How great business writing is like great architecture


Back in the first century B.C., Roman author, architect and engineer wrote his famous 10-volume treatise on architecture, De architectura. One of his most enduring ideas was that a building should embody three qualities: firmitas, utilitas and venustas. In other words, a structure should be solid, useful and beautiful.

Having studied architecture in university and now working as a business writer, I see clear parallels between these two disciplines. They are both applied arts, as compared to pure art forms; the best architecture is not sculpture, any more than the best business writing is poetry or literature. Yet both architecture and writing draw heavily on art as part of their overall formation.

Let’s explore the similarities between business writing and architecture in more detail. Note: While structural integrity (solidity) is the most fundamental attribute of a building, I believe that ‘usefulness’ is the best place to start for business writing.

  1. Great business writing knows its audience.

In architecture, a building must accommodate the needs of its users (often beyond its occupants to include its owners or financiers). Likewise, business writing must achieve the goals of its ‘author’ – chiefly to deliver information to its target audience(s). Just as an office tower wouldn’t be useful as a church, an RFP submission being sent to a procurement department would baffle an organization’s charitable donors.

  1. Great business writing is clear and concise.

If a building’s acoustics are bad or the roof leaks, it fails in being ‘solid’ or dependable. Similarly, if a business document indeed contains all the required information, but makes it difficult to find what you’re looking for, it’s poorly structured. Here are some tips to help people digest your message quickly:

  • Get to the point by using short paragraphs
  • Incorporate section numbers or bullet points
  • Add bold visuals

Good writing always facilitates, never hinders, communication.

  1. Great business writing need not be dull.

When you walk into some buildings, you recognize that your practical needs are being met – but it feels like something’s missing. There’s no spark. No inspiration. No sense of surprise! Notwithstanding the need to be properly targeted and clear, business writing can indeed possess flair and style. How? By varying the rhythm through sentence structure and punctuation. By choosing uncommon but still understandable words to create mental images. And heck, by adopting a casual (but never offensive) tone of voice where appropriate. Do that, and you’ll be adding ‘beauty’ to the written word.

Great buildings inspire as well as shelter us. It pays to ensure that your business writing similarly cuts through the deluge of information we face each day.


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