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Writing Manual for Commercial Diplomats


Eve Connell, Geza Feketekuty, Sarah Givens and Jill Stoffers.


Published by
The International Commercial Diplomacy Project, Inc.


Commercial Diplomacy & the Commercial Diplomat
Writing as a Professional Tool in Commercial Diplomacy
Target Audiences & Writers of Commercial Diplomacy Documents
Operational Documents Used in Commercial Diplomacy
Common Elements in Commercial Diplomacy Documents
The Writing Process-Tips for Writers
Policy Papers
Advocacy Letters
Briefing Papers & Reports
Press Releases
Public Testimony
Preparing Negotiations
Documentation for Working with Interpreters


The International Commercial Diplomacy Project (ICDP) develops and disseminates world-class training materials for commercial diplomats. Commercial diplomacy is a relatively new field encompassing policy advocacy, policymaking, and negotiations in international trade and investment. To strengthen professional training in commercial diplomacy, the ICDP has created model curricula, course outlines, teaching modules, case studies, negotiating simulations, and model operational documents, and has published these training tools on its website, www.commercialdiplomacy.org.

This manual serves three separate objectives. It is designed to help trade policy practitioners improve their drafting skills; it is designed as a teaching manual for seminars and courses; and it is designed to give both the practitioner and the student a handy reference guide to other pedagogical resources.

The manual has been a collective effort. The initial draft was prepared by Jill Stoffers, a graduate of the master's degree program in Commercial Diplomacy at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Ms. Stoffers worked under the personal direction of Geza Feketekuty, President of the International Commercial Diplomacy Project, founder of the graduate program in Commercial Diplomacy at the Monterey Institute, and a retired senior U.S. trade official. Ms. Stoffers also benefited considerably from the assistance provided by Eve Connell, a professional in communications techniques. Bill Monning, an internationally recognized expert in negotiations and the current Director of the Commercial Diplomacy program at Monterey, wrote the section "Preparing Negotiations." Sarah Givens, a former Department of Commerce official and a writing instructor, edited the manual.

Though all the authors are American, they avoided an American-centric approach to provide a guide that best reflects global practice. Some degree of cultural bias is unavoidable, however. In particular, there is an American cultural bias towards direct and focused communication, and a writing style that minimizes unnecessary words. Such a direct approach may not be the most appropriate form of communication in all cultural settings. In the future, ICDP plans to add regional supplements, as appropriate.

In order to avoid a gender bias, the authors alternate between the use of the pronouns he and she. The authors welcome comments from students and professionals alike. This is a work in progress and can always benefit from a broader set of insights.


Commercial diplomacy is diplomacy with a commercial twist-diplomacy designed to influence foreign government policy that affects global trade and investment. Commercial diplomacy encompasses the analysis, advocacy and negotiating chain leading to international agreements on the increasingly diverse set of trade-related issues. 

The number of people involved in making and influencing trade policy has grown in tandem with the number of issues covered by trade negotiations. In today's increasingly interdependent world, trade negotiations address a broad range of government regulations and actions that affect international commerce. They cover, for example:

  • Tariffs, quotas, and customs procedures.
  • Health, safety, and consumer and environmental protection standards.
  • Regulation of such service industries as banking, telecommunications and accounting.
  • Laws concerning fair competition, bribery, and corruption. 
  • Industry specific subsidy programs such as agricultural support programs.

The most visible commercial diplomats are those who work in ministries of trade and industry-those who negotiate international trade and investment agreements and resolve policy conflicts that impact international commerce. Commercial diplomacy skills are also required, however, by officials in other government departments and international organizations that have a stake in trade policy, including those concerned with foreign affairs, finance, agriculture, industry, labor, health, environmental protection, bank regulation, telecommunications, air transportation, and the licensing of professionals. Finally, commercial diplomacy skills are required by professionals and managers in the following fields of work: 

  • Corporate government relations departments. 
  • Overseas subsidiaries that interact with host government officials on a daily basis.
  • Industry associations. 
  • Unions. 
  • Non-governmental organizations. 

Because these individuals have a stake in the outcome of trade policy decisions, they engage in the domestic and global analyses, and advocacy and coalition-building processes that precede negotiations on international trade and investment issues. In order to influence this process, they need to be capable of writing operationally effective documents.


Commercial diplomats-government officials and representatives of businesses, industry associations and non-governmental organizations-are routinely called on to inform and persuade others concerning highly complex issues. Good writing skills are essential for success in these endeavors. Whether exploring how to tackle a new trade issue or formally negotiating a consensus agreement, a commercial diplomat must clearly and persuasively articulate his country's and/or organization's positions. The difference between a well and poorly written issue paper determines whether a new approach to an issue receives fair consideration. Similarly, the difference between clear and muddled testimony can determine whether a proposed policy is supported or opposed and the difference between a well and poorly crafted newspaper opinion article can determine whether the article will have an impact on public debate.

In short, a commercial diplomat's analyses and arguments are likely to be disregarded-despite their merits-if those analyses and arguments are not conveyed in an effective manner. For the commercial diplomat to succeed in obtaining governmental decisions favorable to the stakeholders he represents, he must be able to use effectively a wide variety of documents; including briefing memos, policy papers, white papers, advocacy letters, public testimony, speeches, press releases, and op-ed articles.

This manual is designed to provide the aspiring commercial diplomat with guidelines for writing operationally effective documents in the field. Early chapters discuss commercial diplomacy writing in general. Later chapters cover specific types of documents- briefing memos, cables, policy papers, white papers, press releases, and other documents frequently used in the field.


The basic challenge for writers of commercial diplomacy documents is to convey complex issues in a concise, easy-to-digest manner and to convince the reader of the desirability of a proposed course of action. 

Writing on commercial diplomacy topics can be particularly demanding. Issues in trade negotiations run the gamut of critiques from social, economic, legal, and scientific experts. Moreover, the number of different stakeholder groups, each with its own particular interests in a trade negotiation, can be staggering. Accurately and effectively accounting for all this information and opinion is a significant challenge.  

Like many other professionals commercial diplomats have more documents flowing through their in-boxes than they can read. They must absorb a great deal of information in a limited amount of time-sometimes while traveling from one meeting to another, or even over the course of a meeting itself. Thus, documents need to be short and to-the-point, and effortless to read and understand.

As a general rule, documents are written in a way that allows the contents to be quickly determined. If a reader is conversant on a given topic, she appreciates a paper that can, at a glance, serve as a refresher on the most important points. On the other hand, she will only be irritated by having to wade through a difficult paper. A paper that isn't presented effectively loses the attention of key decision-makers. It also leaves the writer's boss unprepared-which can be an embarrassment or worse and reflects poorly on the writer. 

Not only do documents need to be highly focused; they also need to be carefully crafted and worded to convey the nuances of an organization's position. Such documents are read and re-read with painstaking care as readers attempt to extract every possible interpretation from them. When providing information about previously established or discussed policy positions, the use of wording contained in the original policy documents is essential. Repetition of phrases, statements of position, and rationales and explanations are part of the process of consolidating the policy positions within and among governments. Even in cases where policy decisions are not yet finalized, the repeated use of language borrowed from a well written document contributes to the formation of a governmental consensus. Borrowed language becomes common language that is incorporated in final policy memoranda and formal, negotiated agreements. A commercial diplomat with great writing skills can thus exert influence over policymaking that goes far beyond her authority.


Writers of commercial diplomacy documents face the same time pressures that readers do. Commercial diplomats often face a highly dynamic, constantly evolving commercial, political and negotiating environment. This calls for rapid responses to unforeseen events, problems, and opportunities. The closer a staff person is to key decision-makers, the higher the probability that he will be asked to write important operational documents under extremely tight deadlines. Likewise, the higher the rank of the decision-maker, the higher the probability that he will not have much time to digest the content of a document. A commercial diplomat who wants to become influential must learn to write highly focused, tightly worded documents in a short period of time.

For a commercial diplomacy document to be persuasive, the writer must be careful to ground his own organization's position in a comprehensive and solid analysis that accounts for the interests of all substantive stakeholders. While some selectivity in the choice of facts and arguments is expected omission of critical facts or arguments, or worse, willful distortion of facts and arguments, can quickly undermine the credibility of a document and even destroy the credibility of its writer and his organization. 

Generally, documents in commercial diplomacy convey facts, provide an analysis of the facts, and put forth recommendations flowing from analysis, but do not include personal opinions or judgments. Personal judgments are presented only when a writer is considered an eminent authority on a given issue.

[1] Adapted from Dr. Randall Hansen’s Guide to Writing Successful press Releases,” www.stetson.edu/~rhansen/prguide.html, “How to write a Press Release,” from www.desktopjournal.com/press.html, and “Press-release-writing.com”, from www.press-release-writing.com

[2] Adapted from Press-release-writing.com, www.press-release-writing.com/content-basics.htm  [3] Roger Fisher and William Ury. Getting to Yes: Negotiating without Giving In. (New York,N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1981).

[4]Adapted from “Working with Interpreters,” by Jacolyn Harmer, Professor of Translation and Interpretation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey , California , April 2000.

[5] Adapted from “Guidelines for Speakers,” International Association of Conference Interpreters www.aiic.net/ViewPage.cfm/page29.htm [site visited 10 July 2000 ].