5 Steps to SMART Business Writing

Published: Jan 12, 2022
Modified: Apr 08, 2024


In business, we spend time throughout each day writing work-related messages—from proposals and reports to notices, memos, and sundry emails. Yet, as most managers and professionals know from experience, it isn’t always easy to compose messages that make the points you intended and get the results you want. In fact, when you’re dealing with multiple demands and frequent distractions in a busy work environment, even writing a simple email with clarity of thought and accurate, relevant information can be a challenge.

A global leader in professional development, American Management Association (AMA) recognizes the importance of effective business writing to managing people and projects, planning and following up on meetings, collaborating with team members, resolving problems, and coming across as credible and highly capable of doing what needs to be done. What’s more, the experts at AMA have devised a five-step formula to help anyone write clear, concise, and right-on-target business messages with consistency and confidence. It starts with thinking SMART.

You’re likely already familiar with the SMART model for goal setting, which is widely used not only in business for strategic planning and project management, but also by individuals for career advancement and personal growth. In that model, SMART is an acronym for creating goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. In the context of business writing, however, SMART stands for something different but equally valuable.

Here’s a breakdown of the SMART approach to crafting work-related messages, with examples of how to apply each element in an email or memo to your team members:

S is for Subject. Every time you compose a new email message, subject is an empty field that pops up. Never leave it blank, and always resist the temptation to fill it in with a clever play on words or clue in a guessing game. Subject is simply the point of the message. Whether in an email or at the top of a memo, write a concise subject line that emphasizes the key agenda item or what needs to get done. For example: “Quarterly Sales Report Due April 1st.”

M is for Main point. What is your purpose in writing this message? The answer to that question is the main point: the core idea you want to express or the action required. Begin your message with a clear and strong statement of what the reader needs to know. For instance: “In preparation for the April 5th board meeting, we need to review quarterly sales beforehand.”

A is for Action. What is the intended takeaway of your message? After reading it, what should the recipient know or do? The answers add up to the action you want the reader to take. For example: “Please provide a full sales update on all product lines.”

R is for Reason. When a call to action is delivered in writing, the recipient is more likely to respond positively and move promptly when they understand the reason for the request. You don’t have to provide a long, involved explanation. Make the motive for what you’re asking straightforward and compelling. For instance: “Our strategy for next quarter depends on this quarter’s sales.”

T is for Tone. The final critical element of SMART business writing is tone, a distinctive way of putting ideas into words. By carefully choosing the words you use and varying the length of your sentences, you can more precisely convey the tone you want. Strive to write in accessible language, with a minimum of jargon, and keep your sentences to an average of 15 to 20 words. With the right tone, combined with proper grammar and spelling, your written messages will reinforce your image and credibility with your reader.

This five-step formula is best used for simple, direct messages. Still, it’s smart to keep these basic principles in mind when writing business reports and proposals. With practice, the SMART model for business writing will become second nature, your writing will be more effective, and your colleagues will notice the difference!

About AMA

American Management Association (AMA) is globally recognized as a leader in professional development. For nearly 100 years, it has helped millions of people bring about positive change in their performance in order to improve results. AMA’s learn-by-doing instructor-led methods, extensive content, and flexible learning formats are proven effective—and constantly evolve to meet the changing needs of individuals and organizations. To learn more, visit www.amanet.org.