LESSON 7 - HOW TO GET YOUR POINT ACROSS THROUGH THE ART OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATION
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Like everything, once you get used to doing something a couple of times, the easier it gets. The same holds true for writing e-mails, processes, procedures, or any type of written communication associated with company business. A blank piece of paper, Word doc, spreadsheet, PowerPoint, or e-mail can seem daunting at first. The hardest part is that first word or data entry. Once you get started, however, the words or figures will start flowing. You will be able to type out your thoughts and get your point across. You might run into a dry spell and have to take a break, however, it is imperative to never give up until it is completed.
The purpose of business writing is to share or request information. The information must be complete, concise, and accurate. The information needs to be written in a way the reader can easily understand. This holds true whether it is something you’re asking them to do, or what it is you need from them.
Correct use of grammar and spelling is essential. The good news is you can use grammar and spell-checks such as www.grammarly.com. You can even easily find words you can substitute with another through a site like www.thesaurus.com. However, when it comes to grammar, it’s not quite as easy to check for grammatical inaccuracies as spelling inaccuracies. If you are uncomfortable with your use of grammar in written communications, you should find some books on grammar, or take a basic course as soon as possible. That should be a priority. You will be judged on the way you write, and you will lose respect if your grammar skills are that of a 5th grader.
When it is an informal subject, most likely through e-mail, write like you are talking to the person. See and imagine the conversation in your mind. You can even act out the conversation verbally, but quietly so no one thinks you’re talking to yourself... If you use hard words and phrases, it will look like you are trying too hard. Just be yourself.
When it is a formal subject, like an important process, then you need to keep it formal. Pretend you are describing how to do the tasks in a classroom environment and document as such. Try to imagine the person who will be following this process, and how it would best read for them. Determine if it should be a step-by-step process or a flowchart process. Just remember, “less is more” in most circumstances. If you are too wordy, people will lose interest and not fully comprehend what it is you are trying to say. You might need to write a couple of drafts until you get it just right. A good idea is to have someone who you trust and understands the tasks at hand to review the process before you send it out to everyone.
You have to carefully judge the situation and the importance of each type of message you are communicating. Here are 5 steps you should follow:
What type of information will you convey? Is it a simple FYI or difficult multi-level process, etc. You need to organize and separate the different kinds of possible materials. Here are five examples,
Message- is basically just a simple object of communication. Mostly a communication of thoughts and ideas via e-mail or instant message.
Policy- describes a management decision (what should be done). When writing a policy, keep the following in mind:
Write a title in six words or less.
Who is (or is not) covered?
Where does (or doesn’t) the policy apply.
When does (or doesn’t) the policy come into effect?
List management decisions and any exceptions (E.g., Management has decided that…).
The name, and if possible, the signature of the person who will authorize the policy.
Process- is any series of actions or operations viewed as a whole, with a start and a finish. In some cases, a process might not have steps, it may simply be a continuum.
Procedure- lists steps needed to complete an action in chronological order that involves two or more people (who does what and when). An action includes all the steps a team must take to finish a particular work or reach a goal. Every action begins with a trigger that tells the first team member to go, and a target that tells the last team member to stop.
Task- outlines in order the steps one person takes to complete a procedure (how to do it). The key to this definition is one person. If the work remains in the hands of just one person for more than 5 or 6 steps, it’s a task, not a procedure. A task can be thought of as a procedure for one.
Think about what you want them to hear, then what you are going to say. Make sure you consider who will be reading this information and just what it will take to make sure they understand the point you are trying to get across. Make sure to use words you think they will understand.
Who will be the recipients of the information? For example, is this a quick FYI to one of your employees that can be generalized, or a memo to the president that needs to be spot on? You need to tailor the text based on who will be reading the information.
Create the message, process, procedure, or other form of written communication. When your thoughts are flowing quickly, write them out as fast as possible and do not worry about the spelling or grammar. You can come back to edit. When your thoughts are flowing, you will be able to get exactly what it is you want to say, and in the best way for your audience to understand. However, be aware of the length. Use enough words to make your meaning clear, but don't use unnecessary words to show off your writing skills. Business writing needs to be clear and concise; no one has time to read any more than necessary. On the other hand, don't make the piece too short. Write enough so that your meaning is clear and won't be misunderstood. Also, do not blind them with science. If you feel your audience does not know all of the acronyms or jargon, make sure to break it down so they understand the meanings. For example, you can use an acronym with its meaning once, and from that point on use only the acronym.
Proofread and edit before you send it out. All it takes is one sloppy or poorly written document or e-mail for people to lose respect and not take you as seriously. Always re-read what you wrote to make sure all the words in your head made it correctly onto the document. Be sure to check for:
Spelling and grammatical errors.
Look for omitted words.
Reduce the use of long words. Try to use one and two syllable words. Overuse of long words will cause many readers to miss the point.
Make sure sentences do not run too long. Two 16-word sentences let readers grasp more than a single 32-word sentence.
The subheading or subject line should say something of relative importance regarding the main point of the subject. This will give an indication of what is to follow in the paragraph, e-mail, etc. The subheading or subject line does not have to contain 100% of the subject, but it should contain more than just one generic word. A generic subheading or subject line can mean anything and does not set up the subject to follow.
Try to use fewer words with active subjects and verbs. Active verbs, when the subject of the sentence is the doer of the action, cuts the length and keeps the readers awake. Try not to use passive verbs, especially when writing processes and procedures. You should write it as “who does what.” If you use passive verbs, the readers won't know who's responsible. For example:
Active:The data technician fixed the widget.
Passive: The widget was fixed. [Who fixed the widget is not named]
Stay away from vague modifiers; they will just create unanswered questions. This is especially true when writing processes and procedures. Readers want clear directions, not words like “appropriate, proper, relevant, timely, or normal.” For example, a statement like “forward to the proper or appropriate department in a timely fashion” does not state the department in which to forward, not to mention in what timeframe (is it 2 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours?).
Don’t try to cram everything onto one page. A full page of crammed text overwhelms the eyes. It’s ok to have plenty of white space. Besides, it also gives space for notes, etc.
Try not to have long paragraphs. There is a certain visual and mental effort required to read them. Three short paragraphs are easier to read than one long paragraph.
When writing processes or procedures, try to keep the width of the page to around 40 characters. Readers tend to grasp information when reading narrower columns.
When writing directions, always list the steps in chronological order.
Look for missing words at the end of a sentence.
Look for improper use of heterographics like to, too, two, and there, their, they’re. Also, your and you’re.
Try to edit as much as you can while you are proofreading. After you are done proofreading, make one more read for any additional editing. This holds true whether it is just a short e-mail to a long and involved process. You will also find that auto spell checks will sometimes make corrections that were not part of your intentions.
Here are a couple of key points to keep in mind when writing e-mails, processes, etc.:
DO NOT CAPITALIZE ALL OF THE WORDS WHEN WRITING AN E-MAIL OR PROCESS, ETC. It is not easy to read and it looks like you are yelling out the words (unless that is the intention, which is considered rude when meant in a negative way). Only use all capitals in a title.
Don’t come across like you are hostile in your writing. This especially holds true for sending or answering heated e-mails.
Before you hit the send button when creating or replying to an aggravated type of e-mail, take at least a 5-minute break before hitting send. When you come back, re-read both the original e-mail and your response. Chances are you will re-write your response in a much more controlled and professional manner. You will get your point across more effectively if you keep it professional at all times.
Respond to e-mails in a timely fashion, but as previously stated, be careful not to send a heated e-mail without taking the time to cool down a bit. The quicker you respond, the more professional you will look. Just like you like to get an immediate answer to your questions, so do your colleagues, employees, boss and most importantly, your customers.
Create an e-mail signature that has your name, title, company name, address, phone number, e-mail address and website. This should be set up as the default on all created e-mails. Here is an example:
When an e-mail is informal, ending the message with a simple “Thanks” with your name directly underneath is acceptable. If it is more of a formal message, you can use something like “Regards” or “Kind Regards” with your name directly underneath.
When writing to your boss or upper management, always keep it professional. Address them with respect at all times, no matter how informal the organization functions. This does not mean that you can’t add some humor when the time is right. The main point is to always show respect.