Last week, we said that your day-to-day business writing should be your most cost-effective marketing tool (see the post here), and promised you some words, phrases, and techniques that will help.
Whether you are actually writing to persuade, or just passing along some requested information, the overall tone – the “feeling” your reader gets about you, and subsequently the way he or she thinks about you, and about your organization, is absolutely critical to the success of the piece you are writing, and in a larger sense, to the success of your organization overall.
So here goes…
1. Today, as the saying goes, “less is more.” That does not mean abrupt or incomplete. Give your reader everything he or she needs in as short a space as possible. Use the no-more-than-five-lines first paragraph formula, and, in five lines or less, you can be both as short as possible, and provide the information your reader needs, to do what you need him or her to do, much, if not most of the time.
2. If you have the time for this practice exercise, work with a longer sentence (yours, or someone else’s) and see how few words you can turn it into. For example, how can you tighten up the first nine words of the first sentence in this paragraph? How about, “For practice…” Usually a little thought and a quick re-write can help. What is really the point of what you are saying? How much of that detail does your reader need? What are the “bare bones” of your message/sentence/phrase?
Another example: “They went to the store, and while doing so, stopped by to see Mary.” Can you get the “bare bones” down to three words? How about “They saw Mary.”
3. Use a format that allows you to get as much information as possible into as little space as possible. Bullet points, for one example. Remember that formatting may not hold in the body of the email, and you probably should use an attachment when your message is format dependent.
4. Choose specific words. Words that leave no doubt what you mean. For example, how many is “few”? How soon is “ASAP”? Who is “everybody”?
5. Choose exactly the right word to clarify and to reinforce your message using fewer words. How many ways can you say, “send”? Or “situation”? Or “important”?
6. Use “comfortable,” easily-understood words, talking neither “up” nor “down” to your reader.
7. Think about the phrases you may use habitually, for example:
• To get what you need, tell your reader what to do: “enclosing for your review” becomes “please review the enclosed.”
• To create a “they’re easy to work with” tone: “I’ll have to (look that up)” becomes “I’ll (look that up) for you. “I can’t (get to that until Friday)” becomes “I’ll have that for you Friday.”
Interestingly enough, using these two particular phrases will also change your feeling about the task, resulting in less fatigue for you by the end of the day.
• To position yourself, or your recommendation, think about the relative power of the following phrases: I think, I know, I believe, I’d like to, I am convinced, I can, there is no question. “I don’t think” (an all-too-common phrase) will probably not be helpful.
To encourage initiative, instead of “I don’t see anything wrong with that” try “sounds good to me,” or “let’s do it.” Even an enthusiastic spoken “O.K.,” will work in a conversation, maybe not so much in writing.
So that’s it for today. Take some time this week if you can, to think about, and to try some of these words, phrases, and techniques.
See you next week!
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