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The 6½ Principles of Business Writing

By Ilja van Roon
Posted Sunday, September 12, 2004

Ask yourself: can you turn yourself into a business writing expert, fix your bad writing habits and compensate for your lack of writing talent, overnight? The answer is: probably not. But applying certain principles can teach you insights that will allow you to become a better writer over time.

There are several ways to improve your business writing. You can focus on specific techniques and master a single particular genre, such as articles, press releases or case studies. You can learn so-called power words or use costly templates that others have developed for you. Perhaps this works for you. Perhaps it doesn’t.

Either way, there’s another way: learning and applying the 6½ Principles of Business Writing.

Deceivingly Simple

Principles of any kind are deceivingly simple. Simple because they seem very obvious once you have understood them. Deceiving because that wrongly makes you believe they have no value or effect. The opposite is true: writing from principles is focused and powerful.

Principles share another trait: they only work if they are applied. That is why your ability to improve your writing, depends on your application of the 6½ principles. Reflect on them as you write, continuously and without regard for your own ego. Be consistent and diligent in planning, executing and evaluating your writing on the basis of these principles.

Here they are

So, what are these 6½ Principles of Business Writing? And what, in a nutshell, do they mean? Simply said, it’s like this:

Focus: Develop a blueprint of your writing before you start. Execute consistently.

Purpose: Everything you write – be it a word, sentence, paragraph and the end result itself – should serve a purpose. If it doesn’t, change it or delete it.

Meaning: Do not write what something is, explain what it means.

Substance: Substantiate your claims. Provide proof – preferably from an outsider - or elaborate with additional information that allows your reader to judge your claim.

Clarity: Write succinctly and consistently. Avoid fancy words.

Structure: Organise your text in a consistent, transparent, supportive and logical way.

These six principles all apply to the content or form of business writing. There is one additional principle that does not apply to either aspect of writing. That is why the next principle is only accorded ‘half’ status:

Humility: Critically judge your writing and apply all writing principles without regard to your ego.

Total sum

These 6½ principles cannot be seen independently from one other. In practice, all 6½ are interrelated, in that they depend on and influence each other:

Clarity cannot be achieved without Structure.

Purpose can only be realised through Focused execution.

Meaning depends on Purpose, which in turn requires Clarity.

The choice for Substance depends on the Purpose.

Humility clarifies Purpose and Substance.

This means that the success of business writing not only depends on the successful application of each of these principles individually. Success depends on their total sum, on whether the application of one does not reduce the effect of another.


The 6½ principles are principles because they apply to any type of business writing, irrespective of language, audience or genre. They are principles because they apply to any aspect of business writing, be it a word, sentence, paragraph, chapter or the whole publication. They also apply to the tone of voice, the type of words, and the style you use.

If you apply these principles, you can learn two things.

First, you can learn to write succinct, focused and structured copy that teaches or touches your audience and serves your own business purpose.

Second, you can develop sound judgement as to what constitutes good business writing. This is of particular use when you are in a position where somebody else does the business writing for you!

About the Author
Ilja van Roon is the owner of Lucid Communication, an agency specialising in business writing and editing for business professionals and their organisations. He is the author of the e-book The 6½ Principles of Business Writing.


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