Writing that Drives Action
Employers list communications skills as one of the two leading job skills employees must have, according to the National Center on the Evaluation of Quality in the Workplace. (Attitude is the other.) No matter what you write—letters, memos, e-mail messages, reports, proposals, presentations, handbooks or anything else—you can write with confidence and competence and actually enjoy the process! Create strategic documents your readers read first, documents that drive action, documents that affect your readers as you wish. Following are eight steps for doing just that:
1. Understand Your Audience. You must see your target so you know where to aim. Ask yourself these questions. Then answer them.
* What does my reader need to know about the subject?
* What’s the benefit to the reader?
* What will my reader’s reaction be to the message?
2. Identify Your Purpose and Key Issue. If your reader forgets just about everything you write, what’s the one key point you want him or her to remember that will accomplish your purpose? Distill this key point into one sentence. This step is critical to delivering a clear and targeted message.
3. Write Dynamic Headlines that Shout “Read Me!” Have you ever noticed how newspaper headlines jump out to tell a story? All your business documents—letters, e-mail messages, reports, handbooks, and anything you write—should tell your story. Remember that people don’t read, they skim. You want your readers to see your key issues at a glance.
4. Design for Visual Impact. When your document has a strong visual impact, it’s very readable. Use lots of white space; prepare bulleted and numbered lists when they’re appropriate; limit paragraphs to eight lines; and use charts, tables, and figures so readers can view information at a glance. This applies to every document you write—even letters and e-mail messages.
5. Simplify the Wording. You can write as though you’re talking and still maintain a professional tone. Don’t pepper your writing with big words; simplify your sentences. For example, instead of writing “give consideration to,” write “consider.” Then go through your text and delete every word and thought that doesn’t add value. Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!
6. Use Positive Words. When you use positive words, you present yourself as a winner. It sounds so much better to write “Please remember to…,” rather than “Don’t forget to…”
7. Write in the Active Voice. When you use the active voice, your sentence is alive because you start the with the doer. For example, write “Bob sent the contract last week,” rather than “The contract was sent last week by Bob.”
8. Proofread Until Your Eyes Hurt. You want people to remember you for the right reasons, not for your faux pas. Spelling and grammar checkers are helpful, but don’t turn on your computer and turn off your brain.
Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts, Principal of business-writing firm Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts & Associates, helps clients to maximize productivity and profitability through the written word. She’s the author of 19 books including Business Writing for Dummies, Technical Writing for Dummies, and Strategic Letters & E-mails. Sheryl has written many proposals that have helped companies to close multi-million dollar contracts—the most recent being a contract for $70 million. She also conducts business/technical writing and email workshops clients rave about. They learn to cut writing time by 30% to 50% and to get the results they want.
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