Thursday, March 13, 2008

Writing White Papers That are Read

White Papers are a useful tool for many businesses. They can be used as a marketing tool, and a customer information resource. With the right layout and design, critical information can be transformed into a high value business tool.

The trick is to present the information in a way that keeps readers reading, instead of boring them instantly, or scaring them away. Highly relevant content is one essential part of the task. The other is presentation, visual appeal, and user-friendliness.

A good white paper writer masters layout techniques, and never presents a dull document.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Writing Tip 24 - Highly Recommended Business Writing Book

I recently read a great book on business writing by Susan St. Maur, who is a business writing consultant and author based in Britain. Yes, even professional business writers like me seek the knowledge and experience of our peers (other professional writers).

The book is The Easy Way To Be Brilliant At Business Writing, and can be found here:

I recommend this well-organized and concise book to anyone seeking a general business writing overview filled with real insight into what works with various business audiences and why.

In The Easy Way To Be Brilliant At Business Writing Susan covers a lot of ground in a short, easy-to-read volume. Subjects range from all relevant "who is your audience and what are they getting out of it" issues, to the basics of grammar, editing and style, to the details of business writing environments (delivery devices - online, emails, websites, etc.) dominating today’s fast-paced business practice.

The mechanics of these writing mediums and the way they are used by audiences are explained to aid writing’s object: effective communication. Ms. St Maur delivers many practical suggestions focused on contemporary business writing and the technologies that bear upon the process.

Also explained and distinguished are various common types of business writing and document functions, and why each requires its own approach. Simple, but helpful descriptions of the basic structural elements of various business document types are provided.

Taking issue with the lingering formalities of a bygone business writing era, Susan appropriately notes that many are inapt in today's digital-quick business communication mediums. She speaks wisely, for example, of the difference between being sloppy or careless (which makes you look stupid) and relaxing the grammarian’s formality (which makes any non-high-brow audience more comfortable). Ms. St. Maur also astutely points out that for the business writer, punctuation is a tool.

Punctuate to be clear in your meaning and understood. Don’t worry about pointless punctuation formalities that no one cares about or remembers anyway. Couldn't have said it better myself.

Aside from being packed with useful writing tips (with a convenient tip summary at the end), this book is friendly, readable, down to earth, and really hits the essentials. It’s an honest manual that any business person seeking to communicate better should have at hand. I plan to add it to my shelf … and use it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Business Writing Tip 23 - Using Big Words - Remember Your Reader

Many good writers put a lot of thought into what they're saying. Sometimes they put so much thought into it that they begin deploying large, ill-fitting, or obscure words. In attempting to be eloquent, they succumb to the allure of demonstrating their writing capacity and sophistication. They are enamored with their own word power.

Unfortunately it often comes across as condescending, or worse, pointless, to the reader. The big words diminish the point or don't fit the article's subject or purpose. Young writers are often guilty of this. If they're good, they get a little full of themselves, or they feel they have to prove how smart they are. So they use words that aren't commonly heard in conversation, and that's when they start losing their audience. They've begun writing to see how impressive they look on paper, instead of writing for, and reveling in, how well the audience receives and understands.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Business Writing Tip 22 - Framing the Issue

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.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Business Writing Tip 19 - Definitions and Vague Words

When writing documents that other parties are going to rely on, or which govern a relationship, don’t make assumptions about the words you choose. For example – the phrase “timely payments” 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 document’s 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 “timely” if it arrives by the due date – but is that the only logical or appropriate standard? No. Standards of timeliness will depend on the reader’s (or party’s) 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 it’s timely if it prevents the company from going under, and a consumer may think a payment is timely if it’s made in a manner that doesn’t 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 party’s 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. That’s your job as a good writer. Don’t leave it up to the reader, and don’t leave it up to what’s logical to you. Anticipate the varying interpretations of the phrases you choose.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Business Writing Tip 18 - The Nature of Opinion Evidence

On the nature of evidence, don't assume that your opinion is unfounded merely because you are unable to find published corroborating statements. Your own experience and observations are a quite sufficient foundation for your opinion, provided you are fair and rational in relating same, and admit of your limitations (i.e., what you don't know).

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Business Writing Tip 17 - Agreements - Focus on the Parties Not the Lawyers

Budgets, time, and contract psychology often don’t afford the luxury of including every conceivable contingency, or running negotiations into the ground over minutia. Just because an issue may be present doesn’t mean it can’t be deliberately omitted. When writing agreements that bind multiple parties, distinguish between what is essential to the bargain, and the superfluous. While it is important to address expected and likely future contingencies, it can be an exercise in futility to attempt to address every imaginable contingency.

First, make sure the agreement serves the parties’ objects, and says what the parties intend for it to say, and not what professionals charging for its legalese say is standard. Second, verify that the objects of the document and the parties have been addressed clearly. Does the Agreement leave any doubt or confusion about what the parties' obligations are? Here’s how we see it: Agreements ought to serve the interests of parties, not lawyers.

This isn’t to diminish the importance of what lawyers do; there are times when the protection afforded by a long, detailed contract is appropriate. What we are saying is that complexity and lengthy content can actually make an Agreement more likely to breed confusion and conflict, and that when provisions are not absolutely necessary to address reasonably likely future contingencies affecting the Parties' rights or duties, leave it out and stick to the deal’s subject. People don’t like to be confused or intimidated by a contract. In fact they are more likely to disregard the contract if they don’t understand it, or if they perceive it as a bunch of gobbledygook.

If an Agreement is clear, honest, and simple parties are more likely to perceive it as “fair”, more likely to honor it, and less likely to hide behind its confusing provisions.

Two things are certain:

- you'll strengthen your negotiating position with the other party
- and you'll spend less time and money on lawyers when seeking their counsel

If you first present them both with a clear, well-written document embodying or explaining a deal, rather than asking them to start from scratch.