Effective Business Writing - How to Get What You Want
It’s rather ironic to think that in the so-called ‘Information Age’, whilst we have more and more methods to communicate, we are actually communicating less.
Remember when we were kids and we had one coin to use in the phone box to telephone home? No matter how little time that one coin gave us, we always managed to get our message across, didn’t we? Thinking back even further to the days of the telegram where people paid per word - messages were clear and concise.
Compare that to today. How often do we hear people on mobile phones talking for minutes, but not really communicating?
Well, that same irony crosses over into business writing. The more people get used to email and other forms of electronic correspondence, the less they are able to actually communicate effectively.
One of the main reasons for this is that electronic correspondence is missing some vital links which allow our readers to better understand the meaning behind the communication.
Body language & facial expressions; and
As these links are missing, it is vital that we ensure that our communications are clear, concise and cannot be misconstrued.
How Do I Get What I Want Though Effective Business Writing?
The answer is actually in the question, or at least partly. We know that we want to achieve something, but then we need to know how we get what we want through effective business writing. This means that we already know what our ideal outcome is (which is a great start) - but we’re not sure how to communicate that.
Essentially, effective business writing needs to convey the required information to our audience to enable them to take an action that leads to our desired outcome.
A good way of remembering this is that we want to bring about an ACTION. To do this, use the ACTION points listed below:
A - Accurate - Use exact numbers, give specific time frames, outline the facts and provide measurable outcomes.
C - Clear - Eliminate cliches, jargon, ambiguous words, emotional words and unnecessarily long words.
T - To the Point - Select words that are familiar to the reader/s, replace nouns with verbs.
I - Informative - Provide all the information that the reader/s need to take action. Consider any background information that might need to be included.
O - Ordered - Make it easy for the reader/s to view the document by ordering/structuring the information in an appealing way, selecting a layout that supports the purpose of the document and using illustrations and formatting to emphasise important points.
N - Next Steps - Ensure that you summarise your communication by providing an outline of the next steps to be taken.
"If there is no reason for sending a document, don't send it. This is especially important with emails. Always stop and think of the purpose before copying or forwarding any email."
There are also four key questions to ask yourself before hitting the send or print buttons. These are:
Have I conveyed the required information in a clear and concise way?
If I have, can the audience undertake the required action - and has that been communicated clearly?
If they can undertake the required action, will I get the desired outcome?
Have I ensured that nothing in the communication can be misconstrued, taken out-of-context or, lead to an undesirable outcome?
"Writing is a permanent record, so be cautious about putting strong or negative feelings/opinions in writing, especially emails."
Every time you are writing in business, bear these four steps in mind. If the answer is not yes at each stage, go back and rework it until it is.
Regardless of what the business writing is, be it a contract, job offer, policy, correspondence with a customer or otherwise, if you have positively answered those four questions then you should experience successful communication.
What are the Pitfalls of Ineffective Business Writing?
Bad, or ineffective, business writing can cause the following issues:
The reader becomes confused as to what is being asked of them;
The reader loses interest in the subject;
The reader is unclear on the action that they need to take, so the communication stays ‘open’ and not ‘closed off’;
The reader misconstrues the meaning behind the communication which can lead to them getting upset, angry or frustrated; and
The communication dialogue needs to go back and forth numerous times before the reader has the full picture in order to be able to do what is being asked of them. This takes up precious time.
"Do you KILL or KISS your readers? KILL - Keep It Long & Lengthy, KISS - Keep It Short & Simple."
How Can Business Writing be Made More Effective?
Sometimes it seems that the more we use electronic correspondence, the poorer our writing quality is. Grammar and spelling go out the window (a lot of the time this can be thanks to predictive text!) and we go back and forth with 20 messages just to get one point across.
So, to make our business writing more effective, consider the following simple steps:
Consider your Audience - Understanding your audience and tailoring your correspondence to this audience will avoid many pitfalls and challenges. You should have a basic understanding of who your readers are to enable you to choose the appropriate tone and structure (formal/informal) and determine how much information/background needs to be provided.
Consider the Purpose - With business writing the purpose of corresponding usually comes down to one of a number of reasons:
To inform, tell or explain something.
To establish a permanent record (file notes or agreement).
To allow readers time to think or prepare (when they need to research or think before responding).
To save time (sending correspondence to people who may be in a different location or out on the road).
To build relationships.
Editing - Edit your document ruthlessly. Ask someone else to edit it before sending or printing. Ensure that you use spell-check and re-read for grammar, punctuation and understanding.
Be Clear and Concise - Most emails can be answered in just 3 sentences. In fact, most emails could be made even briefer just by changing the subject line to explain what action needs to be taken, for example "Action Required".
ACTION - Remember that we want to bring about action, not just provide information. You can do this by using the ACTION points previously covered.