"A brilliant message alone is not sufficient," Dartmouth professor Mary Munter writes in "Guide to Managerial Communication." "You are successful only if your message results in your desired response from your audience."
Here's how to get that desired response:
1. Recognize your reader. Base your approach, word choice and persuasive strategy on your reader's interests, goals and concerns. What does your reader care about? What motivates your reader? What are your reader's likely misgivings and objections to what you have to say?
2. Formulate a strategy. Your approach might be as simple as opening with a goodwill statement and closing with an affirmation of relationship, or it might be as sophisticated as taking a direct approach with a sympathetic reader (proposal first, reasons second) and an indirect approach with a hostile reader (reasons first, proposal second). Check yourself by reading 10 messages in your sent folder. If the word you does not appear in any of your openings and closings, you may be blurting out your information rather than communicating and connecting with your reader.
3. Be clear. So easy to say, but so hard to achieve. Clarity entails many things, from word choice that is appropriate to your purpose, audience and occasion, to sentence structure and organization, which comes from paragraph structure, transitions and coherent sequencing. It also comes from clear thinking, and as we all know, writing is nature's way of letting you know how unclear your thinking is.
4. Offer relevant detail. The devil is in the details — and so is your success as a writer. (I know, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once said something similar.) Two points to emphasize: First, relevant is the key word here. Arguments are won or lost on choosing the right detail. ("If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.") Second, don't offer too much or too little, but just the right amount for your reader. (Remember Goldilocks.) Again, your choice depends on your purpose, audience and occasion, in other words, on your persuasive strategy.
5. Attend to style. If you don't like the word style, call it brand. The point is to ask yourself how you're coming across to your reader. What image or impression are you creating? Do you want to come across as forceful or tentative, authoritative or friendly, distant or approachable? (Compare "As per your request, attached please find …" with "As you requested, I am attaching …") What image or persona best suits your persuasive strategy?
6. Be accurate and correct. You have to know your stuff. Get both your facts and your grammar straight. You can do everything else right and still fail if you get something wrong. Enter the wrong date and you might miss a deadline. Write without punctuation and you might be misunderstood. (Compare "Woman without her man is nothing" with "Woman: without her, man is nothing," an example I saw years before Lynne Truss used it in "Eats, Shoots & Leaves.")
So think before you write, write and then read what you have written from your reader's point of view.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.