Monday, March 1, 2010

"Communicate what you mean to get what you want"

The Truth About the New Rules of Business Writing by Natalie Canavor and Claire Meirowitz is a useful guide for people who do a lot of writing but don’t think of themselves as writers. Its focus on audience, purpose and content mapping provides a useful framework for planning a written communication.

The authors contend that “Business writing today often substitutes for conversation, so it works best when it’s close to spoken language. . . . Effective business writing in the twenty-first century has come to mean writing that is simple, direct, clear, easy to read and…conversational.”

Everything we write has a psychological impact. In addition, “cues from tone of voice, facial expression and body language are missing, so it’s critical to frame your message by anticipating response.” Try and see the news you are sharing from your audience’s perspective: How will it affect them? What’s in it for them? Will there be resistance?

Picture the actual reader in your mind as this will trigger the same reactions that guide you in face-to-face conversation and will assist in setting the right tone.

The authors recommend identifying everything you are trying to accomplish in your writing. This includes both corporate and personal goals: for example, to ensure a client pays an invoice but also to establish an ongoing relationship. “Once you take your personal sub-agendas into account, you’ll begin to see writing not as a nuisance, but as a great opportunity to showcase your professionalism, credibility, competence, creativity, loyalty – whatever.”

Once you have identified your audience and established your objectives, it’s much easier to map out the content: “What do you say to this audience to get what you want?”

The authors break the content down into beginning, middle and end. They emphasize that the lead must focus the audience’s attention and provide the key message. It must tell the audience how the subject relates to them, explain why it is important and suggest what you will be asking them to do.

My only criticism of The Truth About the New Rules of Business Writing is that the authors try and cover too many topics in a very short book. As a result, their overview of websites, social media, and grammar are hasty and incomplete. However, the book is an excellent resource for business people who want to write more effectively.

Note: The authors write a column for CW Bulletin, IABC’s international electronic newsletter.

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