When you are speaking to someone, you automatically adjust your tone and words to be sure you are being understood. So when writing a business document, you need to do the same.
You need to think about your intended reader, who they are and what will encourage them to read your document. Identifying your intended reader will help you make decisions about the information you use.
Once you have established who your intended reader is, you can start to plan your document. A helpful tool for planning a document is Mind Mapping. This uses both sides of your brain, so is both logical and creative. Also, Mind Mapping helps you both gather and arrange the information.
When thinking about your intended reader, you also need to establish what response you would like to achieve. Maybe a change of behaviour or procedure is required. Or perhaps you are just giving information that they need to know.
Questions to consider are:
- What information would you like your reader to know? Leave out what they don’t need to know or should know already.
- What would you like them to start thinking?
- How do you want them to feel after reading your document?
- What would you like them to do?
You also need to clarify why they are receiving the document. How does it relate to them or affect their job? What benefit is it to them to read your document and, if necessary, change their behaviours.
A great opening line is important for attracting the attention of your reader. So think about your reader and what is likely to grab their attention. Why, in their busy day, will they give time to your document?
However, you will need more than a great opening line to keep them interested until the end. So you need to be mindful of the language you use. Again, this depends on who your target reader is. Will they understand any jargon or abbreviations that you use? You will also need to use the appropriate tone and structure for your reader.
A less formal tone is a conversational tone. It gives the impression that you are sitting opposite your reader and having a two-way conversation with them. This is achieved by using words that you would use as if you were speaking to them. For example: using their name or the personal pronoun ‘you’. Remember, people will respond more positively if they feel recognised and important.
A more formal tone may be required when addressing a more senior manager or writing a document that is for a more professional purpose. For example: a report for the board. When writing using a formal tone, be more objective and do not use the first person, ie, ‘I or we’.
A formal tone is not necessarily better in business, however. Both formal and informal tones have a place in your business writing, it depends on your target reader. If you are in doubt as to the best tone, it is probably best to err on the side of a more formal one.
Be concise when writing any business document, you want it to be readable. Long sentences and paragraphs discourage people from reading. It also slows comprehension. Polysyllabic words also slow comprehension, so avoid them unless absolutely necessary. A good tool to check the readability of your document is the Gunning Fog Index
It is advisable to invest your time and money in a good business writing course. One that includes the GFI and Mind Mapping would be worthwhile. There are some on-line courses or face-to-face ones. Both can help you learn strategies to target your reader.
In conclusion, much time is wasted in business due to poorly written documents. The first item to establish, before you start writing, is defining the nature of your targeted reader. From there, think about the best way to get your information across to them. Read your document out loud before you finalise, as if you are in your reader’s shoes. This will ensure it reads logically and expresses what you want. A well targeted document is an effective document.