The specific actions you take to write business messages will vary with each situation, audience, and purpose. However, following a three-step writing process will help you write more effective messages. Planning. Clarify your purpose and gather information to inform, persuade, or motivate your audience. Select the channel and medium that suit both your needs and those of your audience. Establish a good relationship with your audience. Planning business messages is the focus of Chapter 4. Writing. Organize your ideas and commit your thoughts to words, write sentences and paragraphs, and select illustrations and details to support your main idea. Writing business messages is discussed in this chapter (Chapter 5). Completing. Review the content and organization for overall style, structure, and readability. Revise and rewrite until your message is clear; then edit for details such as grammar, punctuation, and format. Next produce your message, putting it into the form that your audience will receive. Finally, proof the final draft for typos, spelling errors, and other mechanical problems. Completing business messages is discussed in Chapter 6. As a general rule, try using roughly half of your time for planning. Use less than a quarter of your time for writing your document. Then use more than a quarter of your time for completing the project (so that you don’t shortchange important final steps such as revising and proofing).
Below are f our of the most common organization mistakes made by communicators: Taking too long to get to the point. Make the subject and purpose clear. Including irrelevant material. Include only information that is related to the subject and purpose. Getting ideas mixed up. Group the ideas and present them in a logical way. For example, begin with the fact that the drive doesn’t work, and group some ideas to show that the company is a valuable customer. Leaving out necessary information. Include all the necessary information.
Misinterpreted messages lead to wasted time reading and rereading, poor decision making, and shattered business relationships. When you consider such costs, you begin to realize the value of clear writing and organization. Good organization helps your audience understand your message. By making your main point clear at the outset, and by stating your needs precisely, your well-organized message will satisfy your audience’s need for information. Good organization helps your audience accept your message. Even when your message is logical, you need to select and organize your points in a diplomatic way. Softening refusals and leaving a good impression enhances your credibility and adds authority to your messages. Good organization saves your audience time. Well-organized messages are efficient. They contain only relevant ideas, and they are brief. Moreover, all the information in a well-organized message is in a logical place. Audience members receive only the information they need, and because that information is presented as accessibly and succinctly as possible, audience members can follow the thought pattern without a struggle.
Effective writers organize messages by defining the main idea, limiting the scope, grouping supporting points, and establishing their sequence by selecting either a direct or an indirect approach.
Business messages can be boiled down to one main idea that sums up everything. The rest of the message supports, explains, or demonstrates this point. The broad subject of your message is the topic , and your main idea makes a statement about that topic. Your main idea may be obvious when you’re preparing a brief message with simple facts that have little emotional impact on your audience. In longer documents and presentations, you’ll need to unify a mass of material, so you’ll need to define a main idea that encompasses all the individual points you want to make.
The scope of your message (its length and detail) must match your main idea. Once you have a tentative statement of your main idea, test it against the length limitations that have been imposed for your message. If you lack the time and space to develop your main idea fully, or if your main idea won’t fill up the time and space allotted, redefine the main idea of your message. Regardless of how long the message will be, stick with three to five major points. Instead of introducing additional points, you can more fully develop complex issues by supporting your points with a variety of evidence. How much you can communicate in a given number of words depends on the nature of your subject, your audience members’ familiarity with the topic, their receptivity to your conclusions, and your credibility. You’ll need fewer words to present routine information to a knowledgeable audience that already knows and respects you. You’ll need more time to build consensus about a complex and controversial subject, especially if the audience is composed of skeptical or hostile strangers. Moreover, the scope of your message determines the amount and depth of investigation you can conduct. You may need only to glance at your calendar to confirm a meeting, or you may need to spend weeks conducting formal research for a complicated report.
Whether you use the outlining features provided with word-processing software or simply jot down three or four points on the back of an envelope, making a plan and sticking to it will help you cover the important details. You’re no doubt familiar with the basic outline formats, which (1) use numbers—or letters and numbers—to identify each point and (2) indent points to show which ideas are of equal status. A good outline divides a topic into at least two parts, restricts each subdivision to one category, and ensures that each group is separate and distinct
Another way to visualize the structure of your message is by creating a message “organization chart” similar to the charts used to show a company’s management structure. The main idea is shown in the highest-level box and, like a top executive, establishes the big picture. The lower-level ideas, like lower-level employees, provide the details. All the ideas are logically organized into divisions of thought, just as a company is organized into divisions and departments. Using a visual chart instead of a traditional outline has many benefits. Charts help you (1) see the different levels of ideas and how the parts fit together, (2) develop new ideas, and (3) restructure your information flow.
Once you’ve defined your ideas and outlined or diagrammed the structure of your message, you’re ready to decide on the sequence you will use to present your points. The Direct approach (deductive). The main idea (such as a recommendation, conclusion, or request) comes first, followed by the evidence. Use this approach when your audience will be neutral about your message or pleased to hear from you. The Indirect approach (inductive). The evidence comes first, and the main idea comes later. Use this approach when your audience may be displeased about or may resist what you have to say. Your choice of a direct or an indirect approach depends on the following factors: Audience reaction: positive, neutral, or negative. Message length: short (memos and letters—discussed in Part 3 of this text) or long (reports, proposals, and presentations—discussed in Part 5). Message type: (1) routine, good-news, and goodwill messages; (2) bad-news messages; or (3) persuasive messages (all of which are discussed in Part 3).
Whether you use an outline format or organizational chart to structure your message, your message begins with the main idea, follows with major supporting points, and then illustrates these points with evidence. The main idea helps you establish the goals and general strategy of the message and summarizes two things: (1) what you want your audience to do or think and (2) why they should do so. Everything in the message should either support the main idea or explain its implications. Once you’ve determined the main idea, identify between three and five major points that support and clarify your message in more concrete terms. If you come up with more, go back and look for opportunities to combine some of your ideas. Once you’ve defined the main idea and identified three to five major points to support that idea, you’re ready to illustrate your major points with specific evidence. Evidence is the flesh and blood that helps your audience understand and remember the more abstract concepts you’re presenting. If your subject is complex and unfamiliar or if your audience is skeptical, you’ll need a lot of facts and figures to demonstrate your points. On the other hand, if your subject is routine and the audience is positively inclined, you can be more sparing with the evidence. You want to provide enough support to be convincing but not so much that your message becomes boring or inefficient.
The most straightforward business messages are routine, good-news, and goodwill messages. If you’re providing routine information as part of your regular business, your audience will probably be neutral, neither pleased nor displeased. In the opening, state your main idea directly. In the body, provide all necessary details. The close is cordial and emphasizes your good news or makes a statement about the specific action desired. If you’re turning down a job applicant, refusing credit, or denying a request for an adjustment, your audience will be disappointed. In such cases, it may be best to use the indirect approach. Successful communicators open with a neutral statement that acts as a transition to the reasons for the bad news. In the body they give the reasons that justify a negative answer before stating or implying the bad news. And they are always careful to close cordially. The indirect approach is also useful when you know that your audience will be uninterested in your request or unwilling to comply without extra coaxing). You might find an audience resistant to a sales letter, a collection letter, an unsolicited job application, or a request for a favor of some kind. The opening begins by mentioning a possible benefit, referring to a problem that the recipient might have, posing a question, or mentioning an interesting statistic. Then the body builds interest in the subject and arouses your audience members’ desire to comply. Once you have them thinking, you can introduce your main idea. The close is cordial and requests the desired action.
Once you’ve completed the planning process and organized your message, you’re ready to begin composing your first draft. As you compose your first draft, try to let your creativity flow. Don’t try to draft and edit at the same time or worry about getting everything perfect. Just put down your ideas as quickly as you can. You’ll have time to revise and refine the material later. Once you have all your thoughts and ideas jotted down, begin shaping your message. Start by paying attention to your style and tone. Try to select words that match the tone you want to achieve. Next, create effective sentences and develop coherent paragraphs. The following slides present each of these elements.
Style is the way you use words to achieve a certain tone , or overall impression. The right choice depends on the nature of your message and your audience. Most business messages aim for a conversational tone, using plain language. To achieve such a conversational tone in your messages, try to avoid obsolete and pompous language, intimacy, humor, and preaching or bragging. Plain English is a way of writing and arranging technical materials so that your audience can understand your meaning. Because it’s close to the way people normally speak, plain English is easy to understand. If you’ve ever tried to make sense of a legal document or credit agreement, you can understand why governments and corporations today are using plain-English. Your choice of active or passive voice also affects the tone of your message. You’re using active voice when the subject (the “actor”) comes before the verb and the object of the sentence (the “acted upon”) follows the verb: “John rented the office.” You’re using passive voice when the subject follows the verb and the object precedes it: “The office was rented by John.” Using the active voice produces shorter, stronger sentences and makes your writing more vigorous, concise, and generally easier to understand. Using the passive voice makes sense (1) when you want to be diplomatic about pointing out a problem or error, (2) When you want to point out what’s being done without taking or attributing either the credit or the blame, and (3) When you want to avoid personal pronouns in order to create an objective tone.
To compose effective messages, you must choose your words carefully. First, pay close attention to correctness. Although debating the finer points of usage may seem like nitpicking, using words correctly is important. If you make grammatical or usage errors, you lose credibility with your audience. Just as important as selecting the correct word is selecting the most suitable word for the job at hand. Words can be divided into two main categories. Function words express relationships and have only one unchanging meaning in any given context. They include conjunctions, prepositions, articles, and pronouns. Your main concern with functional words is to use them correctly. Content words are multidimensional and therefore subject to various interpretations. They include nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. These words carry the meaning of a sentence. Content words have both a denotative and a connotative meaning. The denotative meaning is the literal, or dictionary, meaning. The connotative meaning includes all the associations and feelings evoked by the word. An abstract word expresses a concept, quality, or characteristic. Abstractions are broad, encompassing a category of ideas. They are often intellectual, academic, or philosophical. A concrete word stands for something you can touch or see. Concrete terms are anchored in the tangible, material world.
Anyone who earns a living by crafting words is a wordsmith —including journalists, public relations specialists, editors, and letter and report writers. Unlike poets, novelists, or dramatists, wordsmiths don’t strive for dramatic effects. Instead, they are concerned with using language to be clear, concise, and accurate. To reach their goal, they employ the following techniques: Choose strong words. Choose words that express your thoughts most clearly, specifically, and dynamically. Nouns and verbs are the most concrete, so use them as much as you can. Adjectives and adverbs have obvious roles, but they often evoke subjective judgments. Verbs are especially powerful because they tell what’s happening in the sentence, so make them dynamic and specific. Choose familiar words. You’ll communicate best with words that are familiar to your readers. However, keep in mind that words familiar to one reader might be unfamiliar to another. Avoid clichés. Although familiar words are generally the best choice, beware of terms and phrases so common that they have become virtually meaningless. Use jargon carefully. Handle technical or professional terms with care. When deciding whether to use technical jargon, let your audience’s knowledge guide you. For example, when addressing a group
Sentences come in four basic varieties: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. A simple sentence has one main clause (a single subject and a single predicate), although it may be expanded by nouns and pronouns serving as objects of the action and by modifying phrases: Profits have increased in the past year. A compound sentence has two main clauses that express two or more independent but related thoughts of equal importance, usually joined by and, but, or or . In effect, a compound sentence is a merger of two or more simple sentences (independent clauses) that are related: Wage rates have declined by 5 percent, and employee turnover has been high. A complex sentence expresses one main thought (the independent clause) and one or more subordinate thoughts (dependent clauses) related to it, often separated by a comma. The subordinate thought, which comes first in the following sentence, could not stand alone: Although you may question Gerald’s conclusions, you must admit that his research is thorough. A compound-complex sentence has two main clauses, at least one of which contains a subordinate clause: Profits have increased in the past year, and although you may question Gerald’s conclusions, you must admit that his research is thorough.
A paragraph is a cluster of sentences all related to the same general topic. It is a unit of thought, separated from other units by skipping a line or indenting the first line. Each paragraph is an important part of the whole. Every properly constructed paragraph is unified; it deals with a single topic. The sentence that introduces that topic is called the topic sentence . In informal and creative writing, the topic sentence may be implied rather than stated. In business writing, the topic sentence is generally explicit and is often the first sentence in the paragraph. The topic sentence gives readers a summary of the general idea that will be covered in the rest of the paragraph. The sentences that explain the topic sentence round out the paragraph. These related sentences must all have a bearing on the general subject and must provide enough specific details to make the topic clear. In addition to being unified and well developed, effective paragraphs are coherent; that is, they are arranged in a logical order so that the audience can understand the train of thought. When you complete a paragraph, your readers automatically assume that you’ve finished with a particular idea. You achieve coherence by using transitions that show the relationship between paragraphs and among sentences within paragraphs. Transitions , words or phrases that tie ideas together, show how one thought is related to another; they help readers understand the connections you’re trying to make.
Some transitional elements serve as mood changers; that is, they alert the reader to a change in mood from the previous paragraph. Some announce a total contrast with what’s gone on before, some announce a causal relationship, and some signal a change in time. They prepare your reader for the change. The slide above features a list of transitions frequently used to move readers smoothly between sentences and paragraphs.
Paragraphs can be developed in many ways. Five of the most common techniques are illustration, comparison or contrast, cause and effect, classification, and problem and solution. In practice, you’ll often combine two or more methods of development in a single paragraph. To add interest, you might begin by using illustration, shift to comparison or contrast, and then shift to problem and solution. However, before settling for the first approach that comes to mind, consider the alternatives. Think through various methods before committing yourself. If you fall into the easy habit of repeating the same old paragraph pattern time after time, your writing will be boring.
Word processing makes composing and shaping as painless as possible, automating many of the text entry and revision tasks. For example, when you compose a numbered list, the software will automatically renumber the remaining segments if an entry is removed. Computers can also help you keep track of footnotes or endnotes, renumbering them every time you add or delete references. For report indexes and tables of contents, you simply flag the items you want to include, and the software assembles the lists for you. Other helpful features include automatic page numbering and dating. When you insert a date code into a document, the software automatically fills in today’s date each time you open or print that document. This feature is especially handy if you use form letters.
Organization and style important for email messages. Besides the principles and techniques already discussed in this chapter, consider the following: Use the first few lines to tell the reader what you need, what you’re providing, or what you want him or her to do. If you are responding to a question or a request for information, be sure to start your e-mail by inserting the original question into your reply. include only the information that is directly applicable to your reply. Make your e-mail easy to follow. Avoid lines that run off screen. Write short, focused, logically organized paragraphs. And try to limit e-mail to one screen; otherwise, write like a reporter—starting with the &quot;headline&quot; and adding detail in descending order of importance. Effective e-mail subject lines grab the audience’s attention. A message with a blank subject line or a general subject line like “question” will probably go unread and will perhaps be deleted. To capture your audience’s attention, make your subject line informative. Adding a greeting to your e-mail message makes it more personal. In most cases, use simple closings. For your signature, you can simply type your name on a separate line. Or you may want to use a signature file, a short identifier that can include your name, company, postal address, fax number, other e-mail addresses, and sometimes even a short quotation or thought.
Writing Business Messages
Three-Step Writing Process Step 1 Planning Step 3 Completing Step 2 Writing Analyze Investigate Adapt Organize Select Compose Revise Produce Proofread
What Is Good Organization? Clarify Subject and Purpose Group Ideas and Use Logic Exclude Irrelevant Material Include Relevant Material
Why Is Organization Important? Promotes Understanding Increases Acceptance Saves Your Audience Time
Organizing the Message Defining the Main Idea Limiting the Scope Grouping the Support Establishing the Sequence
Defining the Main Idea General Purpose Specific Purpose Basic Topic Main Idea
Limiting the Scope of the Message Depth of Research Audience Attitude Number of Main Points Time and Space
Constructing an Outline <ul><li>First Major Part </li></ul><ul><ul><li>First subpoint </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Second subpoint </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Evidence </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Evidence </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Third subpoint </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Second Major Point </li></ul><ul><ul><li>First subpoint </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Second subpoint </li></ul></ul><ul><li>1.0 First Major Part </li></ul><ul><ul><li>1.1 First subpoint </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1.2 Second subpoint </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>1.2.1 Evidence </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>1.2.2 Evidence </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1.2.3 Third subpoint </li></ul></ul><ul><li>2.0 Second Major Point </li></ul><ul><ul><li>2.1 First subpoint </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>2.2 Second subpoint </li></ul></ul>Alphanumeric Decimal
Using an Organization Chart The Main Idea I. Major Point II. Major Point III. Major Point A. Evidence B. Evidence C. Evidence A. Evidence B. Evidence C. Evidence A. Evidence B. Evidence C. Evidence
Sequencing the Message Direct Approach (Deductive) Indirect Approach (Inductive) Audience Reaction Message Length Message Type
Structuring the Message Main Idea Evidence Support
Three Types of Messages Message Type Audience Reaction Type of Approach Routine, Good-News or Good Will Pleased Or Neutral Direct Persuasive Uninterested or Unwilling Indirect Bad News Displeased Indirect
Composing Business Messages The Right Style and Tone Effective Sentences Coherent Paragraphs
Controlling Style And Tone Sentence Structure and Vocabulary Conversational Tone Plain English Active and Passive Voice
Choosing the Best Words Content Words Function Words Unchanging Meaning Mechanical Usage Denotations Concrete Words Connotations Abstract Words Correct Grammar and Word Use
Finding Words That Communicate Use Strong Words Avoid Clichés Use Familiar Words Minimize Jargon
Writing Coherent Paragraphs Topic Sentences Related Sentences Transitions
Frequently Used Transitions Additional Detail Causal Relationship Comparison Contrast Illustration Time Sequence Summary <ul><li>Moreover, furthermore, in addition </li></ul><ul><li>Therefore, because, since, thus </li></ul><ul><li>Similarly, likewise, still, in comparison </li></ul><ul><li>Whereas, conversely, yet, however </li></ul><ul><li>For example, in particular, in this case </li></ul><ul><li>Formerly, after, meanwhile, sometimes </li></ul><ul><li>In brief, in short, to sum up </li></ul>
Paragraph-Development Methods <ul><li>Illustration </li></ul><ul><li>Comparison or Contrast </li></ul><ul><li>Cause and Effect </li></ul><ul><li>Classification </li></ul><ul><li>Problem and Solution </li></ul><ul><li>Give examples to illustrate an idea </li></ul><ul><li>Use similarities and differences </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on reasons for something </li></ul><ul><li>Categorize a general idea </li></ul><ul><li>Pose a problem, offer a solution </li></ul>Technique Description
Word Processing Software <ul><li>Numbered Lists </li></ul><ul><li>Footnotes and Endnotes </li></ul><ul><li>Indexes of Terms </li></ul><ul><li>Tables of Contents </li></ul><ul><li>Numbered Pages </li></ul><ul><li>Dates and Times </li></ul><ul><li>Prewritten Text </li></ul>
Sending E-Mail Messages Getting Organized Composing Messages Stick to the Point Make it Easy to Read Use the Subject Line Personalize The Message