Ever waded through page after page of a business document until your eyes glazed over, but you couldn't figure out the point of it?
Yup, we've all been there, and probably done that.
None of us likes to spend time reading uninteresting or irrelevant content. So if we don't want to bore or annoy our colleagues at work but rather be respected for our crisp, clear writing, then we must be able to get to the point.
Here are some suggestions for scoring points with the people who read your e-mails, reports, letters, presentations and other business documents.
Create a key message
Thinking about what you want to achieve with a document, consider the message you need to communicate. For example, say you're presenting the results of a survey of new employees with the intention of persuading team managers to change their orientation procedures for their new hires. Your key message might therefore be something like, "I want to share with you some findings from a recent survey and ways for you to use these to improve the effectiveness and satisfaction of your new team members."
Once you have your key message, you have your main point for writing the document. To help you create this message, think about what the recipients of the document will get from reading it. Why should they bother? What's in it for them?
Organize your thoughts
Now create a framework for what you're going to write. This doesn't have to be elaborate, but even an e-mail can benefit from a quickly sketched outline to help you determine what information to include/exclude and to structure your writing in a logical way. Just like the essays you wrote in school, the outline for any business document includes an introduction, body and conclusion.
Start by telling readers what you're going to tell them
Don't make people wade through to the end of a document to find your point. Place the most important information in the introduction. State your key message and summarize how you'll address the subject. For instance, using the previous example, you might say, "Below is a summary of the four most significant findings from the employee survey plus suggestions for integrating relevant strategies into your team's orientation process."
Include only supporting points
Devote the body of the document to sequentially addressing the points that support your key message. Using our example, the report might have four main sections corresponding to the four key findings, plus one more section that addresses suggested strategies. Don't stray into new topics; for each point, include only those explanations, examples, data, etc., that are relevant to that particular point.
To make this lengthier part of your document easier for readers to absorb, keep paragraphs and sentences short, use headlines to highlight your main points and bullets/numbers/charts for lists or complex information.
Always write a direct and memorable wrap up. For complex documents, you can summarize your main points. Then link your conclusion to your key message – remind readers of the purpose of the document and what you want them to understand or do with the information provided. Using the previous example, you might conclude with, "The survey findings point out the important benefits of updating our orientation process. The HR director will be contacting all team managers by the end of the month. Please be ready to discuss how you will adapt these findings and suggestions into your team's procedures."
Take a break, then make it better
Now, do what professional writers do. Once you finish writing a document, take a break. This could be a few hours for a long or complex report or just a few minutes for an e-mail. Then read it again – all the way through. Ask yourself: Have I clearly communicated my key message? Have I included all of the information readers need to understand or act? Is any information confusing, repetitive or irrelevant to my main points? Remember, long is not necessarily good. Keep eliminating and clarifying until you're communicating the needed information as succinctly as possible.
How will you know when your business writing is getting to the point? You'll know when you begin hearing comments from your work colleagues like, "You made a really good point in that letter," or "Congratulations! We're promoting you."