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How has written business communication changed in today’s digital workplace?

In the business world, English is the common language for people from different countries, cultures and companies to communicate. This has led to the rise of the term ‘Business English as Lingua Franca’ (BELF).

However, our understanding of what is important in workplace communication has evolved over the years.

Previously there was a focus on the ‘native speaker’ as a model to aspire to, but this has since changed. In the last 10-20 years there has been a shift to ‘business communication skills’ and being strategic with language choices, with a focus on ‘getting the job done’.

 

Business English in today’s workplace

 

Technology has completely changed how we communicate. We now rely on a number of tools and technologies to collaborate with colleagues in real-time, such as video conferencing systems, web chat and messaging platforms.

To respond to this change and prepare people for success in the world of work, we’ve designed a writing test that simulates real-life scenarios in the digital workplace. 

Our Writing Test assesses key skills like grammar, vocabulary and text organisation and the ability to respond and interact appropriately to a variety of different tasks and contexts. 

Testing each of these skills in a variety of contexts provides a more accurate reflection of how people are expected to communicate at work today. 

Our new Writing Test is therefore based on three characteristics of good written communication needed to be successful in today’s workplace:

  • Understanding the context and adapting to it
  • Prioritising meaning over correctness
  • Organising your writing so it is clear and concise
 

Understanding the context

 

The range of business scenarios and sectors, and therefore the types and styles of writing required, are vast and varied. 

This means it’s very difficult to create set rules or guidelines when it comes to business writing – in contrast to more familiar, ‘standardised’ writing scenarios such as academic essays. 

Because of this, the writer has to be able to recognise and adjust to the context – for example, the purpose of writing, the audience, and how it is being communicated. 

A web chat message to a colleague asking if they’re free for lunch has very different demands compared to writing a report to the board of executives summarising the year’s activities.

As well as this, writing conventions and expected approaches can vary between companies, and even within teams in the same company. 

So adapting to context is an important skill for any writer of English. Being too formal when the person you’re writing to is being very informal (perhaps through the use of emojis, or punctuation) risks a lack of rapport and communication breakdown.

 

Prioritising meaning

 

A traditional view of English proficiency focuses on grammatical correctness. 

In business writing, however, employees should focus on using the appropriate technical or general business-related vocabulary, while also being aware of the purpose and audience. 

For example, a global marketing message will aim to use simplified, relatively plain language for a global audience, whereas a technical report will have a smaller, more specialised audience. Therefore the use of technical jargon and specialised terms would be more appropriate (and less likely to cause confusion). 

This focus on strategy and adaptation vs correctness and adherence to a ‘native speaker’ model is further evidence of the shift that’s taken place.

 

Organising your writing

 

A sometimes overlooked aspect of writing is organisation or discourse, in particular ensuring that the message is clear, concise and can be easily understood. Just as in speaking, this contributes to the ‘voice’ of the writer as much as grammar and vocabulary can. 

The most commonly expected discourse pattern in business is linear and concise, with a clear progression of ideas and appropriate levels of supporting information. Texts which are circular or divergent may take longer to read or process. 

This is commonly referred to as coherence (does the text ‘hang together’ and make sense as a whole) and cohesion (are ideas signposted clearly through use of linkers and other discourse markers). A useful analogy is that of a house – think of coherence as the building and cohesion as the bricks and mortar that make up the building. 

 

A writing test for the digital workplace

 

The EnglishScore Writing Test is designed for real-world business communication. Our test uses a combination of AI and human marking to provide an accurate measure of writing skills in less than 24 hours.

To find out how we’ve built an accurate and reliable Writing Test that aligns with global frameworks for assessment, please read our validity report here.