7 Ways the Best Writers Get Busy People to Stop and Read Their Stuff
Technology, social media and a global economy have changed the business world tremendously, and business writing has changed right along with it. While business writers used to focus on writing rules and details, today they find that the modern reader is more interested in writing that is quick, easy, and to the point.
There are several steps business writers can take to make their writing more user-friendly for today’s time-pressed readers. Let’s look at the strategies some of the world’s best writers use to get busy people to stop what they’re doing for a few minutes and read their stuff.
Seven wonderful writing rules for non-writers:
Know your audience
While you might not know them personally, find out as much as possible about the people to whom you are writing. This allows you to adapt the tone of the document, identify persuasive elements that might work with your particular readers, ask pertinent questions, etc. Researching your readers lets you address them in such a way that you can establish immediate rapport—a big part of getting them to care about what you have to say.
Identify your audience’s needs
Sounds simple, but far too many business writers attack documents from their own perspective, rather than considering the needs of their readers. Keep WIIFT (what’s in it for them?) at the front of your mind as you make and support each main point. Give them the need-to-know information. Identify benefits for them throughout the document. Benefits help readers buy into what you are saying.
Follow this simple formula:
- State your point
- Tell your reader why you’re writing
- Explain the actions you want your reader to take afterwards
- Weave benefits in where possible and pertinent
Some other tips for keeping it clear and concise:
- Be brief. Don’t use jargon unless you are 100 percent sure everyone that reads it will know what you’re talking about.
- Choose short words over long. The fewer syllables the better. If a document is filled with long words—even if they are everyday words—it can intimidate your reader. Keep it short and simple.
- Use strong action verbs and an active voice. Put the subject at the start of the sentence and let it do the action—rather than being acted upon.
Look at the difference an active approach makes in the following example:
- “Managers should instruct their chief administrative official to compose a written communication to the industrial creators in the manufacturing building.”
Clearly and concisely written, the sentence would say:
- “Supervisors should send a memo to the line staff.”
See the difference? Not only is the sentence cut to less than half of its original length—saving the reader time—but it is much clearer.
Today’s readers want to be able to glance at a document and pull out the key points—the points that matter to them. Break up long stretches of copy with headings and subheadings so readers can pinpoint need-to-know information. Emphasize critical points by using bullets. Highlight supplemental points with boxes and shading. Use graphics to illustrate hard-to-describe subjects that are better explained with visuals.
Keep e-mails to one main point, on one screen
If an e-mail is longer than one screen, write a memo, letter, or make a phone call instead. If you must cover more than one main point in an e-mail, be sure to number or bullet your points so your reader can follow your train of thought.
When you’re writing a report, or project information for an upcoming meeting, there are times certain people on your list need extra information that others don’t. In this case, attach supplemental material (data, charts, graphs, testimonials, etc.) in your email. People that need the information, as well as others who might want more info, can look at it later. Others who don’t need or want it can ignore the attachments. as attachments in electronic communications. Save paper and printing costs by offering the supplemental material as an option in paper documents, asking readers to let you know if they would like a copy.
Don’t let electronic correspondence get too casual
Just because you are chatting back and forth electronically does not mean you can drop all business formality. Email is especially vulnerable to overly casual business writing—and being too casual with business colleagues can get you in trouble for a variety of reasons.
- Attempts at humor often fall flat and backfire, as your reader tries to figure out if you are joking or being serious. And honestly, what you think is funny may be offensive to another.
- Politically incorrect comments are more likely when you let your guard down and are less formal.
- Emoticons and chat room abbreviations are never appropriate in business correspondence. Save them for personal texts.
I have mixed feelings on emoticons. While I would NEVER use them for something going to someone in management above me, or correspondence with an upset customer, I personally have used them in other instances to break the ice or inject humor into something I’ve written. My immediate supervisor and co-workers have gotten emails from me with emoticons—generally smiley faces or poops, depending on what I’m writing about.
In addition, part of my job is to monitor social media across several platforms and customers that I chat with on Twitter, don’t mind emoticons at all. If someone praises our company in a tweet, I almost always respond with a “thank you” and a heart emoticon. Through dozens of online conversations, I haven’t had a negative response.
So, use your judgement on social media with emoticons, but when it comes to emails or other written correspondence, if in doubt, leave it out!