Thursday morning? Thanks. See ya then! —Craig

Trait 4: Precise Word Choice

1: Strong Ideas

2: Logical Organization

3: Appropriate Voice

4: Precise Word Choice

5: Smooth Sentences

6: Correct Copy

7: Polished Presentation

Choosing Precise Words

Good business writing is not filled with the biggest words; it’s filled with the most precise words. Use the following information to incorporate precise words into your business writing. A precise word is fresh, clear, energetic, fair, and respectful. In general, precise words are the simplest ones you can use to get your meaning across.

Here are our top five suggestions for precise business writing (in no particular order).

  1. Replace or clarify general words. Balance general words with concrete, precise terms. Choose specific nouns, vivid verbs, and strong modifiers.
  2. Rewrite unprofessional expressions. Slang terms and clichés weaken your writing’s authority, clarity, and energy.
  3. Avoid “business English.” Use plain English instead of language that sounds overly technical, vague, or trendy.
  4. Use fair, respectful language. People want respect, and it’s the writer’s job to address readers respectfully.
  5. Eliminate wordiness. Concise writing involves cutting unneeded words, irrelevant information, and obvious statements. (See below.)

Wordy Versus Concise Phrasing

Use concise words and phrasing that deliver your message quickly and clearly. The following list should help you write more precisely.

Wordy Concise
advance forward advance
advance planning planning
a majority of most
any and all any/all
are of the opinion that believe
ask the question ask
assembled together assembled
at an early date soon
attach together attach
at the conclusion of after/following
at the present time now
based on the fact that because
basic essentials essentials
both together together
brief in duration brief
close proximity close
combine together combine
completely unanimous unanimous
connect together connect
consensus of opinion consensus
descend down descend
despite the fact that although
disregard altogether disregard
due to the fact that because
during the course of during
end result result
engaged in a study of studying
few in number few
filled to capacity filled
final conclusion conclusion
final outcome outcome
first and foremost first/foremost
foreign imports imports
for the purpose of for
for the reasons that because
free gift gift
Wordy Concise
free of charge free
having the capacity to can
in connection with about
in light of the fact that since
in order to to
in spite of the fact that although
in the amount of for
in the event that if
in the vast majority of in most
in view of the fact that because
it is often the case that often
it is our opinion that we believe that
it is our recommendation we recommend
it is our understanding we understand
joint cooperation cooperation
join together join
joint partnership partnership
main essentials essentials
make reference to refer to
meet together meet
more preferable preferable
mutual cooperation cooperation
of the opinion that think that
on a daily basis daily
on a weekly basis weekly
on the grounds that because
over again again
personal in nature personal
personal opinion opinion
pertaining to about
plan ahead plan
postponed until later postponed
present status status
prior to before
repeat again repeat
until such time as until
with regard to about

Trait 5: Smooth Sentences

1: Strong Ideas

2: Logical Organization

3: Appropriate Voice

4: Precise Word Choice

5: Smooth Sentences

6: Correct Copy

7: Polished Presentation

Variety

Sentence variety creates a pleasing rhythm. Try these tips for creating variety:

Combining

When sentences are short and choppy, you can improve your writing by combining them. Remove the repeated bits and reword the rest as a single sentence.

Choppy: We made a bid. It was on November 6. Rankin has not responded yet.
Combined: Rankin has not yet responded to the bid we made on November 6.

Expanding

If a sentence lacks information, expand it using the 5 W’s and H. Answer the questions Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? and insert the answers into the sentence.

Uninformative

5 W’s

Expanded

Transitions and Linking Words

Transition words and phrases pave the way for readers, signaling how ideas are linked. Note how the different words and phrases below connect ideas in different ways.

Words That Show Location
above
across
along
among
around
away from
behind
below
beneath
beside
between
beyond
by
down
in back of
in front of
inside
into
near
off
on top of
onto
outside
over
throughout
to the right
under
Words That Show Time
about
after
afterward
again
as soon as
before
during
finally
first
immediately
later
meanwhile
next
next week
second
soon
then
third
till
today
tomorrow
until
when
yesterday
Words That Compare Things (Show Similarities)
also likewise in the same way similarly as like
Words That Contrast Things (Show Differences)
although
but
still
yet
in contrast
nevertheless
even though
however
on the other hand
otherwise
Words That Emphasize a Point
again
for this reason
in fact
to emphasize
to repeat
truly
most importantly
the main point
Words That Conclude, Summarize, Recommend
all in all
as a result
because
finally
in conclusion
in summary
therefore
to sum up
Words That Add Information
additionally
again
along with
also
and
another
as well
besides
next
finally
for example
for instance
in addition
likewise
moreover
Words That Clarify
for example for instance in other words that is put another way

Trait 6: Correct Copy

1: Strong Ideas

2: Logical Organization

3: Appropriate Voice

4: Precise Word Choice

5: Smooth Sentences

6: Correct Copy

7: Polished Presentation

Top 10 Errors in Business Writing

An error-free document reflects well on the writer and avoids distracting the reader. When editing for punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and usage, watch especially for these top 10 errors.

  1. Sentence fragment:
    Make sure each sentence contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought.

  2. Dangling/misplaced modifier:
    Make sure modifying words and phrases are close to the words they modify.

  3. Comma splice:
    Do not join two sentences with only a comma. Use a semicolon, or use a comma and
    a conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet).

  4. Missing comma in a compound sentence:
    Place a comma right before the conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet)
    in a compound sentence.

  5. Missing comma after introductory phrase:
    Place a comma after long introductory phrases.

  6. Missing comma with additional information:
    When a group of words adds information that is not needed to understand the sentence,
    set off the words with a comma.

  7. Nonparallel construction:
    Make sure items in a series have the same form.

  8. Pronoun agreement error:
    Make sure pronouns agree in person and number with the words they replace.

  9. Verb agreement error:
    Use a singular verb with a singular subject and a plural verb with a plural subject.

  10. Usage error:
    Make sure that easily confused words (there/their/they’re, too/to/two) are used correctly.

Trait 7: Polished Presentation

1: Strong Ideas

2: Logical Organization

3: Appropriate Voice

4: Precise Word Choice

5: Smooth Sentences

6: Correct Copy

7: Polished Presentation

Design with a Purpose

Effective page design is attractive and easy to read, and it reflects positively on the writer and her or his company. When designing a document, do so with a purpose. The form that words take on a page should relate to the function of the words.

Format shows what kind of message you are sending.

Fonts make text readable.

Paragraphs group related ideas together.

Headings help readers navigate through your message.

Lists show that ideas are parallel.

White space breaks text into digestible chunks.

Memo

Date:

January 22, 2009

To:

David Shapfield

From:

Tasha Jones

Subject:

Centralizing Deliveries

 
To ensure prompt delivery of packages, I propose that we centralize our shipping procedure.

The Problem

Currently, couriers such as UPS, FedEx, and DHL deliver to the shipping department, while the USPS (United States Postal Service) delivers to the receptionist. This division means that some important packages are delivered to the front desk and may take a day or more to reach the shipping department.

The Solution

If USPS deliveries also came to the shipping department, all deliveries would be tracked in a central location. Also, because the mailroom is part of the shipping department, the mailroom could ensure prompt delivery of all envelopes and packages.

Next Steps

If you would like me to make this change, I will . . .

Please let me know if you would like me to make this change.