There is one business writing skill that separates advanced business writers from those who are merely functionally proficient. It is the ability to synthesize complex ideas and extract the significant nuggets of information that are relevant to a particular reader and situation.
In essence, these are mini-executive summaries, used widely in many communications at work.
We often think an executive summary is the first part of a formal report. In fact, functional executive summaries are deployed frequently and widely by those with advanced business writing skills:
- When your boss asks you, "Why should we fund this project?"
- When you summarize a vendor performance.
- When you recommend a solution to a work problem.
- When you are asked, "Why should I hire you?"
- When you analyze data for trends.
- When you verbally summarize project pitfalls at a meeting.
- When you summarize the insights discussed at a meeting, relevant to the overall goals.
The ability to see the big picture, to quickly understand what is significant to the situation, and extract and convey the relevant essence will greatly help your career, your department, and your company. It will also greatly improve the efficiency and accuracy of the information flowing across your company.
Synthesizing and extracting executive summaries is fully contextual. It will always depend on your readers' needs.
Let's apply this concept to the situation of a college student working at a summer internship, who is an economics major working for a start up specializing in sustainable agriculture shipping. This student's mother, college advisor, and internship company owner all ask him, "What did you do during your internship?"
Certainly, much information will be similar, but each person has specific interest and focus. Appropriate executive summary or synthesis responses for each of these audiences might be:
- Internship Company Owner, who will care about the value the intern brought to the company:
- "I developed a web portal that provides cost of living information for this area, to help with recruiting top talent. My data analysis of comparable companies in other locations indicated our location is a competitive hiring advantage."
- College Advisor, who will care about the student's learning and application of course skills:
- "I developed a web portal using HTML and CSS, which we covered in Computer Science 410. Also, using an extensive data set and regression analysis, we were able to estimate and compare costs of living in the company area."
- Mother, who will care about a permanent job after graduation (My son is a college junior, so I am certain a job after graduation is a primary interest of all mothers!):
- "I developed a web portal and analyzed cost of living data. Website development and data analysis are two skills listed on all of the business analyst positions I hope for after graduation."
Therefore, the first step in synthesizing complex information is defining your audience thoroughly.
Distill what really matters.
The second step is presenting information that is significant and meaningful to that particular audience.
Notice the summary statement made to the Internship Company Owner above has no mention of functional tasks, what team the intern worked on, or dates he worked. That is all simple functional information that led to the significant information. The company owner wouldn't care about this. The owner wants to know the value the intern brought to the business.
Noise vs. substance
There is, sadly, far too much fluff and task information bantered about in business writing. Mere action tasks never belong in an executive summary. Don't fall into this trap. Instead, synthesize meaningfully, and extract what is truly most significant to your reader.
This ability think critically and present relevant, synthesized information to various audiences is an advanced business writing skill you want to foster in your department and in your own writing.
If this is a skill you wish to hone in your organization, please contact us.