When travelling overseas, we use translation tools to help us bridge language gaps, so why are similar tools so rare in business writing? Authors and readers are often from very different communities, may have different expectations, and could completely misunderstand each other.
As founders or small business leaders, we write all kinds of documents like proposals, papers, presentations, and other communications to get people interested in our companies, and ideally to get them to respond as we would like. We tend to have limited resources and may need some help to get to the heart of our readers’ needs.
I have worked in technology companies for most of my life, and seen far too many presentations, reports and proposals that just don’t work. If we assume that they are technically sound and answer the required question, they typically struggle around three main factors:
- Simplicity – where the focus and intent of the document is lost in a torrent of content
- Clarity – where the writing is inconsistent or just plain confusing
- Tone – where the intentions of the author fail to meet the needs of the reader
These boil down to knowing who your reader is, and what they want from the document.
Simplicity can be achieved with a bit of planning and foresight. It begins when you really know what you are trying to say. A writing scheme with the headings and subheadings laid out will help a lot in settling the general architecture of the document. Then, a short summary of what each section actually ‘says’ allows you to understand the flow and the storyline.
Clarity can be improved with a bit of care in the editing. I have worked with some excellent proposal managers who spend hours to make a coherent document from individually correct paragraphs that are inconsistent or contradict each other. Set some standards for things like terminology, abbreviations, and units of measure, so that the obvious discrepancies are avoided.
Tone is a more subtle affair. Here, the biggest factor is any difference between the author and the reader. Different roles, different experience, different expectations, all contribute to what one thinks is clear and obvious, whilst being opaque and baffling to the other. Once again, a good editor is priceless, especially if they are from a different background to the author. That different perspective raises questions that the author misses completely and can redirect the text to suit the needs of the reader.
Writing is tough sometimes, and self-edit is a rare skill. If you can find a good editor to help you out in the early days, you may look back on them as your best recruit. They are the ones who get you over the bridge and into the hearts and minds of your target readers. If you can achieve that, the rest will fall into place much more easily.
Do you have any tricks or tips to make sure your writing hits the mark? Please let me know in the comments section and let’s share some good practice.