The AMA Handbook of Business Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Style, Grammar, Punctuation, Usage, Construction, and Formatting


With more than 800 alphabetical entries and nearly 100 sample documents, The AMA Handbook of Business Writing gives you quick, accessible guidelines to the entire writing process, from using correct grammar and style to formatting your document for clarity to writing effectively for a target audience.

Far more comprehensive than the vast majority of business writing guides, yet infinitely easier to grasp than standard tomes like The Chicago Manual of Style, this is a remarkably ...

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The AMA Handbook of Business Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Style, Grammar, Punctuation, Usage, Construction and Formatting

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With more than 800 alphabetical entries and nearly 100 sample documents, The AMA Handbook of Business Writing gives you quick, accessible guidelines to the entire writing process, from using correct grammar and style to formatting your document for clarity to writing effectively for a target audience.

Far more comprehensive than the vast majority of business writing guides, yet infinitely easier to grasp than standard tomes like The Chicago Manual of Style, this is a remarkably comprehensive reference—and remarkably easy to pinpoint the information you need to complete any writing project, whether it’s an annual report, newsletter, press release, business plan, grant proposal, training manual, PowerPoint presentation, or piece of formal correspondence.

Prepared by the founders of a successful corporate communications consulting firm and authors of the best-selling Administrative Assistant’s and Secretary’s Handbook, this book is designed for businesspeople of every stripe, from marketing managers to human resources directors, from technical writers to public relations professionals, from administrative assistants to sales managers.

Peek inside to survey the unprecedented scope of information, all presented in a simple A-to-Z format, with clear examples, helpful cross-references, easy-to-emulate sample documents, and step-by-step guidelines. The AMA Handbook of Business Writing is a classic reference you’ll consult every time you write.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A highly relevant, reasonably priced, and authoritative work; an essential purchase for most libraries and a likely boon to patrons with an entrepreneurial spirit." --Library Journal

Library Journal
This handbook includes samples of business letters and documents, usage information for common grammatical errors, and a 30-page introduction to business writing. Although brief, this section will be useful to people trying to jump-start a writing project or learn to improve their business correspondence ability. The lengthy sample business documents section covering a significant number of letters, forms, and documents will prove particularly useful. The alphabetical reference section makes up the bulk of the book and will assist people needing guidance about word usage, grammar, punctuation, and more. Examples include a list of action verbs, usage guidance distinguishing between frequently confused terms like feint and faint, a description of the grammatical use of relative clauses, and a guide to transitions. BOTTOM LINE A highly relevant, reasonably priced, and authoritative work; an essential purchase for most libraries and a likely boon to patrons with an entrepreneurial spirit.—Denise Johnson, Bradley Univ., Peoria, IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814415894
  • Publisher: AMACOM
  • Publication date: 8/4/2010
  • Pages: 656
  • Sales rank: 723,962
  • Product dimensions: 10.28 (w) x 11.04 (h) x 1.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Wilson

KEVIN WILSON (Acworth, GA) is a writer, instructional designer, training consultant and Vice President of Videologies, Inc., a company that specializes in training administrative professionals.

JENNIFER WAUSON (Acworth, GA) is a training consultant, project manager, and President of Videologies, Inc. They are the authors of Administrative Assistant’s and Secretary’s Handbook (978-0-8144-0913-8).

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Read an Excerpt


The AMA Handbook of Business Writing is a desktop job aid for all corporate

communicators. The book is a collection of easy-to-find information on

style, grammar, usage, punctuation, language construction, formatting, and

business documents.

In writing three editions of the Administrative Assistant’s and Secretary’s

Handbook, we have done extensive research on language usage. In addition,

we are the founders of a corporate communications consulting business with

over 25 years’ experience working for many Fortune 500 companies like

IBM, AT&T, Sony, Chevron, Hewlett Packard, and Cox Enterprises. In our

work, we’ve developed hundreds of business documents including Web

sites, brochures, reports, presentations, marketing plans, policy manuals,

video programs, software tutorials, and training materials. In The AMA

Handbook of Business Writing, we take the best of these corporate business

writing guidelines and organize them in a way corporate writers will find


We’ve written the book so you can easily find information on a particular

topic and quickly get back to your writing project. We have alphabetized

most of the book and included cross-references to assist you in finding alternatively

worded entries.

The book is organized into three sections:

 Section 1: The Writing Process

 Section 2: The Business Writer’s Alphabetical Reference

 Section 3: Sample Business Documents

The book also includes a detailed table of contents and index that will assist

you in quickly finding what you are seeking.

The Sample Business Documents section includes guidelines, tips, and a

wide variety of business documents, including annual reports, brochures,

business letters, business plans, grant proposals, mission statements,

newsletters, policies, press releases, proposals, résumés, surveys, speeches,

training manuals, user guides, and white papers.

We believe The AMA Handbook of Business Writing is an essential desk reference

for the following business writers:

 Corporate communications writers and managers

 Marketing writers and managers

 Human resources administrators and managers

 Sales representatives and managers

 Training developers and managers

 Technical writers

 Grant writers

 Public relations writers

 Administrative assistants

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Table of Contents





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First Chapter

The AMA Handbook of Business Writing

The Ultimate Guide to Style, Grammar, Usage, Punctuation, Construction, and Formatting


Copyright © 2010 Kevin Wilson and Jennifer Wauson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8144-1589-4

Chapter One

The Writing Process


When planning to write a business document, the most important consideration is to understand your audience. You must adapt your writing to the needs and interests of the audience.

For most business documents, the audience falls into one of the following categories:

* Subject matter experts—individuals who know the content completely and who focus on the details

* Technologists—people who manufacture, operate, and maintain products and services and who have a firm practical knowledge

* Management—people who make decisions about whether to produce and market products and services but who have little technical knowledge about the details

* General audience—people who may know about a product or service but who have little technical knowledge about the details

Another way to analyze your audience is to consider its characteristics:

* What are their background, education, and experience?

* Does your writing have to start with the basics, or can you work at a more advanced level?

* What will the audience expect and need from your document?

* How will your document be used?

* Will users read it cover to cover or just skim the high points?

* Will they use your document as a reference to look up information when it is needed?

* What are the demographics of your audience?

* Consider the age, sex, location, and other characteristics of your audience.

Your writing may have more than one audience or an audience with a wide variety of backgrounds. With an audience of both experts and laypeople, it is best to organize your document into sections with easy-to-understand headings so that the individual users can find the areas that interest them. You may need to off-load the more technical information to an appendix.

Once you have analyzed your audience, you need to adapt your document to conform to its interests and needs.

* You may need to add information.

* You may need to omit information.

* You may need to add examples to help readers understand.

* You may need to write to a lower or higher level.

* You may need to include background information.

* You may need to strengthen transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and sections.

* You may need to write longer introductions and clearer topic sentences.

* You may need to change your sentence style.

* You may need change the type of graphics used.

* You may need to add cross-references.

* You may need to organize your content into headings with lists.

* You may need to use special fonts, font sizes, font styles, and line spacing for emphasis.


Brainstorming by jotting down notes is a great way to gather content ideas for a writing project.

* Don't worry about the order of the ideas.

* Let one idea lead you to other related ideas.

* Browse the Web to generate ideas.

* Review magazines, journals, and periodical indexes for ideas.

* Use free association to let your mind roam freely throughout the subject area.

* Use free association while commuting, while riding a bike, while walking, or even while taking a shower.

* Keep a pen and notepad or a digital recorder nearby.

As you think about the subject matter, consider the following angles:

* Are there any problems or needs?

* Is there a cause-and-effect relationship?

* What are the solutions to the problems?

* What is the history of the subject matter?

* What processes are involved?

* What needs to be described to readers?

* How can the subject matter be divided into smaller pieces?

* Are any comparisons involved?

* What needs to be illustrated with a graphic or photograph?

* How is the subject matter applied?

* Can you list any advantages and benefits?

* What are the disadvantages and limitations?

* Are there any warnings, cautions, tips, or guidelines?

* What are the financial implications of the subject matter?

* What is its importance?

* What does the future likely hold?

* What are the social, political, and legal implications of the subject matter?

* Can you draw any conclusions about the subject matter?

* Do you have any recommendations?

* What are the alternatives to the subject matter?

* What tests and methods are used?

* Can you use relevant statistics?

* Are there any legal issues?

* Should you consider applicable business situations?

After brainstorming, the next step is to narrow the list of ideas to the scope of the project.

* How does each brainstorm idea apply to your audience?

* Will your audience care about each brainstorming item?

* Does the idea help your audience understand the topic?

* Could you eliminate one or more ideas without sacrificing anything?

* Is the idea too general, too technical, or not technical enough?

After narrowing the list of topics, decide how to cover each and determine how to obtain the content details.

* Research online.

* Talk to subject matter experts.

* Use reference books.

* Test and evaluate the product or service yourself.

* Get testimonials from customers or users.

* Conduct tests.

* Record demonstrations using software or video.

For the narrowed list of topics, determine the audience level for each:

* Determine which topics apply to all audiences and should be more general.

* Determine which topics apply to individual audiences and should be more specific, include more details, or used to create separate audience-specific documents.


The research phase of a business writing project consists of:

* Reviewing existing publications, periodicals, Web sites, and company documents

* Evaluating products and services

* Conducting tests of products and services

* Running tests

* Studying users

* Interviewing experts

* Conducting surveys using questionnaires or observations

Traditional print sources used in research include anything published in print form that is available in libraries and bookstores:

* Books

* Textbooks

* Newspapers

* Scholarly journals

* Trade publications

* Magazines

Materials available for research purposes on the Internet include:

* Web pages and blogs

* PDF documents

* eBooks

* Video and audio

* Online versions of print publications

* Press releases

* Message boards

* Discussion lists

* Chat rooms

* Web-based government reports

When searching for information at a library or on the Internet:

* Make a list of keywords related to your subject matter that will likely produce search results.

* Use the Library of Congress subject headings to search for keywords.

* Check Books in Print by subjects for any related keywords.

* Check the Reader's Guide to Periodic Literature for related articles.

* Use Google Scholar at to search for articles across many disciplines and sources.

* Check the New York Times Index for relevant newspaper articles.

* Check a general encyclopedia for information about your topic.

Keep a list of the sources used in your research in order to document them in footnotes, endnotes, and a bibliography.

* Keep your notes organized on note cards or in a word processor.

* For research from books, include the title, authors, city of publication, * publisher, date of publication, and the pages for specific quotes and * other information.

* For research from magazines, include the title of the article, the magazine's name, the issue date, and beginning and ending page numbers of the article.

* For encyclopedia articles, include the title, edition number, date of publication, and the author's name.

* For government documents, include notes about the department, administration, or agency name, along with any cataloging number.

* For private sources of research from interviews, make notes about the date of the communication, the source's full name, title, and organization.

When making notes from your research sources, you can record any of the following:

* A few sentences or some statistics

* Direct quotes from a publication

* Paraphrased information in your own words

* Summaries that condense the main ideas in an article


Interviews with subject matter experts, customers, end users, and members of your general audience provide you with insight and testimonials for use in your writing project.

Interviews can be conducted in a number of ways:

* Face-to-face

* In focus groups

* By telephone

* In a computer chat

* Via email

* On a message board

* By means of a discussion list

* By mail

Interviews that are conducted face-to-face or on the telephone can be recorded with the interviewee's permission and later transcribed.

* In informal conversational interviews, interview questions often flow from the context of the discussion.

* Structured interviews follow a checklist to make sure all relevant topics are covered, and the interviewer may ask impromptu questions based on the answers.

* In an open-ended interview, open-ended questions are asked, allowing the subject to share opinions and ideas.

When asking interview questions, consider the following:

* Ask clear questions whose language makes sense to the interviewees.

* Ask one question at a time, rather than multipart questions.

* Ask opened-ended questions with no predetermined answers.

* Ask questions about interviewees' experience with the subject matter before asking for their opinions on it.

* Order the questions from general to specific, from broad to narrow.

* Ask probing and follow-up questions when a different level of response or detail is needed.

* Be able to interpret the answers and clarify the responses to confirm that what you heard is what the interviewee meant.

* Avoid sensitive or deep questions that may irritate the interviewee.

* Allow free-form discussion, but keep the interview session under control by having a checklist of questions you want to ask.

* Establish and maintain a rapport with the interviewee through attentive listening, purposeful voice tone, and responsive expressions and gestures.


Outlines are useful in the writing process as a strategy for brainstorming and the logical ordering of content. An outline lists the headings and subheadings for various topics and ideas. Several levels of subheadings may be used to group ideas.

To create an outline:

* Determine the purpose of the document.

* Determine the audience.

* Brainstorm ideas to include in the document.

* Organize the ideas by grouping similar ones together.

* Determine a logical order for the ideas.

* Label the groups of ideas for use as headings and subheadings in the outline.

In the most common outline format, numbers or letters are assigned to each level of heading or subheading. For example:

I. Roman numerals

A. Capitalized letters

1. Arabic numerals

a. Lowercase letters

Keep the following ideas in mind when creating an outline:

* Use parallel structure for headings and subheadings.

* Heading content at the same level should be equally significant.

* A heading can contain just a few words or an entire sentence.

* Each heading should have at least two or more items of subordinated content or subheadings.

* Headings should be general, and subheadings should be more specific.


I. Introducing the transactional Web site

A. What is a transactional Web site?

B. Who uses this type of Web site?

II. Finding a transactional Web hosting service

A. Bandwidth pricing

B. Shopping cart service

C. Credit card merchant service

III. Typical Web transactions

A. Services

B. Research

C. Downloadable software

D. Products


After completing the prewriting stages of audience analysis, brainstorming, research, interviewing, and outlining, you can begin the writing process by creating a first draft. Start by copying your research notes into the related sections of your outline. Phrase your notes as complete sentences, and fill in the gaps with transitions and other commentary. As you work on your first draft, keep the following tips in mind:

* Add introductions and conclusions to the various sections of the outline.

* Don't worry about choosing the best wording when writing your draft; you'll have an opportunity to read and rewrite later.

* If you get stuck on a section, leave it and move on to the next one.

* If you don't like how a particular section sounds, keep writing and revise it later.

* Write notes to yourself with ideas for additional content or revisions using a different-colored font or highlighting tool.

* After completing the first draft, look for ways to improve it by proofreading and revising.


The overall tone of a business document, as seen through the choice of words and commentary, reflects the writer's attitude. Business writers must consider the overall tone of their messages, whether they are writing a letter or a formal report.

To decide on the appropriate tone for your documents, make sure you can answer the following questions:

* Why am I writing this document?

* For whom am I writing it?

* What do I want the readers to understand?

The overall tone of a business document should be confident, courteous, and sincere. It should use nondiscriminatory language and be written at the appropriate level for the audience. In addition, your writing should focus on the benefits to the reader. To write with the appropriate tone:

* Be knowledgeable and prepared so that readers will accept your ideas.

* Be persuasive so that readers will follow your instructions.

* Don't be arrogant or presumptuous.

* Strive for politeness with sincerity to avoid sounding condescending.

* Consider your word choices and think about how the reader will perceive them.

* Use strategies to emphasize key points by using short sentences, placing key points at the beginning of paragraphs, and positioning subordinate information in the middle of paragraphs.

* Use the active voice to describe what a reader should do, and use the passive voice to describe actions being performed.

* Avoid language that is sexist or biased based on race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, or disability.

* Write from your readers' perspective and clearly explain the benefits for them.

* Use language and details that are appropriate to the target audience's level of understanding.


Visuals in a business document should support the text and avoid confusing the reader. Visuals are a part of the overall message and should be used to communicate important ideas. When creating and placing visuals, keep the following in mind:

* Readers must be able to understand a figure without having to read any of the surrounding text.

* Introduce all figures by referring to them in the text.

* Place visuals in a logical place close to the reference text.

* Charts with content of interest only to specific audiences should be saved for an appendix.

* Visuals should not repeat the content of the text.

* Never use charts to distort research findings.

* Be aware of what multicolored images and graphs will look like in black and white.

Statistical information can be presented in tables or graphs. Graphs in particular help the reader conceptualize information that is not as easily seen in tabular form. Graphs can display the relationships between sets of data. When creating graphs:

* Don't overly complicate graphs with grid lines and data points.

* Use line graphs to show a relationship between two values.

* Employ pie charts to show a relationship between multiple values that make up a whole.

* Utilize bar charts to show comparisons, distributions, and trends.

* Use pictographs like bar charts but with symbols to make up each bar.

* Use organizational charts to show the hierarchy of an organization.

* Employ flowcharts to show the steps in a process.


Excerpted from The AMA Handbook of Business Writing by KEVIN WILSON JENNIFER WAUSON Copyright © 2010 by Kevin Wilson and Jennifer Wauson. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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