Not all styles of communication are the same; a style that suits one set of circumstances might be totally wrong for another. The way you communicate, even the language you use, will be very different, for example, if you are writing a novel, or e-mailing or speaking to a friend, from the style you would adopt for business.
Business and literary styles
There are three main differences in style between a business document and a work of literature
Literary writing is usually descriptive
A novel writer would spend some time creating an atmosphere, giving some background detail. If the account of Jane Lee’s meeting with Carlos Rodriguez were part of a novel, for example, there would almost certainly be a description of the restaurant where they met, and of Rodriguez himself. This kind of description is out of place in business writing. Your readers do not have time to read descriptions which have no real bearing on the subject. Where description is necessary, it should be factual and objective, not flowery and subjective.
Literary writing uses direct speech.
In a novel, the author will describe what people say in the exact words they used – direct speech. This is another way of involving the reader. But you would very seldom use direct speech in business writing – it tends to be too long-winded. People want to absorb the information you are giving as quickly and easily as possible, so give them a summary of what was said, not the actual words.
Literary writing introduces personal feelings
A work of literature will describe the characters’ feelings about others and their surroundings – that is part of the skill of telling a story. So a novel might describe how Jane reacted to Rodriguez on a personal level, what she thought of the meal, etc. These feelings have no place in business writing; they simply clutter up the document unnecessarily. Your opinions might be important, depending on the nature of your document, but your feelings are irrelevant.
Business and personal styles
Although business English is much less formal and more conversational than it used to be, it is still different from the language you might use in personal communication. There are four main differences.
Personal communication uses slang
As we have seen, a bit of colloquial language is quite acceptable when speaking in a business context, but outright slang is not. So, for example, Jane Lee says of Carlos Rodriguez, ‘He might be the man for us’, which is acceptable, although it is something of a colloquialism. In a personal letter, she might have said, ‘He’s got what it takes’ or ‘He’s the guy for the job’; neither of these expressions would be acceptable in business, even when speaking – unless, of course, the person you are speaking or writing to is a personal friend with whom you have a very informal business relationship.
Personal communication is subjective
When you are writing or speaking to a friend, you are talking about what you have been doing and thinking – that is the main reason for writing. So your letter is likely to be full of references to your own actions, feelings and reactions. Therefore in a personal letter or conversation, Jane might say, ‘I could find it very easy to work with him’, or ‘I was really pleased when he agreed to our terms’, etc. But business communication should be more objective – the only relevance your actions or feelings have is their impact on your business and the person you are addressing.
Business correspondence is not read for pleasure
Very often when writing personal letters or e-mails, our aim is to give pleasure to the recipient. So we might introduce funny or interesting anecdotes. In business correspondence you should not try to entertain your audience. People read business documents to gain information as quickly and easily as possible; they read other things for pleasure.
It is not uncommon for statements in personal letters or conversations to stretch the truth a little, in order to show someone in a good light, or perhaps to spare the feelings of the audience. Most of us do it at some time: we might say for example, ‘I have left my job’ rather than ‘I have been made redundant’. So in a personal letter, Jane might try to give the impression that she charmed Rodriguez into accepting the company’s usual commission when in fact he agreed very reluctantly to do so, and only on certain conditions. In business, you should give the facts objectively.