Write the Way You Talk
Imagine your reader is looking through your words, not at your words, for the meaning beyond the text. Whenever you use ultramajestic, high-fallutin, quadrasyllabic words, you force the reader to look at the words, often stopping to comprehend their meaning. When this happens, the message is clouded and even lost. The beauty of short, simple words is they speak clearly and in language that is typically the way you would talk in person. Write the way you talk. Great business writing means the reader imagines your face and hears your voice as they read, without you actually being in the room with them.
Know Your Purpose
One of the key areas many people miss when writing is the purpose. Why are you writing and what do you want your reader to do? Know your purpose. Could this issue be resolved in person or by phone? If not, spell out the purpose up front and again in the end. People will remember most what they read first and then last, making your openings and closing critical to the overall message. Open and close with something positive and specific. Even when you are upset or angry, find something positive to say such as, “thank you for taking a moment to review my note.” Please and thank you go a long way to getting what you want and help to build better relationships.
When your reader finishes reading your document, they should be able to summarize what it is about in one or two sentences. Granted there are exceptions to every rule, like reports, proposals, etc. Even in those instances when short and simple is not possible, clarity is king.
Focus on Your Reader
In most day-to-day writing, keep your reader in mind. There is a human being on the other end of the send button. Whenever you can, warm things up by being more personal. State the reader’s name in your opening and perhaps once more towards the end. Remind them it is you, talking to them through this written medium. Any time you can remind your reader of what’s in it for them and why they should respond, you are on the right track. Even in email, focus on your reader. Don’t get sloppy because “it’s only email”. Most of our business writing today is email, and every time you push the send button, you make another impression on your reader about how much you care. Use more “you” and “yours” instead of constantly “I” “me” “my”. Focus on your reader.
Keep in mind that people tend to make snap judgments about you after only a few seconds of looking at your written work. Layout, spelling, and grammar are important. When your reader opens your letter or reads your email, the very first impression is visual, not what you are saying. Use more white space and less text. Fewer words mean easier to read. Easier to read means more likely it will get read.
Two great emphasis tools are bullets and bold. Bullets because they summarize key points and are typically surrounded by more white space. Bold because it draws your reader’s eye. Use both sparingly to ensure their effectiveness.
Grammar and spelling are also important and are observed and recorded in the mind of your reader. Folks may differ in their opinions on the issue of speed vs. quality, but the point is, they can easily be corrected at the push of a button. Since we are talking about your business here, do your best to be professional. Attention to details is a cornerstone of every professional I know and is one area where you have tremendous influence.
To recap what we have considered so far:
– Write the way you talk, using short, simple words
– Know your purpose, state it up front and again in the end
– Focus on your reader and why they should care
– Layout is important, use more white space, less text
– Use bullets and bold for emphasis, but use sparingly
– Run spell check
In the end, you are investing time in writing because you want something from your reader. Usually it is to clarify details, take some action, be informed, feel good, be reminded, etc. Be clear. Be specific. Be considerate of your reader and their time. When you focus on your reader, they will appreciate how good it feels to work with a true professional and hopefully respond in kind.