Thinking back to their school days, many people think of writing as consisting of the traditional mechanics of the language: grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage. Sadly, not without some uncomfortable memories.
Fortunately, important as the mechanics of writing are – and they are – that’s only the first half of what you must know to write for results.
The second part of writing for results is strategy. And in many, if not most cases, the strategy behind writing effectively may be virtually overlooked. For business writing, a well thought out strategy is crucial to getting the results your writing is meant to achieve.
Business writing is a tool – a way to get the job done, just as a shovel, hammer, or rake is a way to get a job done. The two tools you must master on the job are the mechanics, and the strategy of each piece you write.
On the personal level, there is no question that proper use of the mechanics of the English language is critical, both to your being hired in the first place, and to enhancing your chances of promotion once you are on the job. So, just for fun, see how fast you can answer the following three very common mechanical issues (The answers are at the bottom of this post):
Which word (or words) will you use most often: (a) cannot, or (b) can not?
You use “its” when you mean____________, and “it’s” when you mean________.
The comma (,) goes (inside of) (outside of) the quotation marks (“ “), as does the_________, while the _________ and the_________ go (inside of) (outside of) the quotation marks.
So, what can you do if you’re not comfortable with your use of the mechanics of the English language?
Find a good textbook. Maybe your kids have a good one. Or ask at your school, library, or bookstore. While there are many good ones available, one I like is “Writers Inc., A Student Handbook for WRITING and LEARNING,” if you can find it.
Obtain a copy of the current year’s style guide your organization uses. Arguably the most common style guide used in business is “The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual,” although your organization may use a different one, may have developed its own style guide, or may not have standardized on a style guide at all. A style guide will answer just about everything you always wanted to know – and probably more. A word of warning: If your boss has immutable preferences, it may be wise to follow them. Your choice.
Finally, if all else fails, you may want to find a good coach, or take a class offered at your organization. Note that in most cases there is a significant difference between academic writing and business writing.
Now, what is your starting point for developing a solid strategy?
To begin with, ask yourself:
The Four Critical Questions:
- What is the piece I am writing?
- To whom?
- Am I informing? Or persuading?
- Of what? To do what?
- So that what will happen?
List the results this piece needs to achieve.
- What Tone Will I Use to Get These Results?
Tone is the relationship the writer sets up with the reader – what is the relationship you want to establish or reinforce with your reader?
- What Content Will I Use to Get These Results?
Based on the reader’s need and use for this information, and your purpose.
Wow! So much more to be said about strategy, but this will get you off to a good start this week. Let’s pick up right here next week. See you then!
Answers to the quiz (above):
Which word (or words) will you use most often: (a) cannot, or
(b) can not?
You use “its” when you mean possession, and “it’s” when you mean it is.
The comma (,) goes (inside of)
(outside of) the quotation marks (“ ,“), as does the period (“ .“), while the colon (:) and the semicolon (;) go (inside of) (outside of) the quotation marks (“ “:), and (“ “;).
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