Writing business documents is an ability that you learn; it doesn’t take a special talent. You get better at it by repetition and instructions. A good learning strategy that works for most is to write something every day, no matter how short it is and you don’t even have to read it to anyone. This way, you’ll become a better critic, by analyzing the points you must improve.
Know your subject – if you don’t know anything about a subject, you can’t write about it. The better you know the subject, the better and easier you’ll write about it.
Know your public – this the second most important element to know. Write for your readers, not for yourself! Remember that your documents compete with unknown quantities of information. Think of the priorities, interests and needs of your clients.
Think about what your document needs to say, in what order must the information be placed? What is the main idea and how can you end this paper? Here are some ideas to help you get through this process.
An outline – it comprises a list of ideas about the content of the document and the order of the ideas. After you review the outline, you can still modify it until you get to the complete form that suits your needs.
Index notes – write your ides on index notes, one idea per note. Then put them in order. Reorder them until you get the desired result.
Post-it notes – again, write an idea on each note. Stick them on the wall and begin putting them in order. This visual instrument helps you a lot in organizing your thoughts.
Brainstorming schemes – this is a visual approach to organizing your thoughts, with which you position the thoughts with the help of images, key words or concepts. At the end, you obtain a graphic summary of the content, which you can then put in order.
The first sketch – If you write a short report or a memo, this paper usually constitutes the first sketch. Compose a short questionnaire that will help you put all the ideas on the same page, asking things like: Why am I writing this? Who will read it? What data sustains my affirmations? What actions must be taken? What order should the information I present follow?
Before starting to write the next memo, ask yourself the following questions:
“Objective” – What do I want to happen as a result of this memo?
“The goal” – What do I want to achieve with this memo? Am I writing to ask something? Recommend? Convince? Explain? Report? Announce? How can I answer the readers’ needs with what I write?
“The public” – to whom am I addressing this and why do they need to hear it? How well do I know the subject?
“The subject” – is it urgent? Complicated? Controversial? Sensitive? Should I also include context information? What can I do in order for the subject to be easily read and understood?
“The tone” – how can I say what I have to say in an efficient and adequate way?
“Other factors” – is the memo really necessary? Would a phone call be enough? If not, can I do something else to support the document? Should I distribute copies to other people also? Do I need an answer?
Revision: The Three C’s
Express yourself with clarity: the first step of the revision targets the general problems like goal, public, organization and accessibility. In this step you must make sure that the readers will be able to easily understand the main ideas. Compare what you have written with the plan you first made.
Be concise: the second step concentrates on paragraphs and phrases. You must express everything as concisely as possible, eliminating the excess words.
Be correct: when you’re convinced your document respects the criteria mentioned on points 1 and 2, you can read the draft. In this step you can concentrate on the grammar, punctuation and spelling.