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Top 7 Keys to Business Writing that Gets Read

By Hawley Roddick

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There is a revolution in the way business documents are read - or rather, are not read. Today, many readers only have time to skim the proposals, reports, letters, and in-house and marketing materials they receive. This trend is one result of widespread downsizing. As the same amount of work is spread over fewer and fewer people, those people have less and less time to read.

Yet typically, managers, executives, consultants, entrepreneurs, and others write as if their readers will start at the beginning and read straight through to the end.

If you want to meet the new challenge of writing for colleagues, customers, and clients who rarely read body-text, then you should skim whatever you write and make certain that all your major points are obvious. To achieve this goal, concentrate on 7 key elements:

  1. FIRST PARAGRAPH. Keep the first paragraph short and explain clearly why you are writing. If you can ask a question (that readers won't answer no) you invite their participation.

  2. BULLET POINTS. Make bulleted lists to telegraph important ideas. Develop a vocabulary of bullet points to convey information. For example, a box with a check inside can indicate an item on a list that has been taken care of, while an empty box indicates an item that still needs attention.

  3. HEADINGS. Outline your major points in headings and subheadings. Read the headings over to be sure they present your message to anyone who will read nothing else.

  4. FORMAT. Create a format that offers enough variety to attract interest but that does not look too busy. Indent some paragraphs. Insert boxes or other graphic devices wherever these are fitting.

  5. FONT. Use a boldface sans-serif font like Universal for titles, subject lines, headings, and sub-headings. Use a serif font like Times New Roman for body-text. Judiciously apply boldface and italics throughout your document to draw the eye to important phrases.

  6. TONE. Even readers who skim will spot inappropriate language. Make your tone diplomatic. Avoid sexist language by using plurals. For example, instead of "tell your reader how what you want serves his interests," write, "tell your readers how what you want serves their interests."

  7. LAST PARAGRAPH. Close with next steps, including who does what and when. Or end on some other note that will help you accomplish your goal in writing.

Today's Top7Business Article Was Submitted By Hawley Roddick, DOCUMENTS BY DESIGN, Santa Barbara, CA; Our Write/Assets (W/A) Seminars & Document Make overs help clients generate written communications that escape the trajectory from in-basket to wastebasket and attract attention even from readers who skim. Hawley Roddick has provided document design services & corporate seminars since 1984/ working with such clients as Citibank, Fireman's Fund, General Foods, Merrill Lynch, PG&E, Silicon Graphics, Stanford Univ. Alumni Assn.


Article Submitted On: May 19, 1999