Writing for Businessby Steve Roche
Writing to influence
In business writing, the intention is often to present a case that will succeed in persuading someone to adopt your point of view – and often to prompt them to take action as a result.
People will never be persuaded if they do not really understand the case you are making. Also, clarity is impressive in itself. If you put your argument over in a clear, logical and understandable way, people will read a competence into what you do.
Think of the opposite: what does a muddled and badly thought-out case say to you? Probably that the writer is struggling because they don’t really know what they want to say.
To be understood you must work at getting attention. The writing has to be interesting, it has to flow and it has to look readable.
If you keep to the four principles given below, it will help to make your writing understandable.
- Focus on the other person’s viewpoint.
- Use other people’s experience.
- Write in a logical sequence.
- Repeat your main points.
Making a persuasive case
Most people are suspicious of being sold to. It’s better to see persuasion as working with people rather than doing something to them.
When persuading, you are helping someone decide. How do people decide?
- consider the factors,
- classify them as advantages or disadvantages,
- weigh up the whole case and
- select a course of action.
- get a hunch or feeling for what to do and
- then assemble the information to support this.
In either case, your writing needs to demonstrate a focus on the other person, present a balanced case and include enough detail to allow them to make a good decision.
Most of the content should be about benefits. People don’t buy products, services or ideas – they buy what these things do for them. Always keep in mind what something does for or means to others. The essence of persuasion is to make it easy for people to make a decision and to do it in a way that makes your suggested action seem the best choice.
The classic sales acronym AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) provides a simple structure that works well for composing letters and prompting a response.
Having decided what action you want the reader to take, make it absolutely clear by spelling it out very carefully what needs to be done. Avoid vague closing phrases that only add uncertainty. Instead ask the reader, for example, to telephone or write, ask for a meeting or for more information.
Jane was in a new job, tasked with making radical changes. But every plan she put forward to her boss was rejected. A look at the tone of her proposals suggested why. Every time she was writing something like, ‘this system is not working well and could be improved by... ’, together with a perfectly sensible suggestion.
But who had originated the system she planned to change? Her boss. In effect, she was saying, ‘Your system is no good, I can think of something better.’ Changing the tone so that the change was positioned carefully in time (‘This system has worked well in the past; in future we must find a way of also accommodating... so building in the following changes will...’) reversed the reaction.
It was only the implied criticism of past action that produced the negative reaction. A small change to the way the proposals were written was enough to change the outcome.
Look at the section on Influencing. Much of this is equally applicable to the written word.
Remember the power of the postscript. It is not just for things that have been left out. Direct mailers will tell you that the ‘PS’ really does get read. Use it to reinforce an important point or add a final benefit.
You just read this PS, didn’t you?