Use clear writing to show you mean business

By Johan Rindeg, InfoWorld |  Career

TO BE EFFECTIVE, IT professionals have to communicate technical information to
people who aren't as immersed in technology as they are. Much of this communication is
written, in the form of e-mail messages or memos.

Dianna Booher, owner of Booher Consultants, in Colleyville, Texas, offers tips on
making business writing clear and powerful. Booher has written 37 books, including
seven on business writing, and has written and consulted on effective communication
since 1980.

What is effective business writing?

It's informative information that's shaped to give a clear message to your
audience. Information is not communication -- it has to be shaped into a message.

One of the key problems in business writing is that someone sends a message and
every reader puts their own interpretation on it. Information doesn't shape itself.

The reader says, "So what? What am I supposed to do with this information?" In
business writing, you have to say, "Reader, here is my point." When the reader has
finished, there should be no doubt about what you want and what you want them to do
about it.

How can people learn to write more clearly?

1. Consider your audience for the right approach. The writer needs to consider the
primary reader in a sentence or two: What's their interest, and what does the audience
clearly know already -- before they even compose a document. [A guideline:] If I could
only give the reader one sentence, what would it be?

2. Anticipate reader reaction. Will they get angry? Will they be defensive? Is it
extra work? When I send this out, how will they react to me? That will lead you to
select the appropriate details. If someone's going to be skeptical [about a particular
notion], you'll need to add that level of detail.

3. Outline your message in a functional format. The essence is to write an overview
and then go back and elaborate on the details. Most people write backward, as they were
taught in school: Start with an introduction, state your thesis, make your first point,
and elaborate, and so on. That's a great format for writing movies or telling jokes,
but it doesn't work in the business world. Start with a bottom-line message and what
you want the readers to do -- and then you go back to elaborate.

4. Write a draft. This is 25 percent of your effort. The first three steps are
thinking steps, which are 50 percent of the effort.

5. Edit the draft for layout, grammar, clarity, conciseness, and style. This is
[the remaining] 25 percent of your effort.

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