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There’s no better way to approach business writing than to keep three realities in mind:
1. Business readers are content-driven.
2. Readers are pressed for time.
3. Readers are seeking solutions.
But there are too many contradictory rules for composing a business report:
· Writing should be clear – but it should also “sound good.”
· Information should be simple and straightforward, yet cleverly composed to stand out.
· Get to the bottom line quickly, but don’t leave out background details.
If you need to compose a report, proposal, memo or email, you undoubtedly want to write effectively, without agonizing over every word.
Keep the following points in mind to save time and energy, while avoiding the need for numerous rewrites:
1. Our writing skills were developed in school. The fundamentals aren’t good enough for today’s fast-paced, time-pressed business environment.
2. When you’re juggling contradictory ideas about style, presentation and level of detail, your results can come across as fuzzy and uncertain, which undermines your intent.
3. Your writing skill determines whether you get your foot in the door to further the conversation. If you can’t make your case in writing, you may not get the chance to make a presentation.
4. Writing should be like a good butler, smoothly working to serve the reader without calling attention to itself. Avoid language that sounds impressive. Use words to convey information and ideas, build relationships with readers and speak their language.
5. How you organize your content is critical. Your readers will be drawn into your words if you present them logically.
The Introduction: Problem, Questions, Solution
Colleagues decide whether to read your memo or report based on the first few sentences. You need to grab their attention right away and create a desire to know more.
Many business professionals introduce the subject matter slowly and build up to make their point. They often start from their own point of view, talking about themselves and how they’re connected with the reader or the problem.
This is a mistake. Readers immediately want to know: “Why am I reading this? What’s in it for me? Why should I care?”
Not to be harsh, but readers don’t care about you. Your introductory paragraph must quickly establish relevancy and utility.
An effective introduction briskly tells a story built around four elements:
1. The situation: A quick factual sketch of the current business situation that will anchor the reader.
2. The complication: A problem that unsettles the reader, which underscores why you’re writing the memo or report.
3. The question: You can imply it or spell it out, as in:
a. What should we do?
b. How can we do it?
c. What’s wrong with what we’ve tried?
4. The answer: Your response to the question and solution to the complication.
The order in which these elements appear can vary, but your introduction should foreshadow the content by identifying the key problem and the questions you’ll be answering. Readers can then decide if your work is worth their time or should be forwarded to others.
The Body: Organizing Ideas
In The Minto Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing, Thinking and Problem Solving, Barbara Minto advises report writers to start by diagramming their arguments in lieu of writing out full sentences.
With a diagramming program like SmartDraw, you can build a visual structure that logically organizes your arguments. Once you’ve arranged the building blocks, writing becomes much easier.
Classic Writing Tips
College professor William Strunk Jr. and novelist/journalist E.B. White wrote The Elements of Style, which is still considered a classic reference book. Their timeless concepts include:
· Use the active voice.
· Put statements in positive form; avoid double negatives.
· Use definite, specific and concrete language.
· Avoid overuse of common adjectives like really, very, even, just, actually and basically.
· Omit needless words.
· Avoid complex sentences that deliver more than one idea.
· Stick to one tense.
· Place emphatic words at the end of a sentence.
Patsi owns http://www.ContentforCoachesandConsultants.com, where she provides ghost blogging and e-newsletter services for executive coaches. Her award-winning blog is at http://WritingontheWeb.com. She is founder of The Blog Squad, and a former psychologist and journalist who specializes in helping small business professionals with content marketing strategies.