Article by: Karl Walinskas
getting to work on a Monday morning after a long weekend. You had to do
your spring cleanup on the yard, pick your sister up at the airport, and
to top it all off the baseball game you wanted to watch was blacked out
in your area since it was sold out. Youre looking at a full work
week and you want to get off to a good start. Your in-box is stuffed to
the gills, so you begin to wade through it to
"Dear Sir or Madam: I appreciate the fact that you must have a full business calendar. If I could have but a few moments--" This one goes in the circular file as you move on to the next piece of potential trash.
Heres a question for you. How would you like the author of that last letter to have been you? It could be. Your goal is to make your business writing come alive or, at a minimum, avoid boring him to sleep. If you have a message, you want it to get read.
A few months back
this column highlighted some of the main situations in small business
today that call for writing as opposed to the spoken word. Today Im
going to give you a simple formula for 90% of business writing. You see,
in almost all business writing we want something, and the recipient of
our correspondence may be in a position to do something about it, or at
least react to it. The format of
The Hook: The very first sentence of any business correspondence, just like the first sentence of a speech, must be your best. It must hook the reader so he wants to read on. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, so within ten seconds youd better have em. Use a startling fact like, "Did you know that an Inc. Magazine survey found that the average business owner spends 35% of her time in wasteful meetings?" This will grab the reader, especially if he identifies with it. Your job is to arouse interest.
There are other methods as well. You can make use of a quote from a respected authority, say something humorous (be very careful here!), or offer something of value to the reader so hell continue. In essence, bribe him. A great technique is to ask a pain-inducing question, such as "Is limited cash flow keeping you from growing your business?" Your goal is to set up a problem, a problem that, of course, you can help solve.
The Message: Tell the reader what you want in clear, concise terms. State the best possible outcome for the company from the readers perspective. Give a prelude to how you will make your case in the remainder of the correspondence. If you have overall recommendations, here is where to state them. Dont make the reader wade through the entire report, letter, or request to find out what your suggestions are. Put the best stuff first, right after your attention-grabbing hook.
The Support: This section of all business writing is often called the body. This is where you provide data and analysis that makes your point for you. If a chart helps, throw it in. Use expert testimony that supports your point of view. Your objective here is to convince the reader, the person whom you want to influence, that your recommendation or what you want is best for the company.
The body is also where you provide the details--the plan. This provides indirect support for your position, because you actually have a plan! In the body of your writing, make sure that you use facts, not opinions. Dont make any unsupported assertions. Use concrete, understandable language. Remember, KISS--Keep It Simple--Susie.
If you want to make
your business writing easy to read, use bold headings for each section.
Headings call attention to each section so that your reader can go right
to where he wants in your document. This is particularly true in the support
section, which is the longest section in most business writing. You may
have sections on Budget,
For It: Never assume that the reader, or listener when youre
giving a speech, automatically knows what you want her to do with your
information. After youve proved your point, ask for it! Tell her
specifically what you want her to do now. Be clear and specific. "Please
consider the plan that I have outlined herein" sucks. The reader
can consider it and throw it in the round file. Heres a better version:
"I need you to approve the budget for this project by next
WIIFM: You may recognize this acronym stands for "Whats In It For Me?" If you want your reader to take action, any action, there must be a compelling reason to do so that goes beyond your hope that hes a nice guy. To piggy back onto my "Ask for it" example, you can use, "Failure to act now will cost our company $10,000 a month." That one is using negative reinforcement, but you can just as easily turn it around with, "Youll be the man responsible for saving the company $10,000 a month, and bonuses are delivered at the end of the quarter." If you were approving whatever project were talking about here, would these reasons be important to you?
There are plenty of
ways to write effectively for business. This article gives you a recipe
that cant miss when writing to persuade your reader, assuming your
information is valid. If your the boss writing a corporate policy memo
or a design engineer trying to get capital for the next project, remember--hook
him, tell him what you want, back
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