Emergence of the Career in Business Writing

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Technical writing is only one part of a larger picture that you might call professional writing-communication skills applied to such professions as medicine, pharmaceuticals, public health, and business. The devices used to transmit information in any of these specialties are similar to those used in other fields, but of course the information is different, as is the vocabulary.

Two kinds of professional communication bear a great resemblance to technical writing: medical writing and business writing. Each has its own professional society, the American Medical Writers' Association and the Associated Business Writers of America (addresses in Appendix A). Some members in each of these organizations belong to both, as well as to the Society for Technical Communication. Because of their common characteristics, what we have already said about technical writing can certainly be applied to medical and business writing.


If you elect a career in business writing, you may be dealing with readers ranging from business managers to the general public and with such topics as personnel to consumer relations.

Several associations for business writers are listed on the Internet. The director of the Association for Business Communication (ABC) has stated that a person wishing a career in business and industry should study business and the communication of business. The kind of writing or editing one trains for should be selected carefully, as business writing is highly specialized. It is one thing to write repair manuals and a quite different thing to write training materials for the sales personnel. A portfolio of samples should be accumulated by aspiring business writers, and they should learn to write good letters of application to accompany their professional portfolio.

Types of Business Writers

Business writers can fall into a number of classifications. The following list is from an article in the ABC Bulletin:
  • Informal auditor-performs operational reviews and reports on recommendations for management.

  • Financial analyst-does analytical reporting.

  • Accountant-writes company policies and procedures.

  • Researcher (advertising)-organizes and writes final reports; makes formal presentation to clients.

  • Product advertiser-plans and coordinates product development; composes literature and sales aids.

  • Community planning specialist-writes, edits, and reports.

  • Planning director-oversees and prepares copy for promotional literature.

  • Publications specialist-writes original copy, graphic arts, and layouts.

  • Corporate relations officer-writes news releases and edits materials.

  • Proposal specialist-plans, writes, and produces contract proposals.
This is only part of the list, which includes job descriptions for technical and medical writers. In all the descriptions you will find that, once again, there is an overlapping of job duties among business, medical, and technical communicators.

Business Communication Education

A report prepared by a committee of ABC discussed business communication education in the United States. The committee had this to say about undergraduate education:

At Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business, Department of Business Communications and Business Education, students may receive a B.B.A. degree in business communications. That major is narrowly defined and directed at persons who are preparing to be executive and administrative secretaries. Central to the degree are two core courses: integrated business writing and speech for professional people. Other required courses are word processing; shorthand, dictation, and transcription; and advanced office procedures. Thus the field is for persons planning a career in the secretarial field.

A more traditional B.B.A. degree with a major in business communication is offered at Western Michigan University, College of Business, Department of Business Education and Administrative Services. There the B.B.A. in business requires twenty-four hours for a major and eighteen hours for a minor. Their program includes the following topics:
  • Information Writing

  • Business Communication

  • Organizational Communication

  • Teaching Internship

  • Internship (individual, nonteaching)

  • Advanced Business Writing

  • Report Writing

  • Topics in Business Communication (topic changes)

  • Independent Study
For thirteen years, the University of Southwestern Louisiana, College of Commerce, has offered a B.S. degree in business administration with a major in business communication. The department offers four undergraduate courses: business letter writing, communication in business, business research and reporting, and independent study. Remaining requirements for the degree come from areas such as behavioral management, journalism, speech, English, and psychology.

Graduate Education

The ABC committee also discussed graduate education. It stated that several schools offer the traditional M.B.A. core courses with students permitted to concentrate on communication. The University of Texas at Austin includes core business courses, as well as such optional communication courses as the job-getting process, business report writing, behavioral communication, and communication research for organizations.

The following pattern is typical: M.B.A. students meet core requirements in accounting, marketing, statistics, operations research, and finance. They also may select business communication courses as electives, either within the business school if such courses are offered, or in another school of the university. Such latitude was evident at both the graduate and undergraduate levels at many schools.

The Association for Business Communication (ABC)

ABC is the professional organization for business writers. It has well over a thousand members drawn from teachers of business communication and business writers.

The aims of ABC are similar to those expressed by STC and AMWA: to provide a clearinghouse for its members; in addition, it promotes professional standards on the job. ABC carries out its purpose through an annual national convention. Throughout the year, regional meetings and seminars are offered.

Two journals are published by ABC: the Journal of Business Communication, which features articles on research results, approaches to business communication, and techniques of wide application; and the ABC Bulletin, which contains a wealth of practical material. ABC also publishes a number of reference books, including Technical Writing: A Bibliography.

If you should be thinking of business writing as a career, you will be interested to know that student chapters of ABC have been developed at ten colleges under the general title of Alpha Beta Chi. You will find chapters at Western Michigan University, Creighton, Bentley, Florida Institute of Technology, Bowling Green, Oklahoma State, Macomb County Community College, University of Minnesota, St. Paul's, and the University of Washington.
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