The Writing Process

Good writing means good editing.
~John Morris

After studying this chapter, you should be able to apply the basic concepts of our 3-part writing process (analyze, compose, and finish) to generate a business report that is concise, complete, and uses the essential vocabulary of business. You will read about tools and techniques we have found to be useful in the writing process. Finally, you will find a standard essay template as a generic format for most business reports.

Writing a Report for Business

As with most professions, business executives are busy, under pressure to take quick action, and often must make decisions with incomplete data. They value concise, well-written, and meaningful reports that succinctly analyze a problem, show insight using logical support, and provide clear recommendations.

Despite the need for frequent and reliable reports, these same executives will not read what they cannot understand. (By the way, the same goes for your instructors!) Therefore, clear writing and report quality are important elements of communication.

Writing clarity in a report demonstrates an understanding of the audience who will read it. Organization and structure of the report (thesis statement and topic sentences) are clear and specific. Writing mistakes are kept to a minimum so as not to distract from the readability of the report.

But, one size does not fit all either. Be aware there are regional differences between what an American executive expects and what one in Thailand expects. American culture, particularly American business culture, prioritizes data and information before everything else. In other parts of the world, in Latin and Asian countries for example, relationships and tradition receive top priority. Just like writing for business is different than writing for engineering, so is writing in the United States different from writing in Asia, Africa, Europe, or South America.

Report quality refers to satisfying the intention of the assignment as well as the specific deliverables requested. Sometimes, opportunities and threats are identified while completing assignments; these should not be ignored even though they may be out of scope. Sufficient information should be provided to enable a confident decision. Conclusions and recommendations should be fully supported with data and logic.

Because our experience comes primarily from working in business in the United States, the content of this book focuses on American business writing style. Similarly, when studying in the U.S., students are advised to write in an American business style; the following characteristics of American business writing will help.

Linear Thinking. Executives and managers prefer the linear, cause-and-effect style of thinking and writing found in American business. Leaders usually have more to do than they have time to do it and, therefore, demand direct, focused, and succinct reports. Writing in a linear format creates the kind of prose that business readers are likely to read.

Qualitative versus Quantitative Data. Unless you are a well-known, world-leading expert on the subject, you’ll probably need data from an expert source (such as the textbook, the case study, or other reading materials) to support your observations and claims. Use both quantitative data (numbers and statistics) and qualitative data (stories or anecdotes) to support your report.

The Rule of Adjectives. Business writing usually contains numbers and figures. Writing for business means using numbers to quantify your descriptions. Whenever you find yourself writing an adjective, ask yourself if using a number, percentage, or rate would be more descriptive. Words like more, less, better, worse, faster, slower, higher, and lower beg to be quantified.

Interrogate the Data. Describe the significance of what you are writing. It is not enough to simply list out data or to quote facts from a case study. You must also explain what it means and why it is relevant. Using the “5Ys” (asking why 5 times) is a useful practice that will help you get to the bottom of an issue. Think of yourself as an investigative reporter trying to scoop the big insight.

No Fluff. Executive summaries on a report allow harried leaders to know the relevance of what is contained in the report; they may never read the entire report. However, when they do read further, the report must be thorough, complete, and accurate or they will doubt your capability as an analyst.

The impact of Time on Quality measured in terms of Writing and Reading effort and the resulting impact on Grade or Rating
Figure 2.3 The impact of Time on Quality measured in terms of Writing and Reading effort and the resulting impact on Grade or Rating.

Some Additional Thoughts on Writing (not necessarily in business)

Remember that your first draft is rarely your final draft. That means, never fall in love with your own writing! The writing process is one that involves multiple revisions, as detailed in the 3-part writing process section below. The more time you spend writing, the easier it will be for your reader to understand; in the academic world this translates into better scores, and in the work world, better job evaluations.

Finally, practice, practice, practice. The best way to learn the nuances of American business writing is through observation and practice—speaking, listening, reading, and writing in business English. You’ll need to practice these skills extensively.

In line with how we opened this chapter and illustrated in Figure 2.3, we suggest the amount of time you spend on writing will directly impact the perceived quality of anyone reading it. That is, the longer you write, edit, and rewrite, the less time your manager or instructor will require to read and evaluate your report. In the workplace this translates into better performance ratings and in school, better grades. Do yourself a favor and spend the time to look good and get results.

To get a feel for how business writers write, consider making it a daily habit to read trade publications (like the Wall Street Journal). To see this style yourself, see the Resources for Getting Better and make a practice of reading what business executives are reading; look for these characteristics in how those publications are written.

The 3-part Writing Process

The writing process can be loosely defined as the stages a writer goes through in order to complete a written task. The idea of teaching writing as a process, not a product, was coined by Donald M. Murray in the early 1970s, and revolutionized the way that writing was taught. Since then, the focus has come to be even more on the recursive process of writing, where each stage can be visited multiple times and can often lead back to the previous stage. We have categorized the process into three parts, with levels of headings and subheadings, but in reality the process is one of blurred steps, not distinct ones. Authors often move between stages in fits-and-starts, then return to earlier stages as an idea becomes better refined and clearer. And yet, writing is a deeply personal process, and one for which there is no correct formula. What we have constructed below is a guide, not a formula, for approaching the writing process, which should be tailored to fit your needs and style.

The 3-Part Writing Process: Analyze, Compose, Finish, Go Public
Figure 2.4 The 3-Part Writing Process

1. Analyze

Understand the Assignment.

Understanding the assignment thoroughly is essential as it will be difficult to meet the assignment requirements and earn a high score without a clear understanding of what the assignment entails. In the future, without understanding what your boss has asked for it will be hard to impress them or your team with your analysis ability or even fulfill the requirements of the task.

When examining the assigned prompt (also known as the assignment description or requirements) ask:

What are the different parts of the prompt? Identify all separate elements that must be answered.

What keywords are present? Keywords may require definition or clarification from the accompanying reading or homework.

What verbs are used in the assignment? What does this assignment require me to do?

Don’t rush this process, as it often takes time and reading the assignment description multiple times to fully comprehend the intricacies of the question or prompt. To improve your success at analysis, connect the question you are studying with what we have covered in class or in classes with related topics. What models or frameworks can you find to apply?

Understand your Audience.

It is essential to understand the audience and their unique needs, interests, or motivations. For example, if your audience is the CEO of a company, your content and style will be considerably different than if your audience is a co-worker. If your audience is someone very familiar with the project rather than someone unfamiliar with it, the amount of detail you go into for the report will differ. Therefore, it is necessary to assess what the audience’s level of understanding of the topic is. If they are very familiar with a situation, less background information is needed; whereas if the audience is unfamiliar, you need to include more basic information and context. Obviously, you don’t want to bore your audience by telling them something they already know, but you also don’t want to assume they know more than they do and leave them lost or confused.

Always start by asking yourself “who is my audience?” In your business course assignments, audience will almost always be identified. Writing for your shareholders will entail different content and context than writing for your boss (or instructor). In a business school it is possible your instructor will have a preference for either academic or business style that coincides with their personal history. Academic writing will be more formal and use a third person perspective; business writing is less formal (but not conversational) and focuses on action or problem resolution. Those with academic backgrounds may expect you to write in an academic-style; those with a business background will likely prefer a business-style. If you are unsure which your instructor prefers, ask!

Determine what level of formality is needed. When writing to a “superior” (a higher level manager or your boss), a greater degree of formality is expected than when writing to a coworker. For example:

I’m wondering if it would be possible to extend the deadline of the analysis by one week.

I don’t have the analysis done yet, so can I get a week extension?

The first example uses softer and less direct language with use of “wondering” and the conditional tense; this is appropriate for addressing a superior, whereas the second is more direct and would be suitable for communicating with a co-worker. Less direct language is generally wordier, which is something we recommend avoiding in business style communication. However, it is essential to address superiors with respect, and that often means being less direct. As a student, understanding this balance will come with time.

Understand the Context for the Assignment.

When reading the assignment prompt or the content of a case study or article to understand its meaning, pay attention to the situation that is being described. This context between the writer and the reader is critical in understanding the assignment and, most importantly, writing a compelling response.

A dictionary definition of context is “the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning.” Also, “the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs.” Think of context as providing the backstory or the reason that a prompt is assigned in the first place. Context adds specificity to the assignment by relating it to something else happening in the organization or in your course. For example, if your textbook provides a lesson on Porter’s Five Force Analysis of Market Structure and the course instructor has lectured on examples of understanding industries using that model, when the assignment asks for a market structure analysis the context dictates you should use Porter’s model. Context clues are not always so obvious, but most instructors include them in some form.

Context needs to be understood fully in order to respond to the prompt in a meaningful way. To understand context, you may need to read the text multiple times. The first time through, read for a general understanding; what is the assignment about? That is, are you being asked to solve a problem, recommend a course of action, justify a decision, or something else? Identify the bigger picture of the case or problem. On subsequent readings, look for connections within the problem, case, or assignment to differentiate what elements to work on and in what order; how does the first part relate to the second part, and so on? The first part may be setting up a scenario and the second part asking you to decide between a variety of options. Also, identify connections between the assignment and the rest of the course. That is, create a deeper and more subtle understanding of the material relative to other topics that have been discussed in conjunction with the assignment. As illustrated in the previous paragraph, if your class has been talking about Porter’s model, there is a high likelihood the assignment will be about the same thing. You may find it helpful to annotate—highlight and make notes—especially about the content that relates directly to the prompt.

When possible, look for opportunities to use specific models from your course or the broader business school curriculum and summarize your analysis in the context in which the prompt was assigned. Defer to your course for such tools, but see Chapter 4. Writing and Business Models for three examples of how this can be done using various business analytical tools.

Define the Assignment Purpose.

Look at the verbs used in the prompt; this will help you identify the assignment requirements. For example, common verbs may include: define, explain, persuade, and suggest (See Bloom’s Taxonomy for a more thorough discussion of possible terms in your assignment.) Defining something is simpler than persuading someone to take action. Once you’ve examined the verbs used in the prompt, think of what you are trying to accomplish. If the assignment requires higher level thinking, like to persuade, think about what will be most persuasive to whomever you are persuading (i.e., your audience.)

Tip: Some students overthink the assignment purpose. This is different between the workplace and school. Your boss will rarely tell you to “generate a SWOT analysis”, instead, they are more likely to ask you to “study the reasons for and against implementing a specific process improvement.” It is up to you to identify whether a SWOT analysis or some other framework will fill the needs of the assignment. In school, however, your instructor typically creates assignments to support the course content currently being addressed. Start with this material and identify a business model in your current lessons to determine if it is actually the one being requested in the assignment. See Why Use a Model? for additional information.

Reverse Outlining – An Alternative Approach to Understanding the Question Better

The same way an outline can help you organize your thinking and kick-start your report, a reverse outline can help you more clearly understand the case you are analyzing. After reading the text once or twice, capture the topic of each paragraph in as few words as possible in the margin (if paper) or using a comment (if electronic) or in a separate document. Each paragraph description will be your first level of the reverse outline. Then read through each paragraph and capture the main ideas as sub-items in the outline.

Essentially, you are discovering (or recreating) the outline used by the author. This will help you see the flow and sequence of the author’s thinking. Reverse outlining can help you find the most important elements of the case or reading and help you figure out how to compose a targeted report or case brief.

Consider the Format.

At this stage, it isn’t necessary to finalize your format, but consider some options and how each would impact your audience. Will you use full paragraphs, or would a bulleted list be more appropriate for the assignment? Business-style writing often takes advantage of bullets to eliminate extra words and highlight important points because the intent is often to create action. Bulleted lists do not need to be complete sentences, but should contain at least three separate, related items. These lists, however, may not fit with every assignment, or only work with a portion of an assignment.

Additionally, think about how the use of graphs, charts, tables, and related illustrations could draw the reader’s attention. Figures can be a clearer way of displaying data, as compared to strictly text. If you do include them, figures should have a descriptive title and reference number. You should refer to the figure in your writing and place the figure in a convenient place near where it is referenced. Never use a figure in a business report without explaining its meaning or purpose. If you find that your figures are overwhelming your text, they can be moved to the appendix. See the section on Appendices for more information.

2. Compose

Brainstorm – Develop Content.

Writing in business can get complicated, as the ideas and concepts are often abstract. Making sense of the subject you are studying and the arguments you will be making takes multiple attempts. Certainly, this complexity is problematic to the creative process. It is difficult to even think about what to write when you are worried too much about how you are writing! Don’t try to do both at the same time, instead, start coming up with ideas of how to answer the question by brainstorming in a style that works for you. Some examples could include making a list, mind map, drawing, or voice recording. Have fun. Get crazy. Be unrealistic. Remember, during this first part of brainstorming evaluating ideas is not the goal, generating lots of options is the goal.

It’s essential to get all possible content down in whatever way you prefer. Devote plenty of time to this stage because these ideas will contain the seed of what will eventually become the heart of your report. When you can come up with no further ideas, determine the direction you want to go with your report based on you audience and purpose; then, limit ideas to only those that fit.

The final, and often overlooked step, is the organization of sources. For certain writing assignments you will use multiple sources and integrate them. Other assignments require the use of a single source and still others may not require any sources at all. If the assignment requires the use of multiple sources, in the brainstorming step you should clearly note where your information comes from, so you will be able to accurately cite sources in the drafts, final report, and reference list.

Use Evidence.

Addressing business problems can sometimes be sensitive work; after all, most business problems arise because of something someone did or neglected to do. Calling out errors and missed opportunities can create defensiveness and is unlikely to persuade. There is often a fine line between telling it like it is and crossing the line.

In business we sometimes have to tell our boss or our client news they won’t want to hear and it may even make them angry. Recommendations and opinions are not readily received when seen as accusatory or pointing a guilty finger. To mitigate the damage bad news can bring and accelerate the time to get from an emotional reaction to a discussion of facts, learn to use a neutral tone and back-up your reports with concrete data, facts, and evidence.

In the academic world, instructors know their students have learned when they make a specific observation and support it with evidence from the textbook, case, or simulation. When answering questions or presenting recommendations, be specific and use data to support your observations and conclusions.

Keeping an objective tone—replacing subjective value judgements with observable facts and data—addresses both the business and the academic concerns. Stick to the facts; identify the trends; and use a historical context or universal standard as a comparison. It is much easier if you write with an objective tone from the beginning rather than create one at the end. Subtle word choice and tone can make all the difference in the quality of your report.

Organize Content into an Outline.

Consider how to divide your ideas into sections and subsections. Every assignment is different and requires unique organization. A 5-paragraph essay is considered a standard format, and may be appropriate for some assignments, while a different style is more fitting for other assignments. Understanding well what the assignment requires will lead to proper organization. See the essay template for an example.

Determine how many sections should be included and the contents of each. Outlines generally contain your big ideas at the top element (leftmost or outdented). The general rules of prose are suspended for an outline; it is okay to write in fragments and to ignore unessential words, phrases, and punctuation. Using as few words as possible, create a flow of the big ideas in logical order. Then add, combine, or remove items that don’t fit as you work. Once the big ideas are in place, add more detail and progressively break each idea into its ever more granular components. Think of this as building the frame or skeleton of a building; this outline structure will be the thoughts that will hold everything up in your report. While there are no strict rules for outlining, there are guidelines which, if followed, will make your outline easier to turn into a draft during the next step of the process.

  • Usually, outlines include a set of indented numbers and letters (e.g. in this order, I., A., 1., a., i.), a nested set of bullets, or a combination of the two. The style is less important than how they represent the flow of your thinking. Keep like items indented at the same level.
  • Generally, keep the level of detail comparable throughout. That is, avoid using ten steps of indents in one area and none in another; this is an indication that you have strayed from the topic or that you have over- and under-developed elements in your thinking.
  • All headings should be in the same grammatical form. If your first heading starts with a noun, the second heading should also start with a noun. For example:
    1. Directions for employees
    2. Recommendations for management
  • Each heading should have one or more subheadings. If a heading will not have further details under it, it should be combined with another heading. For example:
    1. Directions for employees
    2. Recommendations for management
      1. restructure organization
      2. examine salaries
      3. look into HR practices

Above, the first heading (Directions for employees) is lacking detail, implying that there are no directions for employees. If this is the case, the heading should be deleted. Otherwise, this is an indication of an underdeveloped outline and detail should be added.

For reference, see the Purdue OWL website describing the process for Developing an Outline.

Drafting Reports.

Outlines are meant to be a starting place, so don’t dwell too long on their creation. Once the frame is built and appears complete, begin transforming the outline into a report. Some points may transfer in whole to your report, others may need to be supplemented extensively to make them into complete and intelligible sentences. The length and style of your outline will usually help you decide when to keep ideas together in a paragraph and when to start a new one. If the previous steps of the writing process were done comprehensively, this step is a matter of converting the ideas from your outline to sentences and paragraphs. See the essay template for more details.

The key components the draft should include are:

An introduction paragraph, containing a thesis statement to give the reader a preview of what the report is about.

Body paragraphs, each containing a topic sentence followed by sentences that support and extend the topic sentence through the use of examples, data, and evidence.

A conclusion paragraph which summarizes the main points of the report and leaves the reader with a sense of completion.

It’s up to you how to create your draft and each student will be slightly different in their approach. Use the following suggestions to make the most of your initial draft.

Find a place to write that works well for you. You want to be in an environment that stimulates your creative juices and does not have a lot of distractions.

Decide whether you want to write by hand or on a computer. Though it seems like the easy and efficient choice to use a computer, some writers find that writing ideas out by hand is preferable to typing.

Consider writing body paragraphs first, and write the introduction and conclusion last. Often, the flow of your arguments will change as they become more concrete and polished; since they should be a summary of the entire report anyway, having the body first makes it easier to write the introduction and conclusion.

Write a thesis statement first and use it to guide the direction of your report. If your report heads in a different direction than you originally anticipated, you can always update your thesis statement so the thesis and the report are in sync.

Use the course’s essential vocabulary. If you are stuck, you may be able to pull a term or concept from the assignment or associated reading material to help you move forward.

Use another creative way of getting your ideas out, such as recording them and later transcribing them onto paper. Don’t let your need for perfection stop your creative thinking in the early stages of writing.

If your outline was done on a computer, copy and paste it into a document for congruity and turn the bullet points into full sentences. In most cases, nobody else will ever see your outline, so don’t worry that you are reusing the same words—in fact, this will improve the continuity of the report.

Take breaks as necessary. If you feel stuck, take a break from writing. A walk, video game, or sport activity may help recharge your creativity.

Keep track of your sources. It’s much more efficient to cite sources and compile your reference page as you go rather than waiting until the end.

Find the method that works best for you. Do you work best in shorter intervals of time? Or, is it better for you to set aside an extended amount of time? Whatever you do, don’t wait until near the deadline to get started. If you like the pressure of a deadline, set the deadline artificially early so you have time to get done. If you meet the early deadline, you can relax knowing it is done ahead of time. Plus, your instructor will appreciate your timeliness.

However you choose to draft the report, the most important part of this step is that you capture and expand upon the content of your outline using sentences and paragraphs. After completing your draft, revisit your audience and the purpose of the assignment to check that what you wrote aligns with your purpose and meet the needs of your audience. Above all, realize your first draft should be revised multiple times before submission. The focus should be on getting started by getting something on paper. Don’t aim for perfection, just get something down.

At this stage, revisit your outline and make sure everything you intended to include is included. Check for whether you are using essential vocabulary, have been complete, and are writing concisely. Look at your organization and determine whether you should use headings and subheadings throughout. For an example, take a look at this textbook, which is formatted in a business-style with clear headings.  Also, consider options for titles at this time. Unless instructed otherwise, reports should include a descriptive title.

Drafting Presentations.

Your assignment may require a slide deck, report, and presentation, or a combination of the three. Though what we wrote in the analyze and compose sections aimed at writing a report, most of the analysis and composition recommendations apply to preparing a slide deck too. Again, starting with an outline is a good practice. But with slides, each level of the outline is likely to be a separate slide. The list of details underneath a major heading may actually be the content of its corresponding slide.

A common mistake is to create too many slides; expect each one will take about 1-2 minutes to adequately cover during the presentation. If you have 10-minutes to present, you will want 5-10 slides—probably erring on the lower end of that range. Having the right number of slides is as much an art as science, however. If a slide has a single point of information, it might be appropriately combined with the one before or after. But, if that single point is the most important one in your presentation and you will spend most of your time on it, more likely it should be left on its own and made the focal point of the presentation.

Finally, consider the content of each slide. Your driving concern should be to display the information in a way that is clear for your audience. Avoid writing complete sentences. Instead, identify a keyword that represents the point and list just that word or phrase. Complete sentences may cause your audience to read ahead or you to read to them; some may consider this insulting or a waste of time. Always consider your audience and the purpose of the presentation. If you are presenting to the class and your instructor about something from your textbook, it is safe to assume they have already read the source material and it is only necessary to repeat items that are absolutely essential to the prompt. If you are presenting to the general public, you’ll need to provide background and context. But, don’t get so hung up on context that you run out of time to address the purpose of the presentation. A good general rule is, if it will add clarity leave it in, otherwise, remove it from the slides or presentation… whatever the “it” is!

See Tips for Creating Effective Slides later in the textbook for more information.

3. Finish

Finishing the report is the final and often most overlooked step. Once you’ve reached this point, it’s easy to think you’re done. Yet, at this stage, there is still more to do to see your report through to its completion. As with the previous steps, this step is essential. Above all, be sure you have answered the question fully but that you omit everything that is unnecessary regardless of how interesting it is. Reread your response and ask, does it answer the question you were asked?

Seek Feedback.

Even the best educated among us can be better writers. The writing muscle is one that gets stronger and more capable as it gets exercised. But, we often do not recognize mistakes in our own writing. As college educated learners, we should all be continuously seeking ways to improve our writing. Seeking the help of others we trust is one sure-fire way of getting better.

In this stage, you should not be afraid to make significant changes to your report based on others’ suggestions. By this stage in the writing process, you will have spent a considerable amount of time on your work and may feel attached to it. However, do not become so attached that you are unwilling to take suggestions. Often, others have a keen eye for what you have not recognized yourself, as they are seeing your work from a fresh viewpoint. Be open to suggestions from trusted people, even if you do not completely agree with them.

Before going to others, go through the report one last time yourself. Read your writing aloud and listen for what sounds awkward. Do you stumble when reading a specific passage? If so, a reader seeing your report for the first or second time is likely to stumble too. Listen for redundancies, missing steps, and ambiguous passages.

Then, use the resources available to you. This could be a trusted friend or classmate. Or, use the resources available through the university’s writing center. Most universities have writing centers, where students can get writing help from student employees or staff who are trained in giving feedback on writing. It is our experience that making appointments in advance so you can meet with the same writing consultant each time is a good practice. The steps of both revising and polishing are detailed below; use the resources available to you in both steps.

Revise – Focus on Global Issues.

Addressing global issues refers to improving the content and organization of your report. This can include adding, deleting expanding or clarifying ideas and the rearranging of paragraphs or ideas within them. For presentations, this might mean changing the order of your slides or splitting or combining slides. These major issues need to be addressed first as they are fundamental to fulfilling the assignment requirements. Addressing small issues (obsessing over spelling, grammar, and punctuation) at this stage is unnecessary until major issues are addressed. Instead, your focus should remain on making substantial content-related changes at this stage.

First, consider the structure of your report and arrange it for clarity. Look critically at how the parts fit together. Rearrange the parts as necessary in effort to have a clearer organization and tie the parts together. Refer back to your outline and consider whether the structure of your report follows the same organization as you intended in the outline. Review your introduction and conclusion paragraphs to ensure all appropriate information is included. It’s easy to stray from what you intended to write when writing freely or if you felt you were on a roll. Now is the time to look for the places where you may have deviated from your original topic.

Looking at the report as a whole, consider whether you may have strayed from the assignment requirements? Does every paragraph add value to the report and seek to address the assignment requirements? Are the paragraphs arranged logically and in a way that is easy for the reader to follow? Are there gaps in logic that should be explained?

Looking at each paragraph, consider whether each paragraph has a central theme with a topic sentence that states that theme. Does each paragraph contain details, data or evidence to expand upon the idea presented in the topic sentence? Are there details, data or evidence which do not support the central theme of the paragraph?

Looking at each sentence, consider whether the sentences flow well. Are all the transitions you used necessary? Have you over- or under-used transition words? Are there ways to connect your ideas using pronoun referencing rather than transitions?

Finally, decide if anything is better suited to the appendix. If you have an elegantly crafted and detailed calculation around a specific business model that you created early, but your report has since taken a turn in a different direction, that section probably doesn’t belong in the main portion of your report. However, if it remains well-done and provides at least some tangential value, consider whether it belongs in an appendix. See the section on Appendices for more information.

You can use the following checklist as you go through the revise step:

  • Have I answered the question in the prompt or have I strayed away from it to something that I preferred to write about?
  • Is everything I’ve included relevant to the report’s topic? Are any parts irrelevant and able to be removed?
  • Do I have a clear thesis statement at the end of the introduction paragraph and clear topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph?
  • Have I used adequate support (examples, data) to support my opinion?
    • Have I used appropriate evidence from the case to support my opinion?
  • Does my organization allow my argument to be easily understood or would a different type of organization be clearer?
  • If there are multiple parts to the prompt, is each part adequately covered or is one part addressed more thoroughly and others lacking?
  • Are transitions used to guide the reader through my report? Have I limited transitions as to not overuse them?
  • Have I used proper formatting?

Polish – Edit Sentence-Level Issues.

Polishing refers to making the report correct in terms of grammar, word choice, tone, pronoun use, spelling, punctuation, and other writing mechanical issues like writing tight and keeping it objective. Writing tight means removing unnecessary words and ideas, those that do not add direct value to your report as required by the assignment prompt. Later, in a business context, it will mean the same thing but it will show you as someone who is eager to solve problems instead of someone who is eager to show off what you know.

In general, delete the unnecessary. Look for repetition; avoid repeating ideas and words. Experiment with synonyms but have a keen awareness of the words you’re using as it is essential you don’t stray from the topic. When considering word choice, prioritize clarity over variety.

For example, if you look up the word “happy” in the dictionary, you will find synonyms such as “cheerful” and “merry”. However, if you are reporting data from a survey about what brings people happiness in life, the use of either of those synonyms would be inappropriate since they imply temporary happiness, rather than sustained happiness.

By prioritizing clarity over variety, your intended meaning will better come through.

Go public.

The final step is to submit your assignment. This could mean submitting the report through your university’s learning management system or giving the presentation itself. Once you’ve done this, you should feel a sense of accomplishment and look forward to your instructor’s comments on your work, so you can keep learning in this continual process of becoming a better writer.

A Standard Essay Template

Standard Essay Template
Figure 2.5 Standard Essay Template

Below is a template that can be used for a standard essay. The keyword here is “standard”, meaning that while this is a place to start in terms of organizing a paper, it should be modified to fit particular assignments and reach the intended audience. Every writing assignment should contain an introduction and conclusion paragraph, however, the exact number, organization, and content of body paragraphs will differ based on the assignment.

Introduction – The introduction paragraph should provide a brief restatement of the topic. When writing this, consider your audience and what their level of knowledge about the topic is. While it is necessary to be general, telling your audience what they already know can come across as condescending (at worst) or unnecessarily wordy (at best). See the example.

Writing the introduction to a case brief about the Kellogg’s company, you can assume your reader already knows that Kellogg’s is in the cereal industry. One option is to restate the assignment prompt such that it sets context for the content that follows and appears to be resolved by your thesis statement. In this example, the prompt was “If Kellogg’s were to expand its business, what single recommendation would you make? Defend your recommendation.”

Poor: Kellogg’s, a producer of breakfast cereal, is in the cereal industry.

Better: Kellogg’s is facing an existential quandary, whether it should expand its existing lines of product or expand into healthier opportunities.

Following the general introduction, you should have a thesis statement. Your thesis statement should tell your reader the purpose of your essay and give your reader a preview of the content and organization of your essay. It should contain the topic, claims and major points. This video provides further explanation.

Body Paragraphs – The number of body paragraphs used will be dictated by the assignment requirements, as will the amount of support, evidence and development. In general, start each body paragraph with a topic sentence keeping in mind the knowledge of your audience, then provide evidence in a natural progression to support that topic and finish the paragraph with analysis of the evidence by answering the question, “So what?” That is, tell the reader why the evidence you provided should be important to them. In American schools, these are called TEA paragraphs. This video provides further explanation.

Conclusion – essentially the inverse of how you opened your report, the conclusion is a single paragraph that starts narrow and broadens into the final conclusion. The purpose of the conclusion is to tie in what you have previously written in the body paragraph and give a sense of closure to the reader. This paragraph should contain a restatement of the thesis, emphasize the main point(s) of the report and answer the question “so what?”. The answer to this question could include the wider implication of your findings or opinion, or how it relates to a broader concept, essentially broadening the report to conclude. This video provides further explanation.


Introduction sentence

Thesis statement

Body Paragraph 1:

Topic sentence

Supporting detail (plus evidence and/or development)

Supporting detail (plus evidence and/or development)

Body Paragraph 2:

Topic sentence

Supporting detail (plus evidence and/or development)

Supporting detail (plus evidence and/or development)

Body Paragraph 3:

Topic sentence

Supporting detail (plus evidence and/or development)

Supporting detail (plus evidence and/or development)


Restatement of thesis + the big so what?


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Business Writing Style Guide Copyright © 2018 by John Morris & Julie Zwart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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