Read Chapter 2: Getting Started: Planning and Writing Business Messages
Until something captures our attention, we will mostly likely remain unaware of its very
existence. We have to know how to engage our audience to convey our message while
maintaining control of the communication outcome.
Sending effective messages requires we know as much as possible about the situation.
Planning, which provides insight, is easily skipped but we may pay for it later. A
document design framework that emphasizes revision is risk prevention.
A prewriting analysis is needed to pinpoint the exact task ahead of you. Asking and
finding answers to four basic questions will direct your research:
Why are you designing this document? Often you are helping
the reader to make a decision that solves a problem.
For whom are you creating it? Write for all your readers’ needs,
being sensitive to individual values and interests.
What is the message? Decide on the main idea, and how much
detail to include. Often, brainstorming to see logical connections
and flow of ideas will generate an outline.
When is your deadline? Allow enough time for a draft before a
final, polished document is sent.
Once the situation is clear, and you have completed thinking and/or research to
generate the facts you need, you are ready to compose. Create your first draft by
expanding on the outline, getting your mind working in the right direction, opening up
and trying possibilities with emphasis on the order of ideas rather than on polishing
word choices or sentence structure – this comes later. A draft is complete once you are
satisfied that your main idea is conveyed, with the reader’s next step clearly understood.
The last, but most critical step, is to make your draft perfect - error-free and giving the
reader all the facts to act with confidence – through rigorous assessment of every
communication aspect. Move from the larger picture to the smallest detail:
revise - examine factual content and document design
edit - consider grammar, mechanics and style
proofread - eliminate every error
Take advantage of any feedback you can get, such as peer editing or a colleague’s
approval. When you send the message, confident it is the best, readers are free to
concentrate on your message, not distracted by errors. Checklist for Planning Document Design
Focus on how information is transmitted to a specific audience.
Steps in the writing process:
1. Prewriting is assessing the purpose, problem, audience
3. and channel
4. Organizing and outlining are mapping out strategy and logical
arrangement of ideas
5. Drafting is composing, placing ideas in right places,
with strategy complete
6. Revising and editing evaluate content and style; and changing
working, visual appeal to confirm original problem is solved
To ensure accuracy:
Always work with at least one rough and one final draft.
First - order thoughts on screen or paper
Next - experiment with words, phrases and strategies
Give attention to detail:
Revise - examine content and design (graphic highlighting)
Edit - consider grammar, mechanics and style
Proofread - eliminate every error
Readers will be free to concentrate on your message; not distracted by errors.
Read Chapter 3: Business Style: Word Choice, Conciseness, and Tone
Using words correctly and combining them to support the substance of your information
is how you achieve a style and a professional image.
As a creator of a message, you must decide what symbols to use and how to send the
message establishing a communication cycle. Because possible problems can arise in
inter-personal communication, the sender must be sure to convey only the intended
meanings. As a receiver of the message, you must challenge any unclear
communications. One way to lessen potential misunderstanding is to use precise levels of meaning when
you are composing. Two levels can be distinguished:
denotative - is the literal, dictionary meaning
connotative - is the literal meaning with additional layers of
meaning added to the base that arouse qualitative judgments
and personal reactions
If I say the word "grass" to a police officer, the officer may think of more than just
mowing a green space. The word "chair" is even more complex. Beyond physical
examples is an additional layer. "Chair" can now be human, as in Chair of a committee.
Interpretation depends on a person's background and associations as well as on the
To adapt to your reader, you must visualize the individual or group and choose your
ideas and words based on the reader's needs. This increases the likelihood that the
meaning understood by the receiver will be as close to the writer's intended meaning as
A major part of adaptation is selecting the right words. Consider this example: To be
certain of obtaining optimal productivity, it is essential that you give your employees the
implements that are necessary for completion of the job.
You understand each word, but the meaning as a group is needlessly unclear. Keep it
simple: To get the best results, give employees the tools they need to do the job.
The same is true at the single word level. Contrary to what we may have learned in our
pre-university education, long, unfamiliar words are not a good way to impress people.
Clear, simple language that makes a point quickly is highly desirable in today’s
workplace. Plain style ensures simplicity, directness and clarity so that you write as you
speak, with energy and interest.
By consciously rewording messages, we conform to communication principles that
achieve these goals. Use simple words; avoid pretension such as foreign words or
jargon to falsely impress. Use language that is fresh and current (but not trendy):
replace clichés, outdated expressions, targeted slang, cyber-shorthand and so on.
Keep language specific, precise and functional: provide factual detail through concrete
words; quantify facts avoiding vague terms; and distinguish between fact and opinion.
This will avoid abstract wording that may confuse:
Not: We have found that this method is cost-efficient.
Use: CNN’s July 5th report confirms that 74% of the time this averaging technique
saves between $18 – 25.
Achieve conciseness by cutting mercilessly until the message uses the fewest words to
still be accurate and complete: Not: He has an idea in mind of how someone can see their way clear to getting the
public to part with their money for charity.
Use: Sunil knows how to persuade people to donate to charity.
Use strong, dynamic words, with active verbs highlighting the action:
Not: It is believed by the typical student that his or her financial welfare is not
considered to be important by government.
Use: Most students believe their financial welfare is unimportant to government.
Consider and correct the tone to accurately reflect your relationship with the reader and
maintain a consistent tone that supports the content. Recognize denotation (literal
meaning) is usual and connotation (a word’s implied or associative meaning, with
emotion) to be used sparingly, for effect:
This garage sale item is:
used – of less value, in poor condition, maybe dirty
second-hand – had more than one owner but is of value, in
antique – positive: a hidden treasure; negative - old, unvalued
Keep your style conversational: use short words and sentences, with a personal rather
than impersonal tone that sounds right when said aloud
Not: If doubt is entertained regarding an optimal solution to the problem of acquiring
new equipment, may I suggest that we refer the problem to a committee.
Use: Since we disagree, let’s refer the new equipment purchase decision to committee.
Be positive, since negatives can send hidden messages:
Not: Your August 2 letter claims you returned a defective headset.
Use: Your August 2 letter describes a headset you returned.
Stress reader benefits and relevance by being reader-focused rather than writer-
centered and try to spotlight receiver benefit:
Not: We are requiring all staffers to complete these forms in compliance with policy.
Use: Please complete these forms to be eligible for health and dental benefits.
Cultivate a you-attitude and be polite but sincere:
Not: This is the last time I am writing to you to try to get you to record my January 6
payment of $500 to my account. Anyone who can read can see from the attached
document that I’ve tried to explain this several times.
Use: Please use the attached documents to confirm a January 6th payment of $500 to account 4813 324 3489. Your return e-mail with the new balance is requested within
three business days.
Use inclusive language to avoid even unconscious discrimination that is the result of
Not: How many man-hours are the bosses and their wives expected to devote to this
old people’s volunteer project?
Use: How many volunteer hours will the executives and their partners dedicate to the
Checklist for Careful Word Choices
Using words correctly and combining them to support the substance of your information
is how you achieve a professional style.
Use precise levels of meaning:
Denotative: literal, dictionary definition and uses
Connotative: layers added to denotative from personal reaction
Use denotative mostly; connotative with intention
Adapt to your reader:
Visualize the individual or group
Choose words and ideas based on reader’s needs
Choose clear, simple language: convey exact meanings; write in good conversational
style, avoiding clichés.
Be precise and specific: provide factual detail through concrete words.
Achieve conciseness: use fewest possible words to emphasize main ideas.
Use strong, dynamic words: active verbs highlight the action.
Correct the tone: accurately reflect your relationship with the reader.
Keep your style conversational: use short words that sound right when said aloud.
Be positive: negatives can send unintended messages.
Stress reader benefits: try to see the situation with a good “you-view”.
Use inclusive language: avoid even the unconscious discrimination build into
language. Achieve completeness: ensure documents have all needed facts and are error-free
Read Chapter 4: Business Style: Sentences and Paragraphs
These concepts for single words apply to sentences and paragraphs as well: keep them
simple and adapt to your reader(s), because the more wor