What Is Business English? The Definitive Guide With Examples
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published July 4, 2022
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
When you're writing business prose, there are specific rules to maximize the professionalism and clarity of your writing. Business English is a type of writing that focuses on clearer, more direct language without slang, idioms, or grammatical errors. Understanding business English can make you a more effective business writer, whether you're a copywriter, marketer, or business executive writing internal policy documents.
In this article, we define what business English is, explain its uses, address the core rules of business English, and provide some contextual examples of business English to help you better understand the concept.
What is business English?
When working to improve your professional communication, you may wonder, "What is Business English?" This style of writing is specific to a corporate environment and includes formal language that is not always common in the average English vocabulary. You might use business English in marketing, commerce, finance, insurance, banking, office jobs, government positions, and C-level positions.
Business English has more strict and clearly defined rules for vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and prose. Clarity and consistency are important components of business English, which is why it focuses so heavily on things like strong vocabulary and well-written sentences. To deliver the message effectively to all readers, this type of English creates a universal standard by which businesses across the world can write.
Related: 20 Great Jobs for English Majors
What are the uses of business English?
The uses of business English are numerous, especially because it's useful in almost any industry. Here are some common uses for business English:
Writing company documents: Many businesses use this style of English to write their internal policy documents, financial reports, and other important documents that explain how the business operates. In business operations, clear, consistent communication can be vital for setting a standard of production and behaviour or for detailing specific company policies.
Writing manuals: If a company writes a manual for their products, they typically use business English to ensure readers understand each component of the manual. This can be crucial for potentially dangerous or hazardous products, like power tools, cleaning chemicals, or solvents.
Drafting messages between companies or clients: Many businesses use business English when they communicate with other companies or their clients. The style can show both professionalism and a certain level of respect for the reader, showcasing the company's understanding of diplomacy.
Writing web copy: Some web copy requires business English to maintain the authority of the writer. For example, if you're writing web copy about corporate practices, you're likely using this style of English to ensure clear, consistent tones and professionalism in your writing.
Core rules of business English
Business English has many of the same rules as universal English, with some specific differences. To understand this style of English, consider these core rules:
Write short, direct sentences
The core of business English is its focus on short, direct sentences. Where fictional prose might focus on lengthy, descriptive sentences with complex metaphors and allusions, business English is much the opposite. This style focuses on short sentences that clearly and simply convey a message. For example, you might write something like, The company is excited, moved, and completely taken aback by your generous donation as a way to thank a donor to your organization.
While the sentence works, it's long and overly complicated. In business English, it might read something like, Thank you for your generous donation. We are excited to welcome you to our list of donors. This sentence lacks the number of adjectives and verbs the first sentence has and conveys the message quickly, clearly, and effectively.
Use simple language and avoid idioms or slang
Business English also focuses on clear, simple language and avoiding things like idioms, which are regional-specific sayings or phrases, and slang. Slang words are culturally unique words and phrases, sometimes inappropriate words, that have a specific meaning that may be difficult to understand or offensive for some readers. When you're writing in business language, use simple language and if you think you might be using an idiom, omit the phrase. Here are some examples of what to avoid:
Make correct grammar and punctuation a priority
Correct grammar and punctuation are top priorities in business English because you're typically writing official documents. Punctuation and grammar not only help the document read well, but also showcase your level of professionalism and writing skills. During the proofreading and writing processes, make grammar and good punctuation top priorities and focus on creating strong sentences with good punctuation. Depending on the specific style requirements of your company, you might adhere to different grammatical, structural, or even punctuation rules. For example, the Oxford comma isn't common in U.S. business English in Associated Press (AP) style.
Be clear in your messages
Clarity is the ultimate goal of business English. Formal documents rely heavily on the clarity of their message and their ability to translate that message to different readers. When you're writing in this style, focus on clear, consistent verbiage, nouns, and sentence structure. Say what you mean in as few words as possible and avoid hidden meanings, metaphors, or any other suggestive elements that might leave more room for interpretation. Write the document so that a reader understands exactly what you're trying to say and can almost repeat the message verbatim if necessary.
Include strong vocabulary
While business English does focus on simplicity, that doesn't mean you neglect vocabulary. Strong vocabulary can increase the effectiveness and readability of your message, so focus on strong words that fit the context of your message. You can use strong adjectives, nouns, and verbs in your writing as long as they match the tone of the rest of your document. If you think a word you're using is too complex, it might be a good idea to use a thesaurus or other tool to find a similar word or simplify the sentence so that you don't need that word or phrase.
Examples of business English
To better understand this style of English, consider these examples of sentences written in casual or standard English and their business English counterparts:
Here's an example of a sentence written in standard English, transcribed to a more formal business English style. The original sentence contains more references and casual language:
Original sentence: We at UTC Health Care and Nursing believe in strong family ties and a commitment to quality care that goes far beyond what our competitors can offer. We're committed to the process, to the long road of recovery, and to all the families, friends, and support figures in our patients' lives. Great care starts with UTC.
Revised business English version: UTC Health Care and Nursing believes that strong family ties and quality care are integral to the recovery process and offer a level of care unique in the industry.
Here's an example of a sentence that contains various clichés, idioms, and metaphors, rewritten in formal business English:
Original sentence: Like a bird in flight, Screaming Winds Air Travel is your go-to for flights and vacations. We'll wow you with our ridiculously low prices, our amazing customer service, and our spectacular, unmatched flight matching system.
Revised business English version: Screaming Winds Air Travel is the premier flight service in Canada, featuring industry-leading service, pricing, and a unique flight-matching system.
This example contains grammatical and punctuation errors, with some clichés and references that the business English version helps clarify:
Original sentence: Moulder Construction is a construction service in Ontario with five-star reviews and a record as clean as your new windows will be. We're the right choice for the job, and it's easy to see.
Revised business English version: Moulder construction is a five-star construction service based in Ontario. We're the best choice for the job because we provide high-quality results that you can see.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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