Two top tips for effective business writing – Think about the why and the who!
Effective writing can be a vital tool for communication, both inside and outside an organisation. Too often, though, communications are unclear and unfocused – and so fail to fulfil their potential.
Successful writing involves planning – no matter what you’re writing. Before you start, it’s vital to consider two things: your objectives and your audience.
Tip 1 – Define your objectives
Why are you writing? What is the main aim? You probably want to inform – but what else do you want to do? Do you also want to persuade? Influence attitudes or behaviour? Make a proposal? Explain, justify or clarify? Request action or information?
Whatever you’re writing, decide what you’re setting out to achieve.
It’ll help to focus your mind on specific objectives instead of writing to simply set out information. It will also give you a benchmark when you come to reviewing, so you can assess if you’ve accomplished what you set out to.
Tip 2 – Identify your target audiences
Who are you writing for? How many different groups of readers do you have? You need to plan and write with your specific readers in mind.
You then need to adapt your writing style, content, structure and language (and even layout) to ensure your document will meet readers’ needs and help you to achieve your objectives.
For example, IT experts reading a business case for purchasing new software would expect technical specs, jargon, tables and highly detailed information. So that’s what goes into the report.
But if you’re writing for a wide readership, different groups of readers might have varying needs, concerns and levels of understanding.
For instance, safety guidelines for train drivers might be read by drivers, managers, HR, regulatory bodies, trades unions and the media. An effective approach is to identify the most important group of readers and to write for them. In this case, if drivers are your primary audience, you could create an easy-to-read version with lots of visuals or infographics. The other target readers will also be able to use this – with the added benefit that they can see how clearly information is being provided to train drivers.
And . . .
At the reviewing stage, go back to your objectives and target audiences. Check that what you have written will actually achieve its objectives and reach its target audiences!
On Friday 1 March, Sarah Marriott will lead PAI’s seminar on Business Writing Skills, click here for more information
Sarah Marriott is a highly experienced trainer and former journalist who specialises in delivering Writing Skills courses for the public and private sectors.
Sarah has worked as a feature writer and sub-editor at The Irish Times. She has also been involved in training Irish Times editorial staff. She is a former lecturer on the MA in Journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology and is the author of Common Errors in Written English.