Effective Business Writing - Hints & Tips Foundations Consulting
“Supporting Your Growth”
(courtesy of “TOP Services”)
The Business Writing Rules How To Approach
1. THINK ABOUT THE READER PREPARE
• Put yourself in the receiver‟s place – have a “you” attitude. • Define the problem or purpose.
• Who will read it? Who else? What is wanted? How much? Why? When?
• When will they read it? Why? Where? • Consider who will receive the document (think about the reader).
• How much do they know and how much do I have to tell them? Who wants/needs this information? Who will read it? When will they read it?
• Always have a clear aim – what do you want the person to do? How much detail do they prefer? Will the report be passed on to secondary readers?
• Begin by answering other person‟s questions – put them in the picture. Make sure the What is the reader‟s point of view? Experience? Knowledge? Prejudice?
reader knows who is writing, what the problem is and the solution. Responsibility?
• Decide on the impression you want to convey. What reaction will the document produce? Is the recipient a manager? A subordinate? A client or customer?
• Don‟t put the other person to trouble to save yourself. A potential client or customer? What are their needs and interests?
• Give answers and solutions – don‟t just raise the problems. Do they need to be persuaded / sold / influenced, or told / informed / instructed?
• Use paragraphs – one to each theme. Use headings and topic sentences to help the reader. • Determine which areas to include.
• Keep the overall message structure simple. How much do they know and how much do we have to tell them?
• Ask yourself “What will the reader do with the document?”
• Collect needed material.
2. BE CONCISE AND DIRECT • Create a “dump” of al thoughts and information, using key words.
• Get to the point – don‟t waffle. Keep to specifics. HAVE A BREAK AT THIS STAGE
• Use an outline or plan, and say only what is necessary.
SORT AND INTERPRET DATA
• Avoid unnecessary words – edit.
• Keep sentences short – average of 17 words. • Group them into themes.
• Keep sentence structure simple. Some people find it helpful to list ideas on cards so they can be sorted into order.
• Use the active and not the passive voice, use direct verbs. Avoid verbal nouns. If necessary, use manilla folders to organise information and materials into topics.
HAVE A BREAK
3. USE SIMPLE, FAMILIAR LANGUAGE – PLAIN ENGLISH
ORDER – DO AN OUTLINE
• Always write as you would speak.
• Write to express – not impress. • Sequence the material.
• Always be clear in your meaning. This will be determined by your aim – is the material to be factual / instructive or persuasive
• Simplify technical terms. (refer examples of Structure on next page). Use mind maps & fish bone plans to help.
• Try not to use non – English words. HAVE A BREAK
• Avoid dry meaningless phrases and clichés.
• Use variety. WRITE
• Avoid overstatement. • Write as simply as you can.
• Be precise, not vague. Remember your aim. Learn to transfer your thoughts directly into an electronic format – it is
• Use the common, every day word – „use‟ not „utilise‟. much faster than handwriting and then having to convert into an electronic file. Dictation is
• Use terms your readers can picture – concrete rather than abstract examples, use imagery. much faster again (if it is an option) and conserves energy whilst the ideas are flowing.
Manage the drafts – use envelopes or some other version control system of knowing where
4. USE A FRIENDLY TONE AND BE POSITIVE the latest draft is.
• Establish a friendly tone. HAVE A BREAK
• Always be positive.
• Avoid formality at all costs. PREPARE FINAL DRAFT AND EDIT
• Always end by pointing to the future – positively. What do you want the reader to do? • Polish the writing style, and ensure that an appropriate tone is used:
• What is the first step? Consider a statement of goodwill. - Have a break before editing.
- Read it ALL before changing.
- Consider using a spell checker, a grammar checker and having someone check for you.
• Check to see the document is:
- Clear (able to be easily understood at a first read).
- Complete (does it answer all the reader‟s questions and give all the information)?
- Concise (as short as it can be consistent with getting all of the information across).
- Correct (all facts are accurate and verifiable).
- Courteous (where it is deemed appropriate).
Effective Business Writing - Hints & Tips
Structure No. 1 – Short Formal Report Structure No. 2 – Persuasive Memo or Letter
1. THE SYPNOSIS OR EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
1. INTEREST – PUT THE READER IN THE PICTURE
• The executive summary is a one page or less summary of the entire report.
• Use a “grab” to get the audience‟s attention – put them in the picture. Make a promise,
The purpose, findings, conclusions and recommendations are stated as briefly as possible.
tell a story, tell them “what‟s new”, ask a question or otherwise arouse curiosity.
The synopsis gives a preview of the report. As a summary of the full report, it can only be
If necessary, explain who you and your organization are. Explain what the problem is and
prepared after the report is completed.
what you can do to solve it.
2. DESIRE - BENEFITS
• Explain the:
- Background. • Appeal to the readers emotions. The emotions are the springboard for action.
- Purpose. You can appeal to:
- Scope/Limitations. - Self interest (greed) – works most often with most people.
- Assumptions. - Self elevation – sense of civic or community spirit, pride.
- Methodology/Approach. - Sense of fairness – “we‟ve been fair with you, you‟ll want to be fair with us.”
- Audience. - Fear – but always leave a way out. Use the approach “you can avoid this trouble if…”
Background provides the context & situation that has created the need for the work/study. The major way of arousing desire is to outline the benefits – what is in it for the reader?
Purpose gives the reasons for conducting the work/study and preparing the report. There are three main steps to outlining a benefit. For example, for a frost free refrigerator:
It establishes the objectives or problems to be solved.
Scope/Limitations outlines the extent of coverage and areas not covered, or particular Feature So what? Advantage which means…. Benefit
shortcomings of the report. It makes clear what factors were studied, and to what extent.
Assumptions that were made, if any, are described so the reader has an understanding of Has a fan So what? Doesn‟t frost up, which means…. Don‟t have to spend time
the writer‟s direction & reference point in preparing the report. defrosting.
Methodology/Approach refers to the steps that were followed in undertaking the work or
collecting the data for the report. 3. CONVICTION - PROOF
Audience indicates who the writer intended the report for and thereby pitched at. • Convince the reader by offering evidence that your solution will work. Use statistics and
examples of success to reinforce the reader‟s impression of the service you offer.
• The Findings - After all of the information has been collected, combined and condensed, it is 4. ACTION – STIMULATE THE READER TO ACTION
organised for easy interpretation by the reader. Tables and figures are placed appropriately
• Make the call to action. Leave the reader in no doubt about what you want. Make your
throughout the material and must be cross referenced to the text.
action step as easy as possible, and put a date on it. Don‟t leave several alternatives.
• Options may be analysed, showing the advantages and disadvantages of each.
• The last thing the reader sees is the first thing mentioned – so be positive.
4. CONCLUSIONS Don‟t use clichés such as “hoping to hear from you soon”. The call to action is the first step
of the solution; the first “bite of the elephant.”
• The Conclusions are the logical deductions drawn from the findings section. They tell the
reader what the facts mean.
5. SUGGESTED STRUCTURE
• Consider adopting a standard structure, such as:
• The Recommendations should emerge from the findings and conclusions. They are - To:
suggested solutions to the problem. As with the conclusions, the writer must be careful that - From:
the recommendations are not opinions. While based on human interpretations, they must - Date:
represent what a logical, objective individual would suggest based on the evidence. - Subject:
They should consist of statements of action only. - Background:
The Appendix - Questionnaires, tables, figures and other information of interest but not - Benefits:
deemed necessary to include in the body of the report, should be placed as supplements. - Recommended Action:
Table of Contents – If the report exceeds 5 pages, then consider a table of contents for
easy reference & location of content.