The first time I had to send an official email, I had no idea how to write a cover letter.
Sure, you can find a “template” of a cover letter online—a simple example that you can fill in with your own information.
But since I didn’t know anything about cover letters, I didn’t know which templates were good.
There was no teacher to tell me if the online template I’d chosen was the right one for the job.
When you start doing business in English, you’ll quickly learn that learning to speak business English fluently isn’t enough!
You need to be able to write correctly and in an engaging manner.
You need to know the right words to use and when, be it emailing your clients or drafting a report to your boss.
Writing in business English is indeed a craft, and it’s a skill you must absolutely master if you want to succeed in the workplace or kick-start your career.
You can’t write an email the way you’d casually text your best friend. You shouldn’t make a PowerPoint presentation without proofreading and spell-checking the information in all the slides. Drafting a business proposal isn’t the same as writing a letter.
Yes, the business world is a scary and competitive place, but (thankfully) you don’t have to be as clueless as I was starting out. We’re here to provide you with the right courses and online resources to help you master the art of business writing in English in a fast and efficient manner.
So How Is Writing in Business English Different?
Business writing differs greatly from less formal styles of writing in many ways.
- The language itself is more formal—no short-forms or text message lingo here.
- Whether it’s an email, report or an article, there’s a particular format you must always follow and never play around with.
- Your ideas must be presented in a logical, concise way. You must have grammatically-correct sentences and interconnecting paragraphs (no random interjections, ever!).
- Even the choice of words matters—yes, there’s business English jargon and grammar you have to learn and remember.
However, there’s no reason to be fazed. Even if English isn’t your first language or writing isn’t your strong suit, there are tips, techniques and grammar secrets accessible to all that will greatly help you improve and be a pro at it. That is, if you know how and where to look.
How to Choose the Right Business Writing Course Online
The best way to go to learn business writing is to sign up for an online course. Choosing a free course or one that costs money will depend completely on your means and your areas of weakness.
Generally, a free course won’t be as intensive or thorough. However, it could be very useful for understanding the basics of any topic and the important things to watch out for.
Whether you’re signing up for a free or paid course, it’s always great to read the course outline carefully and highlight the areas that you’re specifically interested in. That way, you can focus on your weaknesses first and improve faster. Remember, writing effectively in business English isn’t about mastering one skill (writing only). It’s about knowing and honing different crafts—grammar, editing, proofreading, formal language, persuasive writing, paragraph-structuring and the like. So if you’re looking to sharpen your skills overall, these might be the type of courses for you.
Alternatively, depending on the type of writing you do more frequently, you can focus on courses that cover the art of writing resumes, emails, cover letters and so on.
As a general rule, take an objective look at your previous business writing samples or ask someone you trust to grade your skills and identify your weakest areas.
For instance, you may have impeccable grammar and spelling but haven’t mastered the art of writing formally. Or you may have difficulties structuring your paragraphs in a proper order when writing an email and require immediate help.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses beforehand will help you get the most out of whatever course you sign up for.
The Ultimate Guide to English Business Writing Courses and Online Resources
Resources You Should Always Keep Bookmarked
No matter your business writing skill level, these resources are indispensable.
A free grammar checker, you can use Grammarly as a Chrome extension and it’ll check everything you type for errors while using the web browser. You can also download it for use on Microsoft Word or for Windows in general.
To put it briefly, this is a website that will give you an idea of how “readable” your writing is—it can analyze keyword density, point out clichés and long sentences and will even tell you when you’re using the passive voice. This will give you an idea of what areas you need to improve upon.
Make sure you run your article on this site by either copy-pasting it or uploading the file before sending it to your boss. You can even check the readability of any website with this tool.
If you find this tool to be really beneficial, then you can opt for a premium membership and unlock more features.
Built by the Writing Lab of Purdue University, this website is a storehouse of information and resources. Whether it’s plagiarism, grammar doubts, citations help or practice worksheets you need help with, this site has it all. There’s even a section on business writing for different audiences!
Easy to navigate, Purdue is a handy site to check if you need a refresher. It has loads of references that cover everything from the mechanics of writing to writing letters of recommendations to preparing an application.
Designed with the needs of teachers, students and other users in mind, Purdue is your best friend if you want to learn from your mistakes and improve as a writer.
The Best Business English Writing Courses
Inklyo’s courses are absolutely amazing for those who want to improve in specific areas of English.
So, if you already know what your weaknesses are, you can use the paid courses on this site to target them and improve them.
Once you’ve signed up, you’ll have unlimited access to that course forever in case you ever need to review what you’ve learned later.
Moreover, you can opt for both single and bundled courses. For instance, there are separate “BootCamps” for editing and proofreading, but you can opt for a bundled course and save money.
If you’re completely new writing official business letters and proposals, you can sign up for their “How To Write A Formal Letter” course and follow it up with the “Resume and Cover Letter Bundle.”
Alison is a world-famous learning platform and has around 20 courses geared towards effective English speaking and writing. Tailored to niche needs, people who complete courses through Alison even receive diplomas you can highlight on your resumes.
Moreover, most of the courses can be completed in less than two hours. So if you’re low on time and have a business presentation to make, this is a great site to use.
Even the diploma courses can be completed in less than 15 hours. Even if you spend just two hours a day on this site for learning, you can master a valuable skill in a week. And here’s the best bit: The courses are all free—you only have to pay for the certificates.
If you’re looking for interactive online classes from the best universities in the world, these two free edX courses won’t disappoint. If you’re constantly making grammar mistakes or unsure about which tense to use, this first course is for you.
The “English Grammar and Style” course by the University of Queensland is an eight-week course that covers all need to know about sentence structures, phrasal verbs, using the right pronouns, the correct usage of prepositions and more.
However, for those who’ve already grasped the grammar basics and are ready to improve their overall writing and presentation skills, the course “Business Communications” by The University of British Columbia promises to be really helpful with a strong focus on sharpening your business communication skills.
Another platform specializing in MOOCs like edX, Coursera has several courses on business writing in English. The course “Business Writing” by the University of Colorado Boulder is a handy introduction to the subject. It teaches you to craft strong opening sentences and first paragraphs, as well as providing grammar information.
For non-native speakers, you can sign up for the specialization “Enhance Your Business English Communication” by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology which has five courses under it, one of them being “English For Effective Business Writing.” Finally, there’s another course by the University of California, Irvine called “High Impact Business Writing” that covers business reports, documents and presentations.
Founded in 1812, the LSE is actually the “longest-established officially accredited school in Britain.” They provide numerous online English learning courses all taught by verified experts, one of them being “Business English Online” that you can combine with their Skype English lessons. It covers a module on business writing, and you’ll get immediate feedback from professionals.
If you’re unsure about whether the course is right for you and your English language level, you can take a free online test on their website to see if you’re the right fit. If you score between three and eight, the course is a great choice.
Although it’s a paid course, you can opt for a free trial. You’ll get a full refund if you inform them within two weeks of your start date that the course doesn’t meet your expectations or skill level.
Although it’s not specifically a writing course, FluentU has many features that can help you learn and practice new vocabulary and hear natural English speech. FluentU takes real-world videos—like business dialogues, inspiring speeches, news and more—and turns them into personalized English lessons.
FluentU has a huge collection of English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch.
More to the point, FluentU has an entire business category filled with authentic business-related videos covering six language levels.
To show the variety of videos even inside this single category, real-world business videos on FluentU include “Introducing Business Colleagues,” “Business Buzzwords,” “Control Your Inbox!” and “What Warren Buffet Thinks About Cash.”
An added bonus is that if you want to work on other topics later, simply use the same, familiar FluentU platform to learn with videos from other categories, such as “Science and Tech,” “Politics and Society” or mix it up with “Arts and Entertainment” or “Health and Lifestyle.”
Every spoken word is subtitled, complete with an in-context definition, image and multiple example sentences.
All you have to do is tap or click on one of the words in those subtitles to get more information. For example, if you tap on the word “brought,” you will see this:
Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”
If you are interested in watching fun, relevant videos and practicing language actively in the process, be sure to create a FluentU account and try it out on your computer, iOS or Android device!
It’s always a good idea to sign up for a short free course to gain an understanding of how business writing works and identify your biggest areas of need.
And remember that, even if a paid course is a little pricey, being awesome in the workplace is totally worth the investment!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.