Summer is in full swing and here in Europe, the work cycle slows way down because so many people take holidays in July and August. So let’s take a few moments to focus on your written communication skills, because we all write documents, right? From emails to proposals, marketing brochures and audit reports, we are always writing something.
What is your process to ensure your document is top-quality before you publish? Perhaps you prefer to work from a checklist?
Whatever system you use to ensure your documents get the results you want, it’s a good idea reassess and update the system periodically. So make sure your system encompasses these five essential questions to refocus your business documents before you publish them:
1. Why am I writing this particular document?
I know it sounds implausible, but some people don’t actually know the purpose of their document. How can you write an effective, value-added document if you don’t know what problem you are trying to solve or what opportunity do you want to address?
It’s critical to know why you are writing this particular document, especially when it comes to business reports. The ‘litmus test’: What is the purpose of your report in 140 characters or less?
2. Who is going to read this specific document?
If your answer is ‘I don’t know’ or ‘everyone/anyone in the company’, then it’s time to get more specific. What I mean here is your readers’ job functions, business goals, etc. If you don’t know this information, it’s very difficult to answer questions 3 to 5 and achieve the results you want from your document.
Many of us are challenged to write persuasively. Not knowing your audience severely limits your ability to write a persuasive argument. Find out more information about how Knowing Your Audience is Key to Your Success.
3. What information do my readers need from me?
Now that you know who the primary and secondary readers of your document are, you can target their needs. What motivates them and drives then? What information do they need to do their job better, make a key decision, or take the recommended action?
Take the position that this document is about them, not about you. Remember, the document you are writing is not a brain-dump, although there are specific occasions when that kind of document is required.
4. Are there clear action steps in the document?
A report that ends in ‘More investigation is required’ sets everyone up for frustration. The statement is vague. A clear and precise action statement is lacking.
Consider that if you don’t ask your reader to take action, they most likely won’t. And letting your reader interpret the action needed can result in an unintended or even wrong action being taken.
5. Have I included the right information, and ‘just enough’ information?
Writing a general document suitable for everyone in your company means there is a high probability your document is unfocused, long, overloaded with information. In fact, it may sit in email inboxes without being read… how frustrating would that be after all of the effort you put into creating it?
Importantly, it will take you a lot longer to write a general document than it will to write an audience-centered document that supports your tweetable purpose statement.
My goal is to help ensure that every document you publish gets you the results you want. Your desired result may be to have a specific action taken, a particular decision made, or a project approved. It may be to establish your expertise or increase your visibility as promotion time comes closer.
Whatever your goal is, I encourage you to put your best foot forward by putting a system in place that supports your success… Your written communication skills are critical to your success.
What the essential questions that you ask yourself when readying your document to be published? Share them here so we can all benefit from your experience.
All the best,