In last week’s post, we discussed the first three tips relating to how to make the content of your business writing better:1. Know the purpose of the piece and make it clear up front.
2. Write in plain English.
3. Use active voice.
Below we provide the remaining three tips related to improving content, and in Part 3 we’ll tell you how to fine-tune what you’ve written.
4. Use strong verbs.
As action words, verbs have the power to move readers along. That’s harder to do when the primary action is a form of the verb “to be” (am, is, are, was, were, has, have, had). For example:
He was hurrying to finish the report before the deadline.
Refinements in techniques have been made by the engineers.
Replacing “to be” verbs with more active action words or changing the noun form of a word to the verb form (refinements/refined) lends a sense of movement:
He hurried to finish the report before the deadline.
Even better: He raced to finish the report before the deadline.
The engineers refined the techniques.
5. Specify what you want your audience to do with the document.
“Call to action” (CTA) is a common term in marketing, where the goal is to get a prospect to take some desired action (emailing for more information, buying a product or service, etc.). But a version of the CTA has a place in the context of any kind of business writing. It’s essentially letting your audience know what you want them to do with the information you’ve just provided. Let’s call it a WSID (What Should I Do?).
In an informational email, memo or report, the WSID might be as simple as “Please review and let me know if you have any questions” or “Please get back to me by [date] with any questions or concerns.” In a complaint letter, you would include a WSID that specifies how you want the company to fix the situation. A letter of employment might outline the next steps the newly hired employee must take. A WSID might even indicate that the reader need not take any action — that the document is for informational purposes only.
Figuring out your WSID early on will help you refine the goal of your communication, which will streamline your writing around that focus.
6. Conclude by circling around to the beginning.
Documents that meander aimlessly tend to end just as randomly. When you state your purpose up front, as we suggest above, it sets your writing on a clear path to its natural end. Your conclusion should bring the document full circle by tying in with the introduction, as we’ve done here. If you’ve started with a metaphor, you might refer to that same metaphor in the conclusion in a slightly different way. If you’ve started with a quote, you might end with a quote by the same person. Tying it all together can be as simple as restating your WSID.
What do you think about the idea that business communications should have a WSID?
Do you let your audience know what you want them to do by using a WSID? Is it something you do (consciously or not)? Do you think it's useful?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
And be sure to catch the wrap-up to this three-part series next week to learn how to make what you’ve written the best it can be.