The Lost Art of Business Communication

We used to teach courses in business writing in business school.  Students learned how to construct effective business letters and memorandums.

Over the past decades, those courses faded away as formal requirements in most business schools.  Business schools opted to integrate writing requirements into various courses in their curricula.  Students now graduate with experience in writing business case study analyses and research papers, but get little or no instruction on how to construct formal business communications.

Emails Show the Result

I see the outcomes of the lack of training in business communication in emails that I receive from students. Most students use a highly informal communication style in their emails.  It starts with the salutation.  “Hey, Professor”, or my least favorite, “Hey, Jeff”, are common salutations in emails I receive from students.  Although this might be fine in an informal text message, email has become the new medium for business communication.  Therefore, it needs a higher standard of formality and writing style.

From there, the content of the email then proceeds to go downhill.  The text of the messages are full of poor grammar and language that sounds like it is pulled from a hastily constructed personal text message sent to one of their friends.

From what I hear from employers and investors, students carry this informal, unprofessional style of writing with them into their careers after college.  I frequently hear from people in the business community about students and alumni of mine who send emails that are so long and rambling that they give up trying to understand the purpose of the communication.  They complain about emails full of typos, muddled messages, and poor grammar.

David Cohen, an investor and founder of Techstars, wrote in a blog post that he commonly receives emails sent en masse to a large group of investors, many of whom he knows personally. At best, this shows a lack of respect for the recipients. At worst, it makes the sender look just plain lazy.

In a follow-up post, Cohen highlights what he calls “the perfect email.”  The sender is clear about the purpose of the email.  The sender takes the time to personalize the email to the recipient.  The email is well-written with a clear and concise message.

Creating Effective Emails

If a student graduates and gets a corporate job, they will quickly get trained in effective business communication (however, these employers do wonder why it is left up to them to teach this skill).

For those pursuing a purely entrepreneurial career path, they are on their own to develop effective business communication skills.  There are plenty of good resources out there (for example, here, here, and here).

By all means, find someone to proofread your important emails.  If you are in a co-working space, find a group of fellow entrepreneurs who are will and able to review each others’ communications to help everyone get better.  Effective business communication, like any skill, takes learning and practice.