Write to be read
Read the following ‘out of office’ email message:
All our staff are at Fieldays this week. Rob might be popping back once or twice during the week, and Mary and Phil will be back on Friday afternoon, but the office won't re-open until Monday. Rob will have his mobile with him - it might not be on all the time, but you can text or voicemail him and he'll call you back. We've arranged for Smith and Associates to take care of urgent repairs while we're away; their number is 021 XXX XXX
This is probably the sort of frustrating stuff that frequently appears in your email inbox.
Now read this email:
Please call Smith and Associates on 021 XXX XXX if you need an urgent repair, or leave a message for Rob on 04 XXX XXX for less urgent matters.
This office will be closed while we attend Fieldays, and will re-open on Monday.
I can almost hear you say, “Ah, that’s better.”
That’s because it’s an example of good writing that tells the reader exactly what they need to know, saving precious time and money.
Natural writers may do this instinctively.
But, like most skills, we can learn to write well, especially business documents like emails, board reports and business cases.
Having delivered Writing for Impact courses for the past 10 years, we have found clients consistently identify two main problems with the writing in their organisation:
- They want to save time producing a document. (Thirty iterations for a technical report are not uncommon.)
- Busy people rely on clear thinking, expressed in good writing, to make good decisions.
In the first email the writer is pouring out thoughts as they occur. This stream of consciousness isn’t helpful to the reader.
The right place to start is not at your keyboard. It’s in your head. Think first about what your reader wants and needs to understand most.
Our course helps participants define each piece of writing with a framing thought. This captures what the reader most needs to know and serves as a pathway for everything that follows. Often it will be a recommendation.
Then comes a clear and ordered flow of main points, supported by relevant facts.
While style matters, we stress structure over everything else. The mind seeks order. The right structure gives your reader a framework they can follow instinctively and perhaps even enjoy.
Get it right and you’ll get read. Your organisation will make better decisions. And your next email may even be opened with a welcoming, “Ahh.”
SenateSHJ is this year running a series of Writing for Impact courses in Wellington and Auckland. The next workshop will be held in Wellington on May 2, with a course planned for Auckland shortly after. For more information, please see the attachment below, or contact Emily Watt in Wellington or Robert Mannion in Auckland.