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Business-Writing Tips

 


 

 











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    Business Writing Tips



    David Speaker is a professional business writer and document expert. This page is a compilation of Mr. Speaker's business writing tips, which are written and posted in the blog forum linked above.


    Business Writing Tip 1

    Identify the Audience

     

    Before you start writing, ask and answer this question:   Who is the intended audience?  Be specific enough that you can picture the audience in your mind.  A deliberate answer to this question establishes many of the criteria for your writing project.  It serves as a basic guidepost for the writing process.

     

    A related inquiry is:  aside from the intended audience, who may see this?  I.e., whose desk might it cross, intentionally or not.  Consider this part of the audience as well.

     

    If your audience is fractured, you may want to consider writing different versions of the document for those different audience groups.

    Understand Your Purpose and Objective

     

    Before you start writing, identify clearly in your own mind why you are writing and what you want to accomplish. For what purpose do you write? Do you want to inform, persuade, delight, argue with, inquire of, report to, or entertain your audience? As you write consider whether your words serve the objective effectively. Everything you write should have a purpose; otherwise, what's the point? Remember, you are asking readers to spend their time with your words, and their attention spans are short. If your words serve your purpose, your readers are more likely to stay focused.

     


    Business Writing Tip 2

    What do Your Readers Know?

    Know your reader's limitations.† Step out and put yourself in their place.† When writing it's very easy to make assumptions about what your audience knows or believes, or to overlook what they don't know.† In fact a common writing mistake is to assume that your audience knows what you know or thinks like you think.† Big mistake.† What happens is you leave gaps in the flow and logic of your presentation.
    Check your premises in this regard.† Knowing their limitations enables you to tune in to "how" to present and "what" to say.
    Be sure that you†are giving them enough information to understand your point.††On the other hand, be careful not to insult or bore them by giving them†supporting or background information†that they don't need.
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    Business Writing Tip 3

    Focus

    Writing is a deliberate and active mental process.† It requires that you focus your mind.† Your writing will flow more easily if you remove distractions from your environment.† Enable yourself to concentrate.†

     

    Business Writing Tip 4

    News Releases



    When Writing News Releases To increase your news coverage, the Dow Jones News Services's managing editor suggests this tip: Include a "significant paragraph" at the beginning of the release. That's a concise explanation of what the release is about and why it's important. Source: Communication Briefings, Volume XXII, Number 1, page 3, citing, Robert D. Prinsky in Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter, JR O'Dwyer Co., 271 Madison Ave., NY, NY 10016.

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    Business Writing Tip 5

    Ambiguity

     

    Do you know when you are being ambiguous? If not, you should. Ambiguity is something the skilled writer controls; it is usually a flaw, as its presence leads to confusion. Why? Because an ambiguous word is one capable of more than one meaning. It is rare that a writer's object is to confuse the reader. Knowing when ambiguity serves your purpose vs. when it encumbers your writing requires that the writer understand its utility and features.

    Ambiguity should not be confused with vagueness. They are distinct. Sometimes vagueness is a useful tool, as when limiting the disclosure of information or the full context.


    Business Writing Tip 6

    Perspective

     

    Your view of things is always dependent upon your perspective. One must therefore be cognizant of one's perspective in order to see clearly.


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    Business Writing Tip 19

    Definitions and Vague Words

     

    When writing documents that other parties are going to rely on, or which govern a relationship, donít make assumptions about the words you choose. For example Ė the phrase ďtimely paymentsĒ could be perfectly clear to you, because you know how you mean it. But you must be sure all parties governed by the document know how you mean it in the documentís context.

    Be aware of the context in which you use the phrase. In our example, timely payments may mean any number of things to different people. A creditor may think a payment is ďtimelyĒ if it arrives by the due date Ė but is that the only logical or appropriate standard? No. Standards of timeliness will depend on the readerís (or partyís) perspective. A lawyer may think a payment is timely if it was made in time to prevent a lawsuit from being filed, a business owner may think itís timely if it prevents the company from going under, and a consumer may think a payment is timely if itís made in a manner that doesnít impair a credit record.

    Be aware of the innuendo that may be created by use of a phrase like "timely payment." Would someone reading that phrase assume the party agreeing to make a timely payment also had a duty to protect another partyís credit rating, and that credit protection was the nature of the obligation being assumed, even though the rest of the document did not mention credit issues? Be careful.

    If a word or phrase is subject to differing interpretations, or innuendo, define it. Thatís your job as a good writer. Donít leave it up to the reader, and donít leave it up to whatís logical to you. Anticipate the varying interpretations of the phrases you choose.


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    Business Writing Tip 20

    Opinions and Writing

     

    While everyone has the right to an opinion, most opinions are valueless, mere emotional expressions, or repeated rhetoric. Opinions expressed without a supporting argument are worthless and quickly dismissed. Opinions expressed with substantive support have value, and merit attention, because they inform, educate, or engage the listener or reader.

     

    If you had more facts, or different facts, your opinion would likely change. (Unless your opinion is based upon clear and unchanging values.) A mistake commonly made is to assume that the facts as one understands them are in fact the real facts. Few permit themselves to see what they can't see. That is, the facts that do not appear to them.



    Business Writing Tip 6.5

    Organization


    Take the time before you start writing to outline the major subjects and points to cover. Scrutinize the outline for orderly, logical flow, and balance. Much of your outline may come from notes you compile as thoughts occur to you. You don't need to have an outline before you start compiling notes, but the outline will help organize the notes.

    Then start writing.  

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    Business Writing Tip 21

    Writing Poorly or Insufficiently Has Consequences


    We Lost the Deal

    "We didn't get the deal."  "The investor walked away ... no explanation."  "We need more information, you're not ready yet." "The banker wasn't willing to take us to the next level."  “This isn’t in the format we require”.

    We've all heard similar comments following an attempt to secure an opportunity and move the business forward.    When opportunities are lost, disappointment follows, and we often attribute the failure to the other party.  In many cases, however, while you the businessperson may understand your proposal, you have not recognized or understood the reader's perspective and limitations, what the reader needs to see in order to make a decision, or what the reader's decision-making environment is. 

    This failure to "connect" with the reader causes the loss.  Persuasion begins with understanding the reader, what prompts the reader to the action you seek, and how the reader's decisions are made.

    Why give the lawyers any more to do?

    Many lawyers we know have haplessly made handsome fortunes off the backs of companies whose documents or publications were substandard, where errors or oversights opened a window to liability. Lesson for business writers ... always review for accuracy.

    When representing clients in court we often concluded that if one or both of the parties had just taken care to produce competent, clear, unambiguous documents, courtroom discussions would not be necessary, nor would we have to fritter away our productive time (at least 2 lawyers, 2 parties and 1 judge) arguing over what the author meant with a particular paragraph or why an important concept or fact was omitted. 

    The lawyers get richer, businesses pay, and public resources are wasted.  A judge's time is valuable, so is yours.  So why waste that time arguing issues that could have been eliminated through competent writing in the first place?

    Take it from former conflict resolution specialists, if your written communication is not understood by your audience as you understand it, you are sowing the seeds of conflict Ö and conflict inevitably leads to a monumental waste of your time and resources. A careful business writer avoids these troubles and costs by reviewing and editing their work with an eye toward judges and lawyers as potential future audiences.


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    Business Writing Tip 22

    Framing the Issue or Question

     

    Framing the issue or question at hand "clearly" has many advantages. Sometimes this requires simplifying difficult ideas. If you are negotiating or attempting to resolve an adversarial situation, you gain an advantage by clearly framing the issue before the other party does, since all answers depend on the questions asked. If you frame the issue, you're better positioned to control the dialog.

    After you've framed the issue satisfactorily, present the framed question or issue to your reading audience within the first 60 seconds of their review. Deliver the goods right up front. This strengthens the issue framing effort.

    Part of framing an issue or question effectively is assuring that your underlying premises are unassailable. Framing must be done in a manner that enables the reader to "get their mind around" an issue or question, and feel comfortable with the decision they have to make.

    A properly framed question or issue delivers the answer or solution to the reader at the same time, without stating it. When this isn't possible, then immediately follow the question with the answer, demonstrating that your answer is the obvious one.

    When your "framing" governs the dialog, you are more likely to accomplish the mission of your writing.


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    Business Writing Tip 23

    Edit Wordy Phrases



    Every word used has a job to do. Donít use words that arenít essential to your meaning. Unnecessary words clutter sentences and obscure meaning. Examples:

    — in order to = to

    — in respect of = about

    — for the purpose of = to

    — am not in a position to = canít

    — on two separate occasions = twice

    — pertaining to = about

    — in light of the fact that = because

    — in the course of = during


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