Business Writing Fundamentals
Illustration by Neil Webb

Making your writing courteous


From:

Business Writing Fundamentals

with Judy Steiner-Williams
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Video: Making your writing courteous

- The courtesy is one of the most complex business-writing concepts with much psychological impact. The two prongs of courteous writing are writing with a positive tone, and writing from your reader's viewpoint. Let's first 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 causes to have negative reactions. Negative words come in a variety of categories.
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Watch the Online Video Course Business Writing Fundamentals
1h 32m Appropriate for all Feb 04, 2014

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Discover the secrets to effective business writing and crafting messages that others want to read and act on. Judy Steiner-Williams, senior lecturer at Kelley School of Business, introduces you to the 10 Cs of strong business communication and provides you with before-and-after writing samples that give you the opportunity to apply each principle and sharpen your communication skills. Judy also points out common grammar and writing mistakes and shares special considerations for formats like emails and reports.

This course qualifies for 1.5 Category A professional development units (PDUs) through lynda.com, PMI Registered Education Provider #4101.


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Subject:
Business
Author:
Judy Steiner-Williams

Making your writing courteous

- The courtesy is one of the most complex business-writing concepts with much psychological impact. The two prongs of courteous writing are writing with a positive tone, and writing from your reader's viewpoint. Let's first 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 causes 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 first thing someone says to you when you arrived 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 on 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 reserve 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. It can be revised to have a positive tone to your item is eligible for a refund for 30 days. These no are not words or 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 position, 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 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 that he will return.

I hope I've satisfied you. Here is 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're in the store. Remove the doubt and the uncertainty. Using positive language to give negative information takes more thought but is possible and worthy effort. The second part of courteous writing is called reader 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 receive that message? Look at this sentence. I'm 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's 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 our company continue to make money. Let's rephrase those sentences to focus on the reader's interests. You will receive a $10 discount. So that you may continue to receive high-quality service, the minimum charge on your account is now $10. Courteous writing means using a positive tone and focusing on reader's benefits.

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

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