Principles of Business Writing

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Capture. Deliver. Excel.
Applying the Principles of Business Writing

Ilja van Roon / Lucid Communication

© 2006 Ilja van Roon/Lucid Communication All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form This book can be downloaded for free at Written and edited by Ilja van Roon, Lucid Communication ( Proofread by Mark Biss, WordsRU ( Designed by Made of Man visual identity (

Lucid Communication Paulinastraat 78 2595 GK The Hague The Netherlands

Table of contents
Acknowledgements Introduction Overview of the principles of business writing The first principle: focus The second principle: purpose The third principle: meaning The fourth principle: substance The fifth principle: structure The sixth principle: clarity The seventh principle: humility The writing process from start to finish About the author About the designers 5 7 11 13 27 39 47 53 63 71 75 90 91

Having grown up in a multicultural and multilingual environment, language has always been the best way for me to make sense of myself and the world. I love the raw power, elegance and versatility of language, and not a day goes by in which I don’t play or work with words. Looking back, it seems only natural that my passion has become my profession. To me, writing is a natural process that is inherently intuitive. I visualise, go by my gut feeling and listen to the sonic quality of language. With these resources at my disposal - and a decade of professional writing experience - the writing sometimes seems to happen by itself. But my way of working has an underlying structure that, I realised, I could try to teach others. This book was born of the desire to identify that underlying structure. While this seemed like a pretty straightforward task, I have to confess it has been frustrating and challenging. I am sure, that like me, you will appreciate the irony of a professional writer having difficulty writing about his writing. Luckily for me, I found friends, relatives and clients willing to help me see this project through. They challenged my ideas and gave me constructive feedback on anything from style to structure. For this, I want to express deep gratitude to Julia Balandina at American International Group; Lindsay Bogaard at Bogaard Arena; Thijs Westerkamp, Ronald Meijers and Steffi Gande at Krauthammer International; Heidi Does at TNT Logistics, Annedien Hoen at, Lucy Lambriex at Lab Lambriex, Cindy van Roon at Lexbridge, Branka van Roon at The Excellent Leadership Company, Marjolijn Dijksterhuis at Mea, Tari Habbitt and Dennis Larsen at ReputationInc and Iben Molenkamp. Special thanks goes out to Rob Leenders and his team at Made of Man, who used their talents to design a compelling visual counterpart to my book. Rob and I met at the Masters in Corporate Communication programme at RSM Erasmus University, which allowed us to combine design and language in strategic business communication.

c apture . deliver . e xcel . acknowledgements


Consider the vast amount of text that your organisation produces. Picture the sea of memos and the stack of reports you receive on an annual basis. Or think of the countless e-mails, presentations and plans you write for your colleagues. Business writing, the process by which such texts are created, is a pervasive activity within any organisation. This internal dialogue - much like the human brain that spends most of its energy talking to itself - has tremendous impact on your organisation’s ability to compete. Good business writing captures knowledge, aligns people with the organisation’s strategy, and catalyses organisational change. It can also be a superb tool for corporate communication and sales purposes. In my experience, there are two reasons why organisations do not make optimal use of business writing. First...
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