Business Writing

The business writing assignment includes a letter or email of protest or praise, a cover letter, and résumé. Each assignment is described below. All business writing should contain focus, directness, clarity, accuracy of information, thoroughly researched context and issues, readability, economy of expression, and obvious organization. Try to maintain a formal, respectful tone that doesn’t sound too stiff. Proofread carefully for accuracy. Always make sure that the envelope/label and heading are accurately addressed.

Letter/Email of Protest or Praise

Definition: The most common form of printed correspondence sent within an organization, emails or memos tend to be brief because they generally deal with one subject only. Because of its structural formatting, the memo has retained an element of formality and brevity that many do not apply to the email, even when email is being used for the same purpose. The goal in business-related email then has been to create formal structures to combat what is also an informal communication tool. For both the memo and the business email, the purpose is to propose an action, to provide information, to stimulate change, to confirm understanding, or to explain policies or procedures. Good business communication may well express concerns but dare not merely complain; they propose thoughtful solutions and positive action. Note also that the qualities of good business communication are also important to other forms of community writing, such as the letter of protest or praise. Your handbook offers a helpful overview and sample of letter format and content.

Criteria to Consider Keep the following in mind for different types of business writing:

  1. State your topic briefly in the subject line. For a memo, initial next to your name to confirm your authorship.
  2. Begin with the most important information, stating the topic and action required by the reader in the first paragraph. Keep information thorough but brief.
  3. Format for visual accessibility: skimming is common for memo or email readers.
  4. Build rapport: involve readers in opening paragraph, identify shared experiences, include positive elements, and build goodwill in last. Focus each paragraph on one idea.
  5. Emphasize a specific action (what and when) in the final paragraph.

Preliminary Work

  1. Select a topic:
    1. Identity a problem or event with which you are already familiar (dorm life, courses, gen. ed. requirements, major requirements, campus regulations, cafeteria food, Record staff, etc.).
    2. Write a fictional memo or email on the following:
      • to Student Activities about a possible campus event to Admissions director about an idea for recruiting students from your home town to an employer or supervisor about some way to improve efficiency, profit, or working conditions to the chair of your department about practicum opportunities to our academic Dean about a self-designed plan of study to meet a particular personal or career goal to the Bookstore regarding products, services, or a line of books needed in the bookstore to the Rec./Fitness Center Director about possible programs, activities, or equipment in the new center to the Music Center Director about possible performers to bring to campus to the convo or chapel committee outlining a specific event that would interest students to your RA or RD about dorm policies or events
      • to the Dean of Students about a campus issue

    Collect information: Be sure to gather accurate information before composing your memo. Do not address a memo to a general office, misspell the recipient’s name, or name a person not qualified to respond to your request.

  2. Consider Structure: See handbook for general format requirements for a memo, but always learn the unique format requirements of a specific office or institution. See criteria listed above that indicates opening with a positive statement to build rapport and concluding with a request for a specific action to emphasize the relevance of the memo.

Cover Letter

Definition: Letters are generally sent outside an organization and are an important representation of your concern for clarity and correctness (not creativity). Whether you are writing a letter of praise or complaint, giving or asking for information, your letter should follow certain conventions (sometimes varying within field or company).

Criteria to Consider:

Your cover letter for your résumé should contain the following:

  1. State your reason for writing and name the position you seek. If appropriate, mention how you learned about the job. Describe, as specifically as possible, your educational and/or work experience which are relevant to the job description.
  2. Emphasize your specific interest in the position and request an interview. Say when you will follow up with a telephone call if you plan to do so.

Preliminary Work

  1. Select topic: Identify a specific job you would realistically like to apply for in the next year. Collect information: Do a little preliminary research about the job you have selected. Gather accurate information about address, person to target, and nature of job.
  2. Consider Structure: See handbook for spacing and punctuation requirements of a business letter. See criteria above for the organization of the body of the letter.


Definition: Research reports that employers usually spend less than sixty seconds scanning a résumé. Remember they are interested not in what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. Employers expect a résumé to be typed or printed neatly on high-quality paper; to read easily, with clear headings, adequate spacing, and a conventional format; and to provide concisely and briefly all the information necessary to make an interviewing decision. See also the library resources in the reference room and Career Services on-line guides available for writing résumés. Two other web site links are Job Central and the University of Wisconsin’s Library Career Collection.

Criteria to Consider: You should consider both content and format, which will vary according to your career objectives and your personal taste. Be sure to research your audience carefully (see preliminary work suggestions below) before making a final format. Some general criteria are as follows:


  1. Name and contact information at the top. Objectives are optional, depending on your field, degree of experience, and the nature of the job for which you are applying. If you are applying for a specific position, then the objective is not necessary. Your application and cover letter can state your objectives. If you are applying to a variety of places with no specific openings, you may state an objective and then tailor your cover letter to each location. The most common order for information is education, employment history and work experience, special skills/awards/memberships, and references. Other categories could include skills, competencies, stengths, special interests, publications, etc. You can vary the order of that information depending on your specific career goal and strengths. For example, if you have not completed the education needed for the job, you might open with strengths or skills. If you have all education and no formal work experience, put employment information last and skills first. Do highlight unique skills that might set you apart from other applicants, such as international experience. You get the picture. Keep descriptions brief, active, and concrete. Don’t say: I was a teacher’s assistant for a 3rd grade class. Instead say: Teacher’s Assistant (3rd grade): led reading groups and taught fractions unit.
  2. Only include information that is relevant to your career objectives. Even though you love horses, don’t put that down as a skill or interest when applying for your job as an accountant (unless the job is a for the owner of a horse farm!).


  1. Make your résumé visually accessible with simple, uncluttered formatting, adequate spacing, and attractive lettering, headings, etc. When publishing your résumé on the Web, you have the option of adding some interesting visual details. Never allow those to dominate the résumé. Offer clear headings that are in parallel location, size, and font. Use subheadings to emphasize specific information within the body of a description. Keep descriptions brief and in smallest font (they will be read last). Dates should also be in a consistent location. Make the most important information the most visibly accessible. If you want to draw attention to different titles you have had, put those in bold and/or italics. If you want to down play dates, put them in a less noticeable location.
  2. Try to keep your résumé to one page, unless your field or unique skills require something else. In education, for example, you have a curriculum vitae (c.v.) that details courses taught, professional activities, and publications. In business, you would only have one page unless, for example, you had a series of publications in business writing.

Special Suggestions:


  1. Keep résumé to one or two pages. Drop objectives section. Add international or environmental experience. Include only jobs that demonstrate leadership, work with children, or an education-related skill. Include any special presentations, writing, or conference attendance.
  2. Add a brief paragraph on teaching philosophy only if you aren’t going to include a portfolio.


  1. Keep résumé to one or two pages. Use objectives only if doing a broad search. Highlight any publishing, web, or oncampus writing experience.
  2. List published writing.


  1. Keep it short. Communicate strengths, accomplishments and potential Stress your “ABCs”: Accomplishments, Benefits, Capabilities Use telegraphic phrases instead of complete sentences Top load information Make it easy to read Proofread carefully
  2. Have it professionally printed

Preliminary Work

  1. Collect information: Begin by reading other sample résumés and get a sense of the content and style that appeals to you. You might also ask your department chair or a professor in your discipline to provide a sample from your field or at least discuss the important elements required in your field. Then begin brainstorming, compiling information from your past, and taking notes. Try answering the following questions:
    • What skills have you acquired in school, at work, and from your hobbies? Try to find a common thread in all these experiences. What can you do well: draw, write, speak other languages, organize, lead, instruct, sell, solve problems, think creatively? Are you good at making decisions? Are you good at original thinking, at taking the initiative, or at following directions?
    • Are you looking for security, service, experience, excitement, money, travel, or something else?
  2. Consider Structure: See criteria above and samples offered in handbook.

Other Business writing links in addition to GC Career Services

Riches Communication on Email

Purdue Online Writing Lab

Page composed by Beth Martin Birky (

Updated: 2/20/12