!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: A Book on Business Writing

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Book on Business Writing

In 2007 Barbara Janoff, the writing coordinator for the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Ruth Cash-Smith, a writer based in Maine, published The Graphic Designer's Guide to Better Business Writing. This book is full of good advice that can be helpful to people in any business role, not just graphic designers.

Thanks to Google Books, you can sample the book's contents. For example, you might want to have a look at the substantial portion of Chapter 14, "Working through Client Conflict," that is included in the Google Books sections of the book.

In this chapter, Janoff and Cash-Smith discuss three keys to finessing the task of communicating a message to a client that likely to be viewed as disappointing or vexing, such as denying a claim, declining a request for additional services, or refusing to cut your agreed price for a project. These three keys are:
  1. Deciding whether to use direct or indirect organization for your message.

    With direct organization — the approach appropriate for most business communications — your main point comes first and is then followed by your rationale and supporting evidence.

    In situations where you believe you need to soften the blow of what you have to say, indirect organization helps. This means opening with your rationale and saving the refusal or bad news for the latter part of your message.

  2. Deciding whether to use active or passive voice.

    Again there is a default which applies for most messages, and that default is the active voice. E.g., "We'll draft the brochure by October 15, and then you'll communicate any needed revisions by the 22nd."

    For negative messages, the passive voice can be a better choice because it obscures who is responsible for an unwelcome state of affairs. E.g., instead of saying "We can't change the copy at this time and still stay within the budget," you may do better by adopting the passive voice: "It isn't possible to change the copy at this time and still stay within the budget."

  3. Keeping your reader's needs and expectations at the front of your mind.

    As Janoff and Cash-Smith explain, "You need to write with a sense of empathy, which means asking yourself how you would react if you were the reader of the message you are writing."

    Indicate benefit to your client even though the basic message is negative. For example, instead of announcing "The enclosed documents must be approved before we can proceed," say "So we can proceed with your design work, please approve the enclosed documents." The goal is a gracious tone that highlights the value of what you're saying has to happen (or what you're saying can't happen).
The issue of tone comes up in another excerpt of the Janoff/Cash-Smith book that you might like to take a look at. On pages 18-19, you'll find a revision checklist. The checklist is divided into six sections, the last of which covers tone. The questions Janoff and Cash-Smith suggest asking yourself are:
  • Have you written your message in the appropriate voice for your purpose and reader?

  • Is it written with the right degree of informality?

  • Have you avoided slang words and clich├ęd language?

  • Have you omitted language that indicates sarcasm and anger from complaints and disputes?

  • Do you maintain a friendly but business-like tone?
The other sections of the checklist cover:
  • Focusing on your purpose and your reader's needs and expectations

  • Organization of your message

  • Conciseness

  • Clarity

  • Layout
The bottom line is that you need to cast any message in persuasive terms that are geared to maximize odds that the recipient will respond in the way you're hoping and minimize odds of seriously frayed relations.


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