There are two fundamental questions that you should ask yourself before you write anything in business. Actually, you should ask yourself these questions before any kind of business communication in business, whether it takes the form of meetings, discussions, presentations, email, or major documents.
This is my most important business recommendation that frames much of the work in our business writing courses. These two questions ensure that everything else about the document falls into place.
It frames the essence of the communication.
Skip these questions, and your document will not work in the most important way: helping your reader know or do what you seek. This is how you elicit the business response you seek.
Business writing is a rhetoric entirely dependent on your audience, and it is also very results-oriented. We shouldn't be writing, or discussing, or presenting, if we don't have something to say. If you can't answer these questions, stop! There is no need write or say anything.
My #1 Business Writing Recommendation
Ask yourself these two important questions before you write anything at work:
Question # 1 - Who is my reader?
There are really two aspects to this question.
1.a - Who will actually be reading this document (or listening to your presentation or discussion)?
- Name them, so they are clear in your mind. Writing this down will help you frame your readers in your mind more clearly.
1.b - What is their unique perspective? (We summarize this in business writing training more bluntly, and ask participants to explain "What's their deal?") Consider those readers you identified and analyze them. For example:
- Are they skimmers? If so, you need to consider format more, and likely include headings and white space and even graphics so it's easy skim.
- Are they focused on budget? Be sure you include clear cost/benefit content since that is important to them.
- Are they stubborn? You need to include specific, concrete facts to sway their opinion. You may also need to include some content that lets them change their opinion and still appear right.
- Are they a grammar perfectionist? You need to proofread very, very carefully.
- Are they a hot head? You may need to buffer the document, since you know they're quick to react and disengage before they read your good justifications.
- Are they familiar with your subject? You will need less background information, if so.
- Are they unfamiliar with your subject? Conversely, they will need clear background or context information.
- Are they committed to a particular viewpoint? If so, be sure to address how your information relates, because you know that will be their implicit question.
- And so on. Ask yourself what matters most to this reader.
Do this, and your content will match audience needs. Skip this, and your content will likely have gaps or over-explanation or be off the mark.
Question # 2 - What do I want my reader to know or do?
This clarifies the purpose of your document. This question helps you guide your reader directly to the business outcome you seek. It pushes the information into the enterprise information flow.
The answer to this question should be reflected in your conclusion. Make it easy for your reader to respond. This way, the document works.
Do you see how these essential questions dramatically reframe every document? By considering your audience carefully and defining purpose, you will be able to provide the relevant content for your particular readers. Your readers will be able to understand or do what you are requesting. And, they will be much more amenable if you address their perspective.
Your document advances your business goals. Your reader is able to respond or understand the significance immediately.
That is always the essential goal of all business writing.
Always, be certain to ask these essential questions for every document you write. If you do, you can be confident you will have a framework of content that works. These simple steps change everything.