Book Review: Business Writing for South Africans

Bittie Viljoen-Smook, Johan Geldenhuys, Wena Coetzee


Review: Brian Joss

I’ve read many, many books on writing skills and they’ve all had something of value to offer. But the main lesson is that it’s easier to speak English than it is to write it. Communicating clearly with colleagues and business associates is a pre-requisite for life in the corporate world. It is not only a key aspect of professionalism: it also paints your company in a positive light. The authors who have years of experience teaching business English, including to Nedbank staff, examine plain language writing; technical writing; proposals; presentations and reports; letters and emails, and minute-taking which is an art in itself, and not always the secretary’s job. The authors say that in business it is important to use language which is clear and intelligible to your audience. There is a big difference between plain language, common language, plain talk and plain English, which don’t mean the same thing to everybody. Common language could refer to language that certain groups of people use, while plain English could imply that other languages are excluded. The book is not just theoretical: there are numerous practical examples of how to write business letters; business emails; reports; presentations; policies; technical writing and academic writing, among others. They say when drafting policies pay attention to the four Cs: context, consistency, correctness and clarity. They also advise against the use of ampersands (&), unless it is forms part of the registered name of a company or entity.

Text boxes are also used to highlight important points and are scattered throughout the book. The authors also give useful pointers about writing for websites: think about your audience; write in a conversational style but don’t forget the rules of English grammar.

Business Writing is one of the better guides I have read. It is effective and easy to read and understand. There should be a copy in every office and it will be a valuable addition to your bookshelf at home. It will be well used, I guarantee it. And the foreword by Peter Bruce, Editor-in-Chief of Business Day and the Financial Mail, also has some good advice: “show your work to someone else to read, that interaction often makes the difference”, is his suggestion.

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