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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.
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- [Voiceover] Have you ever stared at that blank computer screen or piece of paper and wondered why something magical isn't happening? Why you can't get started? Why you can't think of what words to use? Finally, you get that first sentence on the screen and then keep adding to the messages, thoughts randomly come to your mind. If that's your writing process, you're almost guaranteed of committing most if not all of the common business writing errors. All of the common business writing errors are created by one major error.
Not following the correct writing process. You may think than an effective business writer spends the majority of his or her time writing. However, spending the most time in the writing stage, causes business writing errors. Each of the following potential errors should be thought through before writing and then reanalyzed after the document is written. The message not being reader focused. In the planning stage, you want to get a clear idea of your reader. How does a reader benefit from the message? For example, is she receiving information that will help her do a better job? Is he receiving promotional materials that will help him save money? Visualize that reader and his or her interest, wants, needs before beginning to draft your document.
Another area to consider before writing is, are you leaving the reader bewildered about the purpose of the intended message? Or in other words, ask yourself, why am I writing this? Do I want to give my reader new information to help her understand a new policy or to take action? Giving not enough or too much detail also needs to be analyzed before beginning that document. Once that intended reader is in mind, determine how much detail he needs. Has she been a part of a previous discussion about a new policy? Or is he a client who has no knowledge about why a new policy is being implemented? The reader needs enough information to understand the message but not so many details that she gets bogged down by new (mumbling).
Also not thinking about what language to use can result in using unclear and confusing words. Is your reader one who works in your department or company and will understand the company specialized technical terms? Or someone for whom more everyday language will have to be used? What words will have the same meaning to all readers? For example, you have several days to complete this form or you have four days to complete this form. Several is vague but four is specific. Your message also needs to be planned so you don't unintentionally offend the reader.
What tone should be used? Harsh words result in a harsh tone even though that might not be your intent. You have to give specific information before we can give you a definite cause. The writer probably didn't intend for that to sound harsh but the reader could certainly read it with a defensive attitude. Simply the writing process includes prewriting, writing and revising or rewriting. Effective business writers revise their documents about five or six times before actually sending them and spend the majority of the time, planning and revising.
If you follow the writing process correctly, you spend the least amount of time actually writing. Up to 80% of your time should be spent in the first and last stages. 40% planning and 40% revising. The common business writing mentality is to get that message composed and sent quickly and we think that spending all that time planning and revising is too time consuming but an ill planned, hastily written message will probably either not get read at all or will be so confusing that much time consuming follow up will be necessary.
You are correct that following the writing process may slow you down at the beginning but the good news is, the more you follow it, the easier and faster it becomes. Think about this analogy. Trying to write without a plan or without reviewing what you wrote is like trying to build a house without a blueprint and without having a final inspection. The lands purchase, the workers, the equipments and supplies are on site but no one knows where to start, what direction to go, what the final structure is supposed to look like or even when it's complete.
No one would do that. So, why do we try to write without knowing what direction to go or what our purpose is or how to arrange our message? The most important common business writing error to avoid is trying to write without planning and sending the message without revising and rewriting. You can't wear all the writing hats at once. You can't plan, write and revise all at the same time. If you want a message that is reader focused, gives just the right amount of detail, uses clear and specific language, assures that your reader knows exactly what your message is about and has a positive tone and sounds human then you need to think, plan, write and revise in that order to help you avoid all those common errors.
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