ESL Business Writing

ESL Business Writing

A wealth of information exists for instructors and students interested in knowing more about ESL business writing. The traits that are required in business writing are very transferable to ESL writers and help them develop simple, focused writing in the active voice. Second language learners, who have already developed a proficiency in spoken and written language, will benefit from an understanding of the basics of business writing if they plan to enter the business world.

Basics of ESL Business Writing

There are many nuances to business writing depending on the sector of the business community in which one is working and the genre of the writing being created.

  • Sales and marketing will naturally use a different vernacular than accounting and finance.
  • There is not one type of business writing. A memo, for example, follows a different formula than a sales report. Even emails and text messages have different expectations in the business community.

There are, however, some universals that exist within the larger landscape of business writing - rules of thumb that should influence all business writing, no matter what the genre. Consider these general traits that make for successful business writing.

Keep it Simple

People are in business, generally, for one purpose and one purpose only: to make money.

The old adage time is money should be applied to any business writing that one creates.

  • Memos are not read for their colorful metaphors and obtuse references. Memos are read because they contain important information that should be quickly given in a clear, direct manner.
  • A vice president isn't going to read three paragraphs of a memo while you wind up to your point. You have a very small window to get your reader's attention in business writing.

ESL students need to understand that clarity and brevity are very important.

Write in the Active Voice

Business writing requires the use of the active voice. The active voice refers to the way verbs are used in relation to the subject and object of the sentence. The best way to understand the difference between active and passive voice is to look at a few examples.


  • The president made mistakes.

In this sentence, the subject is the president, made is the verb, and mistakes is the object. The subject performed the action of the active verb on the object.


  • Mistakes were made.

The passive voice is created by switching the position of the object and the subject. The verb form to be is used as well.

The perceived problem with the passive voice in business writing is that it creates a sense of vagueness. In the above sentence, the object has become the subject of the sentence, but the original subject is not needed in order to make the sentence grammatical. The question one has when they read the sentence Mistakes were made is Who made the mistakes? The to be verb form does not convey a strong sense of action and purpose.

Writing that is heavy in passive voice sentences is drab, boring, and vague. All these qualities are to be avoided in ESL business writing.

Final Thoughts

When writing for business purposes, don't try to impress your audience with your large vocabulary or your long, intricate sentences. Focus on the purpose of your writing task while trying to state it as efficiently as possible.