When reading a piece of business writing- whether it’s a proposal, a report, or a simple email- are you turned off by people who have invested more energy trying to sound smart than in trying to be smart?
Ideally, I’d like to read these where I don’t notice the author or the writing at all. The best writing is so transparent that it doesn’t obscure the underlying message. You can achieve that in your writing by investing in great content and then stripping away anything that detracts from it.
How do you make your content great?
Before crafting a single sentence, have you determined the purpose and desired outcome of your communication?All to0 often we start in the middle and start explaining without taking a step back to think through ‘why am i writing this?’ You spend your time assembling your facts and marshalling your arguments point by point.
This is where I believe you should rethink your approach and go beyond the facts and information you’re transmitting and push yourself to clarify what you want your audience to think, to feel, and to do after they’ve read your message.
For example, looking at the statement that “The business is 60% of the way to our annual target” might leave one person thinking that you are progressing well and another thinking that the 40% gap is too large to close. If you want people aligned behind one conclusion rather than the other, you’ll either need to add facts (e.g., last year at this time, we were only 49% of the way there and we only came up 2% short) or commentary (e.g., I know from experience that 40% is well within our reach). Include what’s required to get your audience to interpret the message the way you want.
Once you’re clear on what you want people to think, go one layer deeper and consider how you want them to feel. If you want your audience to act, you need to stir something in them that goes well beyond intellect; you need to evoke the emotions that will fuel action. What emotions are you trying to tap into? Be clear about what feelings you’re trying to create because written communication leaves room for very different emotional reactions. In the example above, do you want people to feel excited by the chance to close the 40% gap? If so, how are you reducing the likelihood that they will go straight to fear of failure?
All to often we are afraid of adding feelings and emotion into our business writing, but in avoiding these topics we ignore that we are human and we all share these feeling. Use them to your benefit.
The tone of your message comes out in the words you choose. Choose wisely to motivate as well as inform.