In-Class Writing Tutorial Part 1
Business writing is by definition persuasive--it is always written for a specific purpose. For example, when a writer composes a resumé, the goal is to secure an interview. A report is designed both to inform and to persuade the reader to adopt any conclusions or suggestions that are made in the report.
Therefore, business writing must begin with specifying:
If you are writing before you answer these questions, your writing will be ineffective in the business context.
Begin with those aspects of the writing most responsible for the content of the document--focus and purpose, audience, organization design, and development.
Business writing is action-oriented. It aims to effect change by persuading and informing. It is essential that you have a clear understanding of the purpose of your document. Ask:
What is your purpose in writing the document?
What purpose should the document serve for your reader?
Is your main point stated early in the document?
What do you want your reader to do when s/he finishes reading the document?
Have you done enough research about your audience and the organization to which they belong?
Is your document tailored to the needs of a specific audience (user-centered)?
Are your tone and language appropriate for your audience?
Effective organization is also essential to your success as a business writer. User-centered and logical presentation of your ideas makes the document professional, and the visual appearance of the document helps to determine how persuasive it is.
Does your document begin by explaining your point and forecasting the communication's main ideas? Your introduction should answer these three questions from the perspective of the reader: What is this? Why am I getting it? What do you want me to do?
Does your communication proceed in a logical and organized way, moving from general to specific information?
Is information arranged in order of importance to your audience?
Is similar information kept together?
Is each section organized around only one main idea?
Do key sentences begin each paragraph?
Can the reader find information where s/he expects to see it?
Are key points emphasized?
Are there clear and specific headings?
Do you provide enough background information for the message?
Tone refers to the writer's attitude toward the reader and the subject of the message. Business writers must also consider the tone of their message. Tone is present in all communication activities. Ultimately, the tone of a message is a reflection of the writer and it does affect how the reader will perceive the message.
Decide in advance what kind of tone you want to use--matter of fact, neutral, advocating a particular approach, aggressive, or any number of other options.
Suppose that Doug is writing a job acceptance letter to an employer but is unsure of the tone he should take in the message. He concludes: "I want to accept the position, thank the company for the offer, and establish goodwill with my new co-workers." As a result, he adopts a tone that is appreciative for the offer and enthusiastic about beginning a new job.
The tone that you use to write the document directly affects how the reader will interpret what is said.
The business writer should strive for an overall tone that is confident, courteous, and sincere. The communication should be respectful of the authority and position of the possible readers, include gender-neutral language, and emphasize the perspective of the reader as much as possible.
Good writers have carefully prepared and are knowledgeable about those things about which they are writing, so they are naturally confident. Such a tone means that the reader will become more likely to accept your position and will "feel" your confidence. Confidence is not overconfident, however. Avoid anything that can be interpreted as arrogant or presumptuous. For example, don't write "you must agree that I am qualified for the position" but instead "my qualifications in the areas of accounting and customer service meet your job requirements."
A writer builds goodwill for him or herself by using a tone that is polite and sincere. Overdo either, and it sounds condescending. Always be respectful.
What is important must be emphasized. Ideas placed in the first paragraph of a document or message receive the most emphasis, followed by information placed in the last paragraph. To emphasize an idea, you can also place it in a short sentence. A short and simple sentence will most effectively convey an important idea. You can provide further explanation, sufficient examples, or evidence in following sentences. For example: "Smoking will no longer be permitted in the building. We reached this decision after considering evidence that establishes the dangers of second-hand smoking."
Use active voice to emphasize the person or thing performing an action. Active voice is preferable to passive for the majority of your sentences. Sentences in active voice are generally clearer and more direct. Phrases such as "most important," "major," or "primary" also tell the reader which ideas you want to emphasize.
Always write from the reader's perspective. A reader may wonder: "What's in it for me?" It is your job to tailor your document to help the reader answer the question that is on the reader's mind.
When it comes to business memoranda:
It must have a clear and easily identified structure. Headings are crucial to letting the reader understand what you are about to say.
The introduction has to make clear what you were asked to do and what you’re delivering:
The Executive Summary is crucial. If you can't write a useful Executive Summary, then you didn't write a useful memorandum.
Be professional. The way you write helps to define how you will be perceived.
In this particular assignment:
You need to establish what the problem is that needs to be solved! If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.
Possible solutions must be specific, and you must explain their positives and negatives and why your solution is the best one.
You must do some research and cannot assume that what you think you know is correct.
Be bold! You will get a lower grade if you don’t tell me what to do than if you tell me the wrong thing to do. If you’ve done your research and critical thinking, you’re probably not in the realm of right or wrong. You’re probably in the realm of better or worse, of more or less effective. Again, be bold!