Organizing and Formatting Business Documents

1.       Using the Direct Versus the Indirect Organizational Approach

Most business documents should be organized using the direct approach. Busy readers want to know right away why they are reading a message, so you should state your main point clearly in the beginning of the message, and then provide supporting details.

Persuasive and bad news messages are exceptions to this rule. With these types of messages, the writer should use the indirect approach, giving explanations and details first before stating the main point. For example, if you are writing a sales letter promoting a condominium project, you will be more persuasive if you first provide appealing information about the project to capture the readers' interest. Then you can move on to the main point of the letter, which might be to invite readers to an open house. Similarly, if you are writing a bad news letter informing employees of an increase in health plan rates, you should give the reasons for the increase before stating the new rates. Using the indirect method cushions the bad news and therefore shows concern for the reader.

2.       Formatting E-Mails and Memorandums

Both e-mails and memos are used for internal communication in an organization. While e-mails have largely replaced memos, memos are still used within an organization when privacy is important and for messages that are more formal.

Since e-mails and memos usually convey routine information, they should be organized using the direct method. A specific and informative subject line is also important-readers should be able to glance at the subject line and immediately know the purpose of the message.

Attached is an example of a properly formatted memo: Properly Formatted Memo

3.       Formatting Letters

Letters are frequently used for communication in business and are usually printed on letterhead stationery. Letters provide a permanent record when necessary, and they allow for confidential communication.  Attached is an example of a properly formatted letter in block style: Properly Formatted Block Letter

You may notice that it can be difficult to type a letter in Microsoft Word because Word automatically adds 10 points of line spacing after each paragraph. Therefore, when you type a recipient's name and address in a letter, Word automatically places these extra points of line spacing between each line of the address, resulting in incorrect formatting. The following screencast explains how to work around this feature in Word: Removing Extra Line Spacing in Word

4.       Using Templates in Microsoft Word to Format Business Documents

There are hundreds of templates available in Microsoft Word for formatting business documents. Please view this screencast to learn more about utilizing templates.

5.       Style Guides for Formatting Reports

A style guide is a set of standards for formatting reports and citing references. When assigning research reports, your instructor will normally specify which style you should use. The three most commonly used styles are The Chicago Manual of Style, APA Style, and MLA Style. The Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) is an excellent resource for information about each of these three styles.