You need to be able to write high-quality emails, reports and other documents. Here’s the secret to producing clear, concise and compelling documents to the highest possible standard.
Step 1: Why are you writing?
If you’ve ever attempted to read a document and reached the end with no idea of what the writer wanted to convey, you’ll understand how important it is to be clear about your purpose. Ask yourself what result you want. Do you intend to record, inform, persuade, inspire or something else? If you want the reader to take action, have this outcome in mind.
Step 2: Who will read it?
It’s essential to think carefully about your reader when planning to write any business document. Sometimes it will be just one person. On other occasions, there will be a wider distribution. Assess what your readers already know about the subject matter and their level of interest in it.
Step 3: Collect and select the content
Start by ‘brainstorming’ everything you know already. Many people find the best approach is to write key words/concepts/ideas on a sheet of paper. Once you’ve gathered the material you need, or at least the majority of it, you need to organise it.
Step 4: Structure and signpost
When you need to assimilate lots of information, the best ways of organising it is by means of a Mind Map. Start by writing the subject in a circle in the centre of a large sheet of paper. Then note down all the ideas you have on a subject, starting from the circle and branching out. Then decide on the order. There should be a logical flow. Time invested at this stage coming up with headings and sections will be fully repaid when it comes to doing the writing.
Step 5: Write the first draft
Some people like to begin at the beginning, and work their way through to the end – but that’s not always the best approach for everyone. Often there’s a section which you find easiest to write, and that’s the best place to start. By the time you get to the parts that are more difficult, you’ve ‘got your head into it’, and it’s easier than if you’d tried to tackle them at the beginning.
Step 6: Be clear and concise
Plain English is a writing style that anyone can understand. You have to control sentence length, cut down on unnecessary jargon and make your writing specific and tight. Just a few subtle changes in your language can make a world of difference – the difference between stuffy, old-fashioned correspondence and more casual, modern business communication.
Step 7: Making your writing engaging
If your writing is boring, people will stop reading it. Powerful techniques for making your writing interesting, engaging and memorable include having a strong opening that sets the scene, only includes as much detail as necessary and bring your points to life with concrete examples.
Step 8: Review, edit and check grammar and punctuation
What you have written is a ‘first draft’. It’s not the finished report. It needs revising and polishing before it can be sent. If it’s an important report, and there’s time, you should come back to it later.
Step 9: Think about fonts, layout and presentation
Choose a clear, simple typeface, make the text big enough to read easily but not so big it looks odd. Use sub-headings to break up the text and avoid long paragraphs.
Step 10: Proofread and final check
Always proofread important documents carefully. Print them out, when you can, because you’re more likely to spot mistakes – or ask someone else to review them for you.