Business writing Effectivewriting does not come by chance. It does not just happen. It requires a set of skills to write SIMPLY, CLEARLY, ACCURATELY, AND BRIEFLY. Youhave to learn and acquire them as you have earned your professional knowledge and experience
Purpose of writingWriting to informWriting to persuade
Writing to inform Presents facts, data, statistics, reports, accounts of facts and written with maximum objectivity. It is also called expository writing because it expounds or expresses ideas and facts.
A check-list Does it focus on the subject under discussion? Does it primarily inform rather than persuade the reader? Does it offer complete and exact information? Can the information be ascertained? Does it present the information logically and clearly? Does it make good reading?
Writing to persuade Persuasive writing aims at convincing the reader about a mater It is at times called argumentative. The matter has two or more sides to it. The writer seeks to influence and convince the reader It focuses on the reader and does more than just state an opinion
A check-list Does it basically seek to convince rather than inform Does it support its view point by giving information or valid reasons Does it clearly follow a logical arrangement of thought and reasoning Does it finally evoke the intended response from the reader
The audience/receiver Recognize the needs, expectations, fears, and the attitudes. Writtencommunication is one-way till such time the reader responds. So the challenge is to get the written communication right.
Planning saves time and effort Ingood business writing carefully think about what you plan to say, and spend even a bit more time thinking about the people to whom you’re going to say it.
Plan writing in writing Always plan in writing, not just in your head. If you write your plans down, you’ll not only remember them more clearly- you’ll also be less likely to be thrown off when you do multiple projects at the same time. Referto document planning sheet till it comes as a reflex
Early criticism kills the creative process We are often crass and cruel to ourselves when we write. We tend to feel and think that our thoughts are not appropriate or phrased or spelled correctly even before we put our pen to the paper This early criticism is one of the chief causes of writer’s block and of a general dislike for writing. It is also a costly waste of productive time.
The brainstorming attitude Like you brainstorm among your colleagues /friends/family for ideas, you brain storm within before you embark on writing. Brainstorm now, organize and perfect later.
Brainstorming guidelines Write as fast as you can Start anywhere Free yourself Accept every idea, even weird ones Record as many ideas as possible Write everything down; use abbreviations
Ignorespelling, punctuation, sentence structure, etc. Prevent all self- criticism Jump freely among ideas Write until you burn out; rest; repeat till you achieve what you set out to do
Time for writing Writing business documents, like any high-concentration activity, is much easier if you can work uninterrupted. A 1minute interruption from a writing task might require as much as 20 minutes of recovery time before you can resume the flow
Suggestions for reducing writing distractionsCurtail internal phone calls, meetings, and visitors except for emergencies.
Come in early or stay late if you can go to lunch half an hour late. Find quiet time when you are least likely to be disturbed Schedule writing appointments with yourself. If someone asks to see you during your scheduled time, say “sorry, I have an appointment. What other time would be good for you?”
Hang up a “do not disturb until…” or an “in conference until…” sign on your door, and tell people you insist. Turnyour writing space away from the entrance to your workplace. Especially if you have no office door. This will reduce interruptions
Use white noiseIn noisy and open offices, get a softly playing radio or a small fan minimize the distracting conversations floating over your partition
Make your office less appealing to visitors Sit in front of a bright window, put books on visitors’ chairs, or remove visitors’ chairs altogether. Be very careful when using such techniques to be especially friendly to your colleagues when you finish your writing session
Ignore the phoneForward your calls, or have a secretary screen them, or take phone off the hook, which signals that you are busy- which you are
Promise call backs.If you are writing and some one calls or pops in, quickly say, “can I get back to you in say about 15 minutes”?
Find a hiding place.Try an empty office, an unoccupied conference room, a storeroom, or even your car in the parking lot.
Don’t be an interruption.Be sensitive to other people’s need for private writing time. Be observant and flexible when balancing your needs with their time.
Getting it rightThe last phase in producing a good piece of writing is revision.
“big-middle-little” revising Revising isn’t easy, partly because writing isn’t easy. Written language involves word choice, tone, punctuation, spelling, organization, connection, formality, ambiguity, visual formatting, sequence of tense, pronoun agreement, conciseness, and technical language- to name just a few
All of these factors are elaborate systems of constantly evolving linguistic conventions. Are we supposed to think of all that, as we read through No way. That’s why we need to break up revising into three manageable chunks.
Big revising Skim through your document, looking for the big picture- the overall content and organization of your work. Eyeball the text from a distance: does it look easy to read (with lots of marginal white space, clearly marked sections, and so on) or does it look like a brick wall of unbroken words? If a memo looks hard to read, it IS hard to read, and it may not be read at all.
Middle revising Next, quickly read for simplicity, clarity, and conciseness. Do your readers absolutely need to know everything you’ve written? Can you leave phrases, paragraphs, or even whole sections out? Can you simplify the language in what’s left? Are your ideas clear and to the point?
Little revisingNext, look for the details- the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Leave this small but very important detailing to the last. Why correct the spelling of a word you might end up eliminating.
Headlines for instant clarity Headlines also known as subject lines must be complete. For example “MANAGEMENT MEETING.” What’s this memo’s point? Is it an invitation to a meeting? An agenda? A suggestion for the next meeting? A complaint? You can’t tell; you’d have to read the fine print. In a way, this subject line is an incomplete headline
x To make your memos more clear, think: subject line=purpose +topic. For example: “request to cancel the next management meeting.” this headline is instantly clear because it states the memo’s purpose (request to cancel), then the topic (next management meeting).
Add breathing space for reader friendliness A true story: a few years ago an old friend decided to start a new life. He just picked up and moved from Chennai to Mumbai. He arrived, wrote up a resume- a one-pager, crammed edge-to-edge with everything he’d ever done- and started looking for work. Months went by: no job. Puzzled and worried, he revamped his resume, spreading the same information out over to two pages and making the pages breezier, and much easier to read. The next week he found a job
Revise for reader friendliness Frequent paragraph breaks: even use occasional one- or two- line paragraphs for important thoughts Lists: readers find listed information easier to organize, so they look at lists almost immediately. Lists can also condense documents by allowing the use of phrases instead of sentences
c Wide margins: readers find shorter text lines easier to read than long, edge-to- edge text lines, and wide margins give readers more room for writing notes Section headlines: headlines allow readers to scan for main ideas, read selectively or in any order they wish, and easily review the document at a later time.
Simplify and clarify your document Eliminate nonessential ideas: distinguish what readers need to know from what would be nice to know. Write to express and not to impress: the purpose of business writing should not be to show off, but to inform. Pompous writing often alienates busy readers.
Write as if your readers were 12 years old: Albert Einstein said that everything should be made as simple as possible, if not simpler- sums it up
Think proverbial: proverbs are memorable because they are short and vivid. To make your writing memorable, plan to write simple, vivid, memorable sentences rather than long, abstract dissertations.
Reduce or eliminate big words Beware of three-, four-, and five- syllable words. Change “ our contemporary organizational structure possesses the prerequisite autonomous functioning capabilities” to “today we have the strength we need to stand alone”. Try to use the simplest words that work.
Use personal pronouns Instead of, “it is recommended that this procedure be implemented,” write “WE recommend YOU implement this procedure.” personal pronouns can help make sentences simpler, less abstract, and more personal. They also clarify the important issue of who does what.
There-it goes Reduce or eliminate unnecessary uses of THERE and IT in phrases such as “it is”, “there was”, “it will,” “there has been,” and so on. Change “ it is true that there was anger in the crowd” to “true, the crowd was angry.”x
Advantages of E-mail E-mail, like death, taxes, and TV, is probably here to stay. It is a wonderful medium- it’s quick, immediate, generally inexpensive, fairly easy to use, and even environmentally friendly when it saves paper. E-mail is almost universal among modern business professionals, which adds another advantage- the ability to send the same message to many people at once. Moreover, e-mail messages can often be kept permanently in computerized files
Disadvantages of E-mail E-mail can reduce live human interaction, leading to oddly impersonal business relationships. Employees send personal e-mails on company time. E-mail encourages sloppy writing. Communicating quickly does not mean you don’t have to communicate well
Make your E-mails reader friendlyTo make the most of e- mail technology and write e-mail it is worthwhile considering the following suggestions
Beware of confidential subjectsYou can never be surewhere your messageswill be forwarded, howlong they will be kept,or by whom.
Know how to brainstormMaybe you’re most efficient when you brainstorm and organize on paper first, then write the e-mail. Paper is still OK, you know. What works best for you.
Assume high standardsMany readers are put off by bad writing in any form, e-mail as well as hard copy. Write as well as you can, whenever you can.
Select your readersWhen messaging to many, be selective: send copies only to those who absolutely, positively need to see it.
Don’t assume what you see is what you get If your reader’s systems are different from yours, your line lengths may spill over and cause an annoying text wrap effect on their screens. To be safe keep your line lengths to 55 or 60 characters, including spaces.
Avoid typing in all caps. It’s easier to type, but IT SURE SOUNDS LIKE SHOUTING, DOESN’T IT? Also, “all cap” writing slows reading by inhibiting recognition of acronyms, proper names, and sentence starts, which all depend on upper/lower case contrasts.
Use informative subject lines Readers may screen their e-mails by scanning subject lines, discarding without reading messages that don’t seem relevant or clear. To get your e- mails read, don’t use subjects like “management meeting” or “project xyz” if you can use “request to reschedule meeting” or “how project xyz will save $500000/year.” these longer subject lines communicate even if your whole e-mail isn’t read.
Keep it shortTry to get your whole message on one screen .it is one the best ways to ensure very high readership
If you can’t keep it short, forecast the structureOn your readers first screen, summarize your message and then forecast its structure by listing all your section headings. This helps readers scroll quickly to sections that may interest them.
Use emphasis devices Even though some e-mail systems don’t yet allow many word processing options, you can still facilitate reading by using headings, white space, occasional all caps, indents, lists, simulated underlines, and other devices
Beware of acronyms and emoticonsDon’t over use e-mail jargon or those cute little “smileys” like or . Even though they can communicate quickly, make sure your readers accept them before you them
Print out long onesIf you print out long e- mails, your scanning for important sections may be easier than if you roll or scroll on screen
Reply quickly to your messagesDon’t negate one of the main advantages of e- mail, which is speed. Check your e-mail frequently and reply promptly
Change the subject line of your replyYour reply is not the same message as the original e- mail you were sent, is it? So if you can change the subject line. Reply to “request to reschedule meeting” with “meeting rescheduled to May 30”
PresentationsPlan to speak to listeners on their termsMany professionals suffer from a common communication malady: the “specialist’s fallacy.”
The Specialist’s Fallacy: How Presentations Go Wrong The specialist’s fallacy assumes that the listeners are just as familiar with your subject as you are. If you assume this you may lose your audience. With this false assumption, presenters give talks that are too long and full of digressions, contain too much detail, and over use specialized terms Presentations given this way may be misunderstood- or even disregarded
Where the Specialist’s Fallacy Originates The specialist’s fallacy comes from mistaking familiarity with a subject for an intrinsic simplicity of the subject. “if I understand it, everyone under stands it”. We assume that what we know is common knowledge and that everyone will understand us if we just say what we know. The result: they don’t understand us.
The solution: Plan to Speak to Listeners on Their Own Terms To avoid the specialist’s fallacy and plan your presentations for your listeners, use the presentation planning form. This will help you create presentations that tailor your message to your listeners, avoid the dreaded fallacy, and communicate clearly.
Use a recipe to begin with confidenceSay hello and say your name. Greet the audience with a strong, clear voice. If anyone in the audience doesn’t know who you are, say your name
2. Name your topicTell them right away what you will be discussing. Don’t trust the technique of starting with a joke. Humor is tricky; you’re safest to get right down to business and name the topic.
3. Give your topic credentials Imagine that your audience asks you, “why are you qualified to speak about this topic?” don’t detail your whole resume- just enough to credential you in this topic. Don’t brag about yourself, either- just state your experience. This section should take no more than two or three sentences.
4. Emphasize the benefitsEmphasize the benefits the audience will gain by listening to you. This is a sometimes neglected but crucial part of an effective business presentation
5. Forecast the structure of your talkBriefly outline the agenda points you will cover. Don’t detail them yet, just list them. If you wish, show the audience a visual agenda to accompany your words.
6. Suggest question- answer rulesTell the audience whenyou would like them toask their questions-anytime, after sections,or after the entire talk.
7.Start agenda item #1.Simply say, “now let’s start with point #1, and you’re in.
Think carefully about your business audience’s interests and concerns. Find ways your presentation will benefit your audience, and make sure they know, right from the start of your talk, what those benefits are. When you see that your audience is listening with interest, you’ll more easily deliver a powerful, persuasive presentation.
Use “quick specifics” forhigh credibility Remember mother Mary who knew Latin or uncle Sam who is great at bridge! We think this way because we have a tendency to generalize from specific experiences. We tend to assume, rightly or wrongly. That behind any specific behavior is a general pattern of knowledge, skill or similar behavior.
In presentations: the quick specifics And so it is with professional presentations, especially persuasive ones: if you give your audience specific names, facts, examples, statistics, stories, or analogies- especially lots of them in rapid-fire sequence – the audience is likely to assume that for each specific you gave you could have had more to say, and therefore your evidence must be overwhelming and your point valid
Think “many and quick,” instead of “few and deep” Many audiences will respond best to many specifics quickly stated, rather than few specifics explored in depth. Audiences are generally impressed with a wide sweep, an over view of the evidence. They may eventually require more depth, so an excellent presentation strategy might be to give your wide sweep of quick specifics, then go back and develop one of your specifics in detail.
The audience will then assume that every one of your specifics could go just as deep, and they will feel a sense of the breadth and depth of your point, even if you don’t have the time to detail all your evidence.
A final word: know the breadth and depth of your evidence The “many and quick” strategy could lead to abuses. A few bits of knowledge can be made to deceive unsophisticated audiences. The best presenters know their material broadly and deeply and are always prepared to offer fuller explanations. The wisest audiences know that behind a presenter’s quick, specific evidence must lie a depth of understanding; if they have any doubts about a presenter’s knowledge, they must ask for more depth or risk being misled.
Use the BEST recipe to organize your points After you have brainstormed the evidence you want to use in your speech, you need to present these specifics in an organized fashion. A handy recipe for organizing a speech is the BEST formula: bottom line, evidence, summary, transition.
B= bottom line To open each section of your speech, state in 25 words or less the point you wish to make in that section. Use a signpost phrase like “ my next point is…” or “point #3 of my presentation is…”, this gives the audience a clear sense of where you are in your talk.
E= evidence or examples List the best evidence, examples, statistics, stories, and analogies you have to support your point. A good technique is to signpost these specifics with a statement such as, “let me give you some examples,” or “here are some statistics you may find helpful.” To support you may tell stories about people you have met; tell jokes; and mention shah rukh khan, mahatma Gandhi, Bernard Shaw, Rajneesh… just make sure your evidence is quick and convincing
S= summary of bottom line Restate your point so the audience knows that you are emerging from specifics into a general statement. You can signpost your point’s summary with ‘to summarize this point…( do not say “in conclusion” unless you are at the end of your talk)
T= transition to next pointLead the audience to the next point with a natural transitional statement, such as “that leads me to the next point,” or “now let’s move on.”
Use a recipe to conclude with powerThe most effective conclusions are a combination of logical and emotional elements crafted into a clear sequence. To fashion a solid, uplifting conclusion, try this recipe.
1.Announce a stop sign A stop sign is an unmistakable verbal signal that your talk is about to end. Classic stop signs include the phrases “in conclusion” or “in summary”. Say your stop sign in a clear firm voice, and your audience will perk up- not because they’re glad you are finished, but because they know that they are about to hear an important statement : your final words.
2. Summarize your main pointsRecap the main ideas you have covered in your talk. Don’t say too much; just give a brief bullet point list of your bottom- line points.
3. Motivate the listenersEven in low key presentations, you may find that an optimistic, team building feeling would be appropriate as you conclude. To achieve this emotional, motivational effect, experiment with the following terms:
Challenge, difficulty, effortTell the audience that the ideas you have proposed may not be easy to implement. Challenge them to take on the ideas anyway.
OptimismExpress as much sincere confidence as you can. Be willing yourself to take on the challenges. Predict a realistic success.
The futureRefer to times to come. Even use the word “future” as you predict a brighter day
Pronouns Make your talks personal. Use the words I, me, or mine- refer to your own commitment. Tell how you feel; risk a bit of self- disclosure. Use the word you refer to the audience- or even better, use we, us, or our to refer to yourself and the audience as a team.
A final uplifting phrase Make the very last words you say turn upward, not downward. Do not end with a statement like, “we will look forward to a brighter future and avoid the serious problems of the past.” Rather, say “we will avoid the serious problems of the past and look forward to a brighter future”. Leave the audience moving upward with your last words.
4. Pause and say thank youThank you signals the finish, and therefore the moment listeners can react. The phrase is, in fact, an applause cue.
5. Pause again and solicit questionsMake sure your pause is long enough to allow for the listeners’ applause or appreciative nods. Then, if appropriate, solicit and answer questions.
Handle questions with care Answering questions well can be a major key to the success of your presentation, because the Q&A session is where the audience finds out how much you really know about your topic and therefore whether they can believe in your ideas Some useful guidelines
Anticipate questionsBefore the presentation, brainstorm 10-12 tough questions you think you’ll be asked. Prepare good, solid answers.
Specify when you want the Q&A session In your introduction, request questions any time, after sections of the talk, or at the end of the talk. Questions during your talk may make your talk longer and harder to keep focused, but they can make your talk interactive and more engaging.
Listen carefully to questionsDon’t completequestioner’s thoughts-that can be insulting.
Always support questionersNever put anyone down for asking questions, even poor ones. Put downs only make enemies. Presenters can insult questioners without realizing it by making an unintentionally hurtful comment…
For example, suppose someone asks a question and you say, “I thought I explained that, but I’ll go over it again for you”.
Beware of saying “good question”If you say to Kareena, you’ll have to say it to everybody, or risk making people think their questions aren’t as good as Kareena’s
If appropriate, repeat (or restate) the question …especially if the question is complex, or if the room is so big that all listeners can’t hear the questions posed to you.
Break out multiple-part question If someone asks you a three- or four- part question, don’t panic. Answer only the first part if the question and then say, “now, what was your second question?” Handling the questions one at a time is much easier and just as effective.
Answer brieflyThe fewer words yousay, the more of themare remembered.
Involve the entire audience in your answerEven though one person asked the question, you should answer to every one, with only a bit more eye contact directed at the asker
If you don’t know the answer, don’t bluff Simply say you don’t know, promise to get back to the asker with an answer, and do it ASAP. You may be better off this way than if you knew the answer right off; getting back quickly shows a “customer service” attitude.
Techniques for using Laptops or LCD’sDon’t overdo visual effects; don’t make a visual for every single thought.If possible, index slides for quick-reference tailoring on the fly.
Rehearse carefully.Get there early; check everything twiceIf using a TV monitor, use at least a 27” screen
If using a LCD panel and reflective screen, try to get a super-high luminosity overhead projectorAllow sufficient setup/boot up time
Ensure the image is large enough to be seen at the back; if necessary, use the image sizer on the over head projector Make sure the image is bright enough, but try also to leave the room bright enough for good eye contact
If presenting in a darkened room, emphasize your voice dynamicsIf you anticipate long discussions on any slides, turn off the screen saver feature
For verbal- visual cooperation, use cascading bullets or progressive highlighting. For commands, use a remote portable mouse as opposed to tapping laptop Create a “dark slide” effect so you can occasionally speak without visual aids