Considering the Message in Business Communications
(printable version here)
Unlike academic papers, which are almost always persuasive pieces of writing, the purpose of much business communication is to deliver a message, whether good or bad. As a result, you may find yourself writing positive messages, negative messages, or persuasive messages. Each of these requires a slightly different approach, all of which are detailed below.
Positive messages are often the easiest to write because the audience is expected to be fairly receptive of the presented information, thus they tend to follow the direct pattern by stating the idea at the very beginning following with the explanation. In the explanation, writers will once again want to consider using various highlighting tools to improve readability. Writers will conclude the message courteously and with a request for action by a given date, if necessary.
While all positive writing messages follow a similar format, there are different types of positive messages:
Requests for Information/Action
Requests for information or action do just that. Because they are a routine part of business practices, Guffey offers a few helpful words of advice that summarize the most important characteristics of request letters: "Maintain a courteous tone, spell out what needs to be done, suggest reader benefits, and make it easy for the reader to respond" (208). If there is a deadline, include the date in the closing to ensure that it sticks in the reader's mind.
Claims are letters sent with the intention of correcting something that went wrong (a common occurrence in the business world).
The format of claim letters follow the protocol of other positive messages, but because they are intended to correct mistakes, it is important to maintain a calm tone and refrain from making accusations or placing blame, and to avoid harsh language that will only impede the effectiveness of the letter and may be regretted later on.
Begin by telling the reader what they want to hear and avoid long, drawn out openings. If there is both good and bad news in a reply letter, always begin with the good, but refrain from misleading the reader if you're intentions don't entirely meet their expectations. For example, don't respond by saying "We think your request for donations is a great idea!" if you have no intention of actually donating.
Writers should organize the information they are providing in a clear, coherent manner followed by a courteous closing that refers back to the enclosed information.
Negative messages are usually difficult to write because the audience is being told exactly what they don't want to hear. Negative messages most often include refusing requests and delivering bad news to a customer or to those within an organization. Certain techniques that help soften the blow of bad news are applicable to all negative messages. Remember, when writing a negative message, the audience is likely to be unreceptive so be sure to use the indirect approach. (Guffey, 278- 282)
Buffer the Opening
Buffers are the first tool business writers use to soften the blow of the message by doing things such as presenting the best news first or complimenting the reader.
Cushion the Bad News
Place the bad news strategically after the buffer and before a positive closing to lessen the impact. If the bad news is sandwiched between two positives, the reader is less likely to dwell on the negative.
Understand where the reader is coming from and do so sincerely. This concept is also included in the audience analysis stage of the 3X3 Writing Process, but it cannot be stressed enough.
When people are receiving bad news, they want to know why. By providing logical, clear reasons for the negative news, readers are more likely to be agreeable and understanding of the situation.
Avoid Negative Words
Choose words carefully to avoid losing the reader's attention and receptivity. Negative words only add to overall negativity of the message, so use positive language that focuses on reader benefits.
Words to avoid include cannot, regret, reject, fail, mistake, impossible, and the like.
The closing serves as the writer's last chance to leave the reader with a positive thought. It's appropriate to promote goodwill by looking ahead toward a brighter future, to offer an alternative option if one exists, to provide the reader with promotional information, or simply to close by wishing the reader well.
Persuasion is a critical tool one should master to achieve professional success in the business world, but it is also one of the more challenging. Whether writers are aiming to persuade customers, potential donors, or those working within the same corporation, they will want to focus their attention on four main things:
Grabbing the Reader's Attention
Engage the reader quickly and at the beginning so they are immediately interested. A few ways of doing this are to use a startling statistic, an intriguing story, or by telling the reader how they will benefit and what they can gain.
Building and Maintaining Reader Interest
Readers can easily disregard letters when they are being asked to do something, so it is essential that writers know how to not only grab the reader's attention, but how to maintain their interest. Keep the reader invested in what they are reading by providing examples that make any requests sound reasonable, appeal to reader emotions, or emphasize indirect benefits the reader may receive such as feeling good about themselves. Writers ultimately want to provide the reader with incentives to do as they ask.
Reducing Reader Resistance
Be prepared for readers to be reluctant and to ask questions. Anticipate this reaction by presenting counter-arguments to whatever objections the reader might raise and as always, stress the benefits and focus on the positive.
Motivating the Reader to Act
Encourage the reader to respond or act by a certain time. Writers will want to sound confident that they have achieved their goals without sounding arrogant or pushy. A good closing might sound something like this: You will see decided improvement in the communication skills of your employees. Please call me at 555-555-5555 by May 1 to give your approval so that training sessions may start in June, as we discussed. (Guffey, 241)
Midge Gillies, author of Business Writing: The Essential Guide To Thinking And Working Smarter, offers additional helpful advice that briefly summarizes the aforementioned points:
- Establish rapport
- Appeal to the reader directly by explaining why it is in his or her interests to keep reading
- Explain how you are both working towards the same goal
- Reassure the reassure the reader of your good will
Also, note that the conventions of persuasive business writing are more flexible than the others. Don't be afraid to get creative!
Gillies, Midge. Business Writing: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Working Smarter. New York: Marshall Editions Developments Ltd., 2000. Print.
Guffey, Mary Ellen. Business Communication: Process & Product. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.
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