What do we mean by effective writing?

Extract from the preliminary section of Word Power

Word Power

Word Power

Good and effective communication skills can be acquired by anyone with a little effort

Workplace writing is based around effective communication. It has a planned structure, is written in clear and concise English and is focused on the intended audience. Often it is ‘action oriented’ which means the intended reader is required to take some action upon receiving the document.

Business writing as a genre

Being able to write effectively makes good sense. No matter how forgiving your supervisors may be at school or college—after all, they are primarily concerned to ensure that you understand the topic—poor writing skills will limit your career advancement. Conversely people with good communication skills are on the fast track to promotion up the corporate ladder. Of course, ‘communication skills’ involve more than writing, being an effective communicator has a lot to do with attitude and your ability to get on with other people as a social being, but good writing is an essential part of the process. You may be a star in your local football team, well-liked by all your colleagues but if you are unable to write effectively, your career may never get off the starting block. So if you are the type of person who wants to be the ‘best that you can be’ it makes good sense to develop your writing skills.

Our focus here is on business and workplace writing and, to an extent, academic writing. We are not concerned with other genres such as storytelling, travelogues and general fiction (although much of what we say will still apply.).

A genre is a style that describes what the reader can expect. Tragedy, mystery, comedy are all writing genres and if some piece of writing is described by its genre, to an extent you know what to expect from reading it.

Workplace writing is the style used in commercial organizations and in government and it has a genre of its own. Business writing can embrace a variety of forms: from business plans, to sales proposals to marketing copy to demand letters. Government writing includes proposals, analysis, policy submissions and providing public information. People in business spend more time writing than they may think. Workplace writing is characterized as a style that is crisp, clear and to the point. Effective writing can have a major impact in how you, your business or the organization in which you work is perceived by others.

Importantly, it can have an impact on how you are perceived by others. Branding applies as much to an individual as it does to an organization.

Sub genres of business writing include blogging, content writing for the web, copy-writing and technical writing.

Academic writing is different again. Writing in an educational or academic environment requires a careful objective approach submitted to an educated and critical audience and which is intended to inform or challenge conventional thinking but with rigorous citation of references and supporting data. Academic writing also opens itself to challenge and critique by others.

There are certain similarities between business and academic writing which will become evident as we progress. Perhaps the fundamental difference may lie in the fact that business writing is focused on results and outcomes whereas academic writing is often focused on the debate.

Perhaps the first thing to note before we even begin to get into our topic is that to write effectively you need the proper environment. We have all seen individuals hard at work on their laptops in a corner of a fast-food restaurant, on a train or in the airport lounge while waiting for a flight. Sometimes necessity gives us no option. But if you are going to be a serious about your writing, you need to ensure that your place of work is comfortable, relaxed and sufficiently quiet as to not destroy your concentration. A large screen and keyboard may also be worth the investment and you will definitely need access to a printer. No matter how good you are at reading on screen, when you print out your work you will view it differently and will most likely find errors or layout problems that you had overlooked.

Knowing your software and its capabilities is also important. We address that issue in another channel.

Finally, writing like driving, is an intense activity. Take plenty of breaks. Get up from your desk at least once an hour and walk around. If you get tired, instead of writing, spend time on some other related activity such as sorting the graphics images you may be wanting to use (or even making a cup of coffee). Writing when you are tired is bad enough but editing when you are tired can be disastrous. For me, I do my best writing early in the day and evenings, I fiddle with and organize images.

That said, write when you feel inspired to do so—and if that is 3am in the morning, so be it. Everybody’s style is different. Now to begin…

Focus on the outcome

Any serious piece of workplace writing will more than likely go through several stages in its life cycle.

Reduced to the simplest terms there are three such stages: (i) drafting, (ii) presentation of findings or analysis and (iii) action taken. The life cycle does not end–and the success of a document is not judged–once the final draft manuscript has been published; rather it has to be seen against the backdrop of whether or not the purpose of the document was achieved. We will talk more about this when we come to discuss communication strategies; here we confine ourselves to introducing a few basic principles.

The life of the document (like any project) comes to an end when it is laid to rest in the filing cabinet archives.

Identifying the stakeholders

Effective writing involves firstly identifying the various stakeholders – those who may have an interest in the outcome (whether they know it or not) and taking account of their (likely) views. Whether you are writing a document as the sole author or as part of a team, to ensure a successful outcome you will need to keep in mind the needs of the various stakeholders. We identify four such stakeholder groups, each with separate needs.

Audience

Our audience may be a single client, a government department and indeed, all those who may have an interest in reading our document.  For some, your work may be required reading; others may stumble across it during an internet search. But foremost, you are writing for an audience and the needs and expectations of your audience must be at the forefront of your thinking.

Do you understand your audience? Have you researched its specific requirements? Are there any internal or external aspects of the situation that may have an impact on the manner in which you present your argument? Good research on your audience and its expectations will inform your writing and allow you to address its needs.

Is your tone and language appropriate to your readers understanding of your document? Will it be sufficient to persuade your reader?

Organization

Your organization–no matter how large or small–represents a ‘brand’. It has an image to protect. Poor and sloppy writing or fuzzy analysis will detract from the impact your document will make. If it is to be read by clients–or being produced in response to a client brief–then these considerations become doubly important. More likely than not, if your organization is of any size, it will have its own issues of ‘style’ to consider.

If your document has technical or budgetary implications, you may need to engage secondary authors (or at least reviewers) to ensure your arguments and analysis do not contain any pitfalls of which you may not be aware. In these days where sensitivities are high, you cannot afford to let down your guard.

Organizational considerations do not stop with your own group. There is also the organizational needs of your target audience to consider. You will also need to assess the position of your primary readers within their own management structure. Are you selling your idea to the CEO or does your recipient need to sell your idea to his or her boss before a decision can be taken? What can you do to ease the path to making the decision you want?

Other stakeholders

The other ‘stakeholders’ in the document are those who may–directly or indirectly–be affected by its outcome. Your secondary audience is a subset of this group. ‘Impact Analysis’ is becoming commonplace nowadays.  There are three main angles to consider here: (i) the effect of your recommendations or ‘call to action’ on groups outside of your primary focus; (ii) whether that impact will be positive or negative (or at least be perceived as such?); and (iii) how such indirect stakeholders are treated within your document.

‘Sensitivity Analysis’ like impact analysis is becoming an important aspect of stakeholder engagement and any documents produced that are likely to become public at some point, need to take account of this.

Impact analysis deals with cause; sensitivity analysis deals with effect.

Gatekeeper

Who is the gatekeeper? This is the person within your organization who will sign off on your work and certify that it has been completed to an acceptable standard. Usually, this will be your manager or supervisor, although it might also be a review committee or a journal editor. No matter who it is, understanding their expectations should be a priority at the commencement of the project and should be kept under surveillance throughout the entire development stage.

Finally, let us return to our heading for this topic—the outcome. Closely related to purpose (they can be one and the same), you always need to keep in mind what action you want your readers to take after reviewing your writing. We will talk more about this later.

***

For more information, visit our website: http://thecreativegenie.com.au/bookshop/word-power/

or contact the author.

Dr. Michael (Mike) Clancy:  thecreativegenie@gmail.com

Pages/words 70 pages / 34,500 words, illustrated
Tags business writing, audience, communications, structure ,pre-writing, invention
Base document Working with Words -> Word Power 1611 rev1

 

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