Writing for Businessby Steve Roche
Write for your audience
Think about your potential readers, and align the content to their needs and expectations. Some people do not find this so easy to do.
To keep your mind on the correct priorities while you write, think in terms of outcome. What is your writing intended to achieve? What is its purpose? For example:
- to provide sufficient information to enable the reader to make a major decision,
- to persuade readers to back a particular proposal,
- to encourage people to think or behave in new ways,
- to pose provocative questions and/or
- to educate and inform, amuse or entertain.
All of these are valid objectives, but you need to be clear about your priorities.
Aim for simplicity and clarity, so that you get the response you want. The response you get gives you a clue to the meaning that was actually conveyed.
So if your writing induces boredom, resistance or irritation, you have probably not communicated effectively. What state do you want to induce?
Excitement? Surprise? Curiosity? Understanding?
Motivation? Action? Something else?
Achieving rapport is important with the written word, just as with face-to-face conversations. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader as much as you can:
- Who they are?
- What do they want?
- What values are important to them?
- What beliefs do they hold on this subject?
- What level of knowledge and skill do they have?
How else do you achieve rapport with an audience you cannot see and may not know?
- Use language that will appeal to them, and identify with their beliefs and values.
- Vary sensory words so the reader can see, hear and get a grasp of what you are saying.
- Use analogies, metaphor, and examples to make the writing come alive.
- Break down or parcel up the information to make it as easy as possible to digest.
- Signpost the route through your material (explaining what you’ve covered and what’s coming).
- Summarise, draw clear conclusions, and say what you want the reader to do.
- Questions are useful to engage the reader, aren’t they?
- Talk to the reader as an equal: explain rather than lecturing them.
- Use the second person when you write: if I use the first person I tend to set myself up as an authority, don’t I?
- Use simple punctuation and be grammatically correct (otherwise you give a negative message about the material).
Some of the above suggestions may require a little further research, but it will be time well spent. If you are writing for a potential client or customer, for example, it will pay to find out about their priorities, their organisation’s core values and so on. If your writing will be read by people from a different department (for example, if you are in design and you are writing for the accounts department), you need to speak their language and show that you understand where they are coming from.
There is more about Sensory Language elsewhere, but essentially people tend to think predominantly either in visual images, gut feelings or through a form of internal dialogue. If you use words that appeal to each type of thinker, you will have a better chance of getting the attention of all your readers.
Give instructions positively: explain what to do, rather than what not to do.
- ‘Do not agree a referral until you have the customer’s name’ is negative.
‘Obtain the customer’s name before referring them’ is more positive and also clearer.
- ‘Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions’ is negative.
‘Do call me if you have any questions’ is positive and direct.
Demonstrate that you are considering your readers and attempting to identify with them.
- ‘If you are reading this, you probably have questions about... ’
- ‘You need to read the following if you fall into one of these categories... ’
- ‘If you work in business, you have to write.’