Monthly Archives: October 2008

Writing Effective Business Documents

Writing Effective Business Documents

In order to be able to write concise, to-the-point business documents, whether they are reports, memos, proposals, evaluations, emails, or any other type of written material, you must first devote a great deal of energy into thinking and planning. In order to compose a tightly written prose piece that clearly communicates your perspective on a particular issue, you must determine what you want to say and how best to say it. That seems obvious, but, oftentimes, business documents are unclear or, halfway through, they lose their focus.

Writing an outline is often a helpful way of beginning the writing process. Once you actually start to write the document, you may, of course, vary from your outline, but you should not stray far from your original theme. If, for example, the point of the document that you are writing is to explain new office protocols, do not move into the area of the current global economic situation. That may relate to your thesis, and so, it may be addressed, but you should not lose focus. Complete the document on which you are working, and then you may return to the other topic in a subsequent business essay.

The next, critically important step, once the essay has been written, is to edit it for clarity and precision. Business editing is both a skill and an art. It involves both macro and micro approaches. First, the essay must be read in order to evaluate the point of view and the thesis. That is the macro approach.

Then, the document must be microscopically inspected. The text must be read word-for-word. This is when errors in spelling, English usage, punctuation, and vocabulary should be spotted and corrected. If needed, whole sentences and, if necessary, entire paragraphs should be edited and/or rewritten so that they smoothly and logically flow from preceding ones. Transitional sentences, if needed, should be inserted.

At some point during the proofreading and editing process, you should spell check your work. That will not catch every error, but it will allow you to spot many of them.

The final step in terms of reviewing a business document is to read it as if you are the intended audience, and not the writer. Does the document communicate its message? Will it be clear to those for whom it is intended? You may want to ask a colleague to read it. Assure him or her that you do want an honest opinion of the document, and not simply an “It’s fine” response.

Business writing should be 100% clear and to-the-point. It should not rely on metaphors, poetic license, or figures of speech. The purpose of a business document is to clearly communicate a message. It may be entertaining, but that is beside the point. If the document is not easily comprehensible, its message may never be communicated.

Checking and Rechecking and….

Checking and Rechecking and….

It can be frustrating: You spend time considering how best to write that business document, whether it is an email, business proposal, contract, memo, protocol, or whatever. Then you write it out, and check it as you go. After that, you read it over to make sure it is free of errors. Finally, when you are sure your document is ready for submission or publication, you allow it to be distributed…only to discover, when it is too late, that you left errors in place. Worse than that, before you notice the errors, someone else, a client, one of your co-workers, or your supervisor points out your mistakes to you.

How can you prevent this embarrassing, perhaps damaging scenario from occurring? Well, the answer comes under the heading of You Can Never Be Too Careful. When you have finished checking and rechecking, you may want to check over your work again. How? Here are some hints:

  1. Spell check your work. Do this before you perform your own proofreading of your document. This step will pinpoint and allow you to correct most of the serious errors. It will also provide you with an opportunity to clarify sentences and phrases that are unclear.
  2. Proofread and edit your written work on two levels, micro and macro. On the micro level, you should be looking for errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, word usage, and all other aspects of English usage that the spell checking missed. On the macro level, you should be making sure your document is clear and concise and that your thoughts flow logically and smoothly. Do this by reading your document, not sentence by sentence, but word by word (micro). This will allow you to spot and correct errors that you might otherwise not notice.
  3. Read your entire document on the macro level. Make sure it effectively communicates your message.
  4. Print it out and read it. Sometimes, you may be able to spot errors on paper that you may not notice when reading your document on a computer monitor.
  5. Ask someone else to read it. Before you do this, resign yourself to the possibility that the one who is reading your work will actually find errors, which, of course, is why you have asked him or her to read it. But…you cannot allow yourself to be offended by this person’s critiquing of your work.
  6. When all is said and done, you may want to take one more action to ensure that your written work is free or errors, properly formatted, and clearly presented—submit it to a professional proofreading and editing service.

Since a poorly written or imprecisely formulated document does not communicate its message as well as one that has been carefully written and proofread, this may be the most effective and worthwhile action that you can take in reference to your written work.