We’ve hit grammar and usage – the mechanical aspects of business writing – pretty hard over the last few weeks. This week, let’s talk about eight critical checkpoints to increase the effectiveness of your writing:
1. Even before you begin to write, ask yourself, “Should this information be passed along at all?” And if so, should it be passed along in writing?
2. When? And who should sign it?
3. Should I use a straightforward, to-the-point-immediately approach? Are emotions involved? Should I build in reading time?
4. Considering the reader from demographic, psychographic, and “problem” points of view, what approach should be most effective?
5. Using this approach, do the thoughts flow smoothly from one to the next – all the while building the point I intended to make? What content can be eliminated? What holes need to be filled in?
6. Are my lead paragraph, and my final paragraph (if I used one) consistent with each other? Do they support the content in between? Should my reader reasonably be expected to take the meaning I intended?
7. How hard will my reader have to work to understand what I have written? Is that appropriate?
8. Have I given this piece both a spellchecker and an eyes-on visual check before it goes out, to find those old goblins – grammar, punctuation, and spelling problems?
Let’s talk a bit more about some of these checkpoints:
Probably the number one rule of communication is whether or not a specific piece of information should be passed along at all. Some of the participants in my workshops tell me that this can save up to 50% of their writing activity!
Should this information be passed along in writing? While there are many reasons you might want to write, the most common reasons for writing are to create some sort of record or proof, such as documenting an agreement; to provide a reference – instructions are one good example; because there is a mandate to put this information in writing; or to get the same information to a large number of people at relatively the same time.
Timing is always a critical strategic element, as is the decision as to who should sign the piece. Tone, the relationship the writer establishes or reinforces with the reader, is also critical, and may well tie in with the signer decision. The writer has the opportunity to set the tone with the reader to be what he or she wants that relationship to be. For example, it could be friendly, professional, authoritarian, technical, collegial, helpful – or even warm and fuzzy! What is the word you choose to describe that relationship?
The purpose of most of these posts is to talk about clear, concise, easily-understood business writing. Business writing that can be read and the meaning grasped at a glance. One thing we have not yet discussed is when you might want to build in time for the reader. This does not mean to make the writing confusing, or your content hard to follow. You need to be clear at all times in the business writing situation.
There are times you will want to include more information, and times you will want to keep it as brief as appropriate. The effect of providing more information is that it takes the reader longer to read. Sometimes you can assume the reader has the background and the information to understand a brief message on the topic. At other times that’s just not the case. On rare occasions you might be writing about a serious emotional issue, and you might want to provide a bit of additional background or information to the reader, which will give him or her a bit of extra reading time to come to grips with his or her emotions.
Now, considering the reader from the demographic (what are the facts I know about, or can find out about this reader); the psychographic (what drives this reader, how he or she sees himself or herself, how the reader wants you to see him or her); and the “problem” (what is the issue you can solve for your reader) points of view, what tone will be most effective? What content will best serve your purpose?
From this perspective, do your thoughts flow smoothly from one to the next, building to the point you need to make? What information needs to be added? What information could result in “overload,” and could be easily deleted?
How hard are you making the reader work to “get it”? Can you reasonably expect that the reader will understand your intended meaning?
Finally, of course you will use the spellchecker and the grammar checker, but have you also put your own eyes on that piece of writing to give it a final proofing? Watch for words that are correctly spelled, but are in the wrong place, e.g., to-two-too; or there-they’re-their. Also look for words that are correctly spelled, but not the words you meant, e.g., “an” when you mean “at,” “on” for “of,” and so on.
At the very end, look for consistency, particularly in issues of style; then check, and revise as necessary, your word choice and syntax.