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Making your writing courteous

From: Business Writing Fundamentals

Video: Making your writing courteous

The courtesy is one of the most complex business writing concepts with much psychological impact. The 2 prongs of courteous writing are: Writing with a positive tone, and writing from your reader's viewpoint. Let's 1st discuss the importance of having a positive tone, and how to achieve it. A positive tone results from positive words. Negative words, often referred to as "red flag words," cause us to have negative reactions. Negative words come in a variety of categories.

Making your writing courteous

The courtesy is one of the most complex business writing concepts with much psychological impact. The 2 prongs of courteous writing are: Writing with a positive tone, and writing from your reader's viewpoint. Let's 1st discuss the importance of having a positive tone, and how to achieve it. A positive tone results from positive words. Negative words, often referred to as "red flag words," cause us to have negative reactions. Negative words come in a variety of categories.

The obvious "no" or "not" words, the negative connotation words, reminders of the negative situation, preachy words, and doubtful words. Think how you react when someone says to you: "You can't, you won't be able to, you failed." Human nature is such that we immediately become defensive, and reply with something such as: "Well, it wasn't my fault, no one told me." Or, "You didn't make it clear what you wanted." Here's an example: The 1st thing someone says to you when you arrive to work is, "you forgot to turn off the lights "last night before you left." Maybe you're a kinder person than I am and might respond with: "Thank you for reminding me, "I'll try to do better next time." My response would probably be: "Everyone "expects me to do everything," or, "That's "not in my job description." If you can keep out all, or at least most of the negatives, then you reduce your reader's resistance.

Focus on what is or can be, rather than what isn't or can't be. That's sort of like the "glass is half-full "or half-empty" analogy. Do you see the differences in these sentences? "You won't get your supplies until Friday." "You will receive your supplies on Friday." Or, "You can't reserve room 111 on June 10," which is negative, but "Room 111 is already reserved "for June 10, but it is available "on June 9 or 11." That revision has a positive tone.

Or, "We can't allow you a refund after 30 days" can be revised to have a positive tone to: "Your item is eligible for a refund for 30 days." These "no" or "not" words are obviously negative, and usually are easy to identify. However, negatives come in a variety of other categories. Let's look at the next kind of negatives: Superior words. These words have negative connotations: Grant, permit, and allow.

If you are in a higher-level positionm, you usually allow or permit someone in a lower position to do something. If you tell a customer, "We will permit or "allow you to return the item for a replacement," the customer is likely to hear a condescending tone. Writing, "Please return your item for "a replacement" eliminates that tone. The next type of negative words are reminders of a negative situation. Writing about the problem, the inconvenience, the broken part, those all remind the reader of the negative.

Look at the negative focus in these sentences: "The broken computer you sent is now repaired." "We are sorry for the inconvenience." "Broken" and "inconvenience" are the words the reader sees. You want your reader focusing on the repair and the solution. "Your repaired computer will be delivered "tomorrow, or a new process will "help you get faster service." Preachy words also cause us to become defensive. "You must fill out this form if you "want to enroll in the program." Change the preachy tone to: "Please fill out the form so that you "will be enrolled in the program." "You have to have your receipt before you get a refund." Or, "Please show your receipt to get a full refund." Finally we have doubtful or uncertain words.

"Hope" and "if" can also be negative words when used to show that you aren't certain you've satisfied the reader, and that he will return. "I hope I've satisfied you." "Here's a 20% off coupon if you ever do business with us again." Writing, "You will receive your requested "replacement," or "Here is a 20% off coupon "to use the next time you are in the store," remove the doubt and the uncertainty. Using positive language to give negative information takes more thought, but is possible and worth the effort.

The 2nd part of courteous writing is called "reader's benefit" or "you viewpoint." Always ask yourself what the reader gets, rather than focusing on what you, the writer, are giving, or your emotional state. Put yourself in your reader's position. Try to think like that reader. How would you react if you received that message? Look at this sentence: "I am happy to inform you that we are giving you a $10 discount." The writer is telling the reader how she feels, rather than giving the reader the news that she really wants.

Here is another example: "We have had to raise our prices "because we've had a decline in profits, "and can't continue to lose money." The writer's only concern in that sentence is that her company continue to make money. Let's rephrase those sentences to focus on the reader's interest: "You will receive a $10 discount "so that you will continue to receive "high-quality service, the minimum "charge on your account is now $10." So courteous writing means using a positive tone, and focusing on reader benefits.

Human nature is that we all want to know, "What's in it for me?" And we want a tone that doesn't cause us to become defensive or insulted. Writing courteously is a win-win situation. The writer makes the reader feel valued.

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Business Writing Fundamentals

23 video lessons · 11191 viewers

Judy Steiner-Williams
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