Fast Track Your Business Writing Skills

Written by Steve Bridger


FAST TRACK YOUR BUSINESS WRITING SKILLS

Swiftly improve your writing ability- Develop content, style & structure -Write effective reports & documents

Testimonials for
‘Fast Track your Business Writing Skills’

“I read it through last night and was totally blown away by it.  FULL of really useful stuff, sensibly written, well done.”

Pauline Hedges – Head of Policy & Representation - Surrey Chambers of Commerce UK.

“Insightful and no nonsense – lots of handy tips to get your teeth into”
Christopher Marie – Marketing Executive – International Financial Management.
www.thewritecopy.co.uk
Inventive & Effective Sales & Marketing Communications
Creative Strategy-Campaign Planning- Copywriting-Design Liaison-Project Management



Section Contents

1.    Introduction - improve your business writing skills – become an effective communicator – fulfil your talent

2.    Preparation skills – write to be read - creating a writer’s template – identify your audience

3.    Writing proposals, reports, letters, emails, intranet articles, blogs and ebooks with tips and examples on each format

4.    Punctuation & spelling tips with a touch of grammar


Section 1 Introduction

Fast-Track your Business Writing Skills:

For you:

Improving your business writing skills is money in the bank.  The more succinct, disciplined and directed you become, the more effective and valuable you will be. Armed with the contents of these pages you’ll quickly reap the benefits of tighter, more focused communications.  Debate will be better informed.  Decisions will be taken with confidence. Your writing will create a better, clearer understanding of issues and help to drive your career forward.

For your company:

This book will assist the development of a harmonised business writing system with accepted layouts, style and content.  Imagine the operational benefits of swiftly understanding reports and proposals for either internal or external consumption. ‘Fast-Track’ will inspire documents that quickly get to the point, signal action and improve efficiency.  Instead of many internal authors with different abilities and expertise, your company communications would run more smoothly.

This is not a formal text book

This work has been written in the hope that it will be a well-thumbed, practical reference source with templates to be used again and again.  You never know when you’ll need to check on the sequence when writing a report, or how to write a ‘poisoned sandwich email’, or remind yourself of the meaning of a business acronym like ‘BEER’, when you’re gasping for an ice-cold one.  All will be revealed in the pages that follow.


The purpose of ‘Fast-Track your Business Writing Skills’ is to:

1.    Banish blank page phobia and help you prepare effective pieces of communication, filling empty pages with well conceived content
2.    Show how to prepare and write effectively time after time
3.    Help you adopt the right mindset to reach your chosen audience
4.    Structure the writing to logically convey the outcomes of your piece
5.    Improve your punctuation & spelling
6.    Give you a sense of achievement by seeing the improvement you’re going to make and continue to make from this day forward
7.    Harmonise corporate business writing processes to improve operational efficiency


Better Writing Skills = Better Communication = Better Business Results

First, let me state the obvious.  Writing for business is not essay writing, not poetry, not Shakespeare – it is a finely tuned, hard working tool to produce results; fundamental in the drive for commercial success – and instrumental in your personal success.

Write for a Reason

Writing effectively to a business audience should embrace three essential elements:

•    Purpose – say exactly what you’re trying to achieve
•    Clarity – of thought and message
•    Brevity – get to the point – short sentences – short paragraphs – inspire action

These 3 elements need to be:

•    Communicated In plain English - using simple language – remember ‘KISS’
Keep-It-Simple-&-Straightforward 
•    Written to be read ( size of type, choice of font, spacing & structure) and be fully understood – first time round
•    Written explaining acronyms the first time they appear
•    Jargon free (or at least minimised) – never assume your readers know everything you do
•    Checked for ambiguity
•    Cleared legally if necessary
•    Double-checked for the accuracy of facts
•    Delivered in time for people to think, develop a response, and action as requested

Ask yourself -Why are you writing, what’s your Task?

•    To inform – to spread news
•    To educate – to train colleagues – to improve capabilities
•    To sell – to persuade, to argue your case, to generate wealth
•    To brief – to get others to perform a task
•    To instruct – to pass on management decisions – to request action
•    To motivate – to encourage and reward
•    To praise – to recognise achievement
•    To discipline – to maintain respect and improve relationships
•    To gain feedback – to learn people’s views – to ask for co-operation and involvement – to gather information

Each reason for writing may call for a different approach and perhaps a change in style and tone of voice. If briefing senior management on a complex issue, the writing would be more formal and differ greatly from a more personal approach, for instance, posting an article on the company intranet site.


In business, people are under pressure, often juggling any number of responsibilities and tasks at any one time, stressed and target driven.  Time is precious and must be used to greatest effect.  Writers are communicators, messengers who understand the message, so others will react as requested.

It’s not over when you’ve finished…

Internal communications are an ongoing process. You may be writing one piece at a time, but your writing is a contribution to the continuing act of co-operation and interaction.  Why do I make this point?  Because when you’ve finished a particular piece, ask people to get in touch if they aren’t clear about any aspect and welcome any comments or feedback. Internal communications are a constant dialogue between fellow colleagues – not one-off experiences.

Section 1 Summary

The Communication Process
Transmission – Reception – Understanding – Co-operation – Action

Written well, transmitted well, your audience – the receivers - will comprehend and take the appropriate action to fulfil your requests.   In summary, the important points to take from this introductory section are:

•    Investing your time in developing business writing skills will repay you for the rest of your career
•    Following the thought processes will sharpen and refine your own ability to think and write incisively 
•    Writing for colleagues is an exercise in sharing knowledge to achieve a common goal.  Executed well and unselfishly it will increase your standing and gain respect
•    Developing your writing skills is empowering
•    From a corporate viewpoint, creating a standardised form of layout and content will improve efficiency and understanding as well as acting as an initial benchmark for the further development of corporate writing skills   

Section 2 - Preparation

1. Proper-Preparation-Prevents-Poor-Performance

Or, fail to prepare - prepare to fail.  You’ve probably heard these lines before but proper preparation for a business writer starts long before you pick up a pen or your fingers hit the keyboard.  The preparation process starts with you. 

Getting to know yourself – Are you a Lark or an Owl?

Do you leap up in the morning full of energy and ready to face the challenges of the day or do you mentally start the day around lunchtime?

Think about this question and decide.  When is the best time for you to write?
If you’re a lark and fizzing with energy in the morning, manage your time to write when you’re fresh and creative and leave the afternoon for research and planning when your body and mind start to flag.

Turn this idea on its head if you’re an owl. Do undemanding jobs in the morning.  Write when you feel the zip and zing of inspiration later in the day. Plan your writing to be done then – even if it means taking the laptop home.

Identifying what kind of person you are – Lark or Owl - will allow you to direct your energies at the optimum time.  It’s simply a case of time management set to the rhythm of your body.

Getting Prepared: Think - Research - Plan

Knowing your subject is a ‘given’ when preparing to write.  The more knowledge you have, the more confident you become, and the more insightful you will be.  Preparation time allows you to think about:

•    What you’re going to say
•    How you’re going to say it
•    What you want to achieve
•    Who you’re going to say it to

Deconstruct your subject – then put it back together again

Planning is arguably the most important time of all.  Dare to turn off the computer or at least turn off the volume and run your screensaver to avoid those annoying email pop-ups or message alerts that are electronic poison. Venture into the silence and give yourself a chance to function and focus uninterrupted. Then deconstruct your subject into its component parts and build it up again.  At the end, all the elements will take shape and a blank page will become full of ideas.  Creating your own master template will be extremely useful. Here’s how to do it.

2. Introducing: The Writer’s Template

Complete the answers to these key questions to produce your own writer’s template.  With practice it’ll help you frame the style and content of your writing.  Type out this text on your own computer then print and copy your own ‘Master’ template.

The Writer’s Template
Create your document line by line – Banish Blank Pages
Key Questions
1. Aim
What is/are the objective/s of this exercise
What do I want to achieve with this piece of writing?   
2. Key Messages
What key points are to be communicated
What are the primary messages to convey?    
3.  Required Action
What is my ‘call to action’ – what do I want people to do?
Are different people responsible for performing special tasks – if so, how do these tasks impact on other project participants in terms of function and timing?   
4.  Timescale
When does the action/s need to be completed?
What is the timetable for management approval/completion?   
5. Further Help
Which person/s should be asked for further information or assistance in specialist areas?   
6. Identify Audience
What is the make-up of my audience
Is there more than one type of readership?
Do I need to produce other versions of the same piece e.g. - for general circulation, for senior management, for external readers – each written selectively to suit the reader/s?   
7. Tone of Voice
Formal or friendly & personal
Which is most appropriate?   
8
. Feedback & Interaction
Give a contact name/email address for clarification or feedback   


3. Write for your reader – Not for yourself

Business writing is an act of transference.  The writer listens and absorbs what is said or read, maybe from a senior manager or a technical person.  The task is to filter, craft and present the information.  A dynamic change takes place, turning what is said by the company into a form of content and tone-of-voice, an audience wants to hear and will be receptive to.

The key to achieving this is the ability to understand the importance of tailoring messages to suit different personality types.

Identifying your Audience – Understanding Key Personality Types

We’re all the same – yet totally different.  That is the writer’s puzzle.  Your audience may work for the same company, have the same team goals, be working for the same success.  Yet it would be a big mistake to address them all in the same manner.

Carl Jung, Hippocrates, Plato and many other great thinkers over the last two thousand years have developed ideas on personality traits and psychological profiles.  From the writer’s viewpoint, in normal day-to-day business communication, we need to be aware of three central personality types that shape our approach.

An understanding of your audience is vital. In real life most proposals will adopt an approach which satisfies all three personality types – but to understand each type, let’s examine them separately.

Personality Types – a Writer’s Guide

The 3 Types
Here are examples of people who represent each of the three personality types:

1.    The Visionary – Sir Richard Branson, Sir James Dyson, Bill Gates,
2.    The Dynamo – Simon Cowell, George Lucas, Hillary Clinton
3.    The Questioner – Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch, George Soros

How to identify the 3 types and how to write for them

Using the technique of visualisation will help you remember personality types.  Visualise the front page of any daily newspaper and match the personality type with the layout elements of images, headlines and body text.

1. Identifying the Visionary – The ‘Big Idea’ Person

These are the people who literally ‘get’ the big picture.  They swiftly understand the overall concept.  Using the newspaper analogy, they pick-up on the creative expression, the pictures, the imagery. They are ‘ideas’ people.  They inspire.  They’re often among the top strategists of the company and are skilled delegators.  However, they need the skills of ‘The Dynamo’ and ‘The Questioner’ to compliment their own.

The Visionary - The Writer’s Approach

When writing for the Visionary, the writer would paint a picture with words, describing the opportunity and focusing on the benefits.  Any business proposal will be explained in general terms and described how it will work. The writer will provide key pieces of information to demonstrate that all the interlocking strands will come together to achieve the stated objective.  A plan will be prepared allocating responsibilities delegated to key players in the organisation.

2. Identifying the Dynamo – The Driving Force

On the front page of a newspaper these people would be the main headline.  These are the action figures that drive businesses forward with their energy, determination and ability to get things done.  They understand the vision. Their talent is ‘making things happen’.  In business, they operate at all levels of seniority.  Dynamos are leaders who motivate and manage others to achieve targets.

The Dynamo - The Writer’s Approach

Writing for ‘Dynamos’ requires a full explanation of the proposal – the vision, the operational implementation and the costs.  The presentation needs to be complete with benefits and potential drawbacks highlighted for discussion.  An assessment of the demands of the project on the business and a timing plan will be key considerations.  The style of writing will be concise, to the point and well argued.

3. Identifying the Questioners – The Facts & Figures Folk

The Questioners would be the detailed text of front page news.  This type of person demands full supporting evidence with every detail checked and double checked.   These are the ‘Devils Advocates’ and ‘What if’ inquisitors.  A proposal will need to be thoroughly vetted before it gains their approval.  Often they are the subject specialists in finance, logistics, technology or production who start out with a ‘glass half empty’ attitude and expect the information you supply may just win them over to a ‘glass half full’ state of mind.

The Questioners - the Writer’s Approach

Thorough – detailed - straight to the point - not flowery.  These are the watchwords when writing to ‘The Questioners’.  A well constructed piece packed with evidence, facts, figures and back-up is essential.  When I say ‘back-up’, the writer’s time will be well spent researching any potential drawbacks and prepare a response for each one. Try to anticipate any awkward questions – criticise the project in your head and prepare a response.  Prepare well and you’ll perform well.  Misjudge this group and you’ll be made to feel very small indeed.

The Importance of identifying your audience

Admittedly the description of these three Personality types is a little superficial – but the underlying point is important – write for your audience.  Misjudging your readers could dramatically affect the outcome.  Let me show you what I mean.

•    A piece written for ‘The Visionaries’ but packed with details and structural elements more suited to ‘The Questioners’ may fail to excite visionary thinkers.

•    A piece written for ‘The Dynamos’ that lacks operational and implementation themes will be considered incomplete.

•    A piece written for ‘The Questioners’ using lightweight images and gushing language will fall on deaf ears and fail to impress.

Section 2 Summary

Write with Purpose, Clarity & Brevity

1.    Research your subject – make notes and determine the line of your approach

2.    Complete the Writer’s Template – this will provide the mental stepping stones for a complete piece of writing

3.    Be clear about what you want to achieve – and what action should follow

4.    Identify your audience and decide how best to address them

5.    Ask the audience to make contact with the relevant individual if they want more information or wish to have something clarified – get feedback – promote interaction.

Business writing is all about improving communication and co-operation.  As a writer, it is the treatment of the subject matter and achieving the desired outcome that measures real success.

Section 3 – Writing Skills -Practical Applications


Proposals, reports, letters, emails, intranet articles, blogs and ebooks

The first two sections have been dedicated to thinking about writing skills.  This next section will turn thinking into practice by examining the most common forms of business writing and showing how to tackle each one. 

Proposal & Report Presentation

Writing reports and proposals will take time and practice to get right.  This is one area where there’s a great temptation to say too much and oversell.  Overselling can undo all the good that’s gone before. In your preparation, consider how to compile all the key pieces of information and set them down succinctly.  A single document or proposal is seldom the end of the process but usually the start, especially when speaking to senior management.  That’s why it’s good practice to incorporate ‘topline’ information at a first stage and have supporting data available separately should it be requested.

The presentation of your document, the formatting and choice of fonts all combine to make a good first impression.  And, as they say there’s never a second chance to make a first impression, so here are some thoughts on getting it right first time.

Font Choice: Up-to-date or Old School?

The choice of fonts immediately projects an image to the reader.  If, you opt for Times New Roman, Garamond or Goudy you run the risk of being seen as old school and staid.  On the other hand, Century Gothic, Ariel, Tahoma, Trebuchet MS, Copperplate Gothic are modern fonts and project a more positive image.  Having said that, don’t buck the system if your organisation has a chosen font.

For emails use at least a 10 point type size. If you edge up to 11 point it is easier on the eye and when you’re drowned in a sea of messages the ones which are clearer are the ones that get noticed.  Remember, not everyone has 20:20 vision, so the more you think about how your writing will be viewed, the better. This is another practical example of thinking about your reader.

11 or 12 point for letters and documents is fine.  An increase to a larger point size,12 and 14 respectively works well for subject headlines and subheads.  More and more people favour using ‘bold’ for emphasis rather than underlining headlines and subheads.  A tip.  For most letters and documents, strive to get everything on to a single page of A4.  Sometimes you can do this by highlighting the whole document – ‘Cltl A’ and reducing the type from 12 to 11 point.

Another idea for reducing the document size on the page is to click on the spaces between paragraphs and reduce the type size to 10 or 8 point.  You’ll see the whole text compress that may produce the valuable extra line to fit into A4.  Another way of doing this is to adjust ‘Page Setup’ to create more text space – it’s easy to overlook this simple option when you’re busy.

Formatting

Underlining seems to have gone out of style. It’s often relegated to adding emphasis.  Leading headlines and sub-heads tend to be in bold and ranged left.  As a writer you can set the style and format to be adopted by your colleagues.  Main subject headings can be increased by a point size or set within a colour bar to literally separate the text into sections as has been used in this book. Remember to keep the size and font design consistent.

It’s very easy to miss words out altogether or drop in an ‘if’ where it should be an ‘is’ or vice-versa so ask someone to proofread your piece.  If there’s no one to help, walk away, take a break, then come back and read through the text again.  Spell check can overlook a spelling mistake or grammar point only for the writer to find an error lurking in the deepest paragraph because a word may be literally correct but the context could be wrong.

If you’re asked to write a report, see if past examples are available as a guide. Otherwise the report template produced in the next few pages will help you create a solid, informative and actionable layout.  Do check whether there is a certain word count limit or page number requirement and whether supporting references are to be included within the report.  Importantly, double check the confidentiality rating for document circulation and style/content considerations.

There’s more to come on these aspects as we look at the structure of a marketing report.

Bullet Points

Forgive me if this is mind-numbingly obvious, but bullet points are best used for registering different statements of equal weight.  These statements may encapsulate one particular point or they may be progressive if they build upon the preceding point.

Numbering predominantly lists statements, often in priority order.

Bullet points are great for injecting space into a dense tract of text.  Breaking up text in this way helps the reader to understand the subject and is easier on the brain.  Also, pulling one sentence away from the preceding paragraph– just like the sentence above concerning numbering – provides emphasis and importance to a point you’re trying to make.

Presenting Supporting Data

Here are a couple of tips to help you present supporting charts and data effectively.

1.    Don’t over-complicate data charts with too much content or a busy visual style

2.    Simplify and communicate key points in separate charts – add a new chart to illustrate a new idea

3.    Don’t leave pictures to do the work – draw attention to the point you’re trying to make with words as well as images.  It’s your chart, so make the point with confidence

4.    Consider reinforcing the data messages by producing a summary of all the key     points in writing.  Repetition of important points will drive home the message and     improve comprehension


1. Writing a Marketing Proposal

This example of a marketing proposal will suggest a successful structure that flows logically and builds from point-to-point.   The example is pure invention but it does represent the kind of elements you’ll encounter in a real-life situation.  The proposal combines sales, marketing, media, creative and financial aspects geared to generating income either by increasing sales of existing products or introducing new ones. 

First Example -The Marketing Proposal

Scenario

A publishing house is strong in conventional retail and has an impressive portfolio of writers but needs to embrace the opportunity of gaining sales via the internet.  It’s nearing Christmas, a prime time for gift sales, and the marketing department has prepared this proposal.  The budget figures are purely for demonstration purposes.

Watch how the logic of the piece progresses with this running order; each section sets the stage for one that follows.  In this way the information has a cumulative effect eventually presenting a fully integrated and well structured thought process as demonstrated by this sequence:

1. Background    4. Tactics    7. Budget
2. Objectives    5. Target Market    8. Next Steps
3. Strategy    6. Timing    9. Proposal Evaluation


Mighty Word Publishing
Online Christmas Campaign
Marketing Proposal


1. Background

•    Mighty Word Publishing performs strongly in the retail sector, both within the  independent sector and major retail chains
•    The company have yet to exploit sales opportunities provided by the internet, particularly during the peak pre-Christmas period.

2. Objectives

1.    To establish an online identity for Mighty Word Publishing
2.    To generate £100,000 of pre-Christmas online sales
3.    To raise awareness of our portfolio of writing talent

3. Strategy

The objectives will be achieved by:

1.    Designing and launching a full ecommerce website – www.mightyword.com

2.    Supporting the website with both search engine optimisation(SEO) and an online marketing campaign to include email marketing to boost awareness of our titles and authors to deliver a comprehensive viral campaign.

3.    Supplementing points 1 & 2 with a heavyweight sales promotion campaign aimed at delivering a pre-Christmas sales uplift.

4. Tactics

The campaign strategy will be executed by:

1.    Creating a fully interactive multimedia website using the written and spoken word plus online video to promote our latest authors and titles
2.    Maximising our online marketing through social and business networking sites – for example Ecademy, Linkedin, Bebo, Twitter and Facebook
3.    Offering a 10% discount for online orders, free Christmas gift wrapping and free gift delivery service plus a money-off voucher to stimulate post-Christmas purchases.

5. Target Market:
Primarily: A,B,C1/C2 Women 25-55yrs.
Secondary: All male & female gift purchasers across all age groups & socio-    economic sectors

6. Timing
•    Campaign start day will be 1 November

7. Budget
•    £25,000

8. Next Steps

1.    Gain management input & approval for campaign direction
2.    Gain detailed cost estimate for campaign elements
3.    Brief specialist web design & online agencies.

9. Proposal Evaluation

1.    Measure results against expectation – units sold & financial performance
2.    Selective telephone research to gain consumer & trade response


2. Writing Management Reports

The management report fulfils a different function.  These tend to address and evaluate company operational issues such as:

•    Market/Product Evaluations – where research and planning carry out a ‘S.W.O.T.’ analysis – Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats. These may relate to the company as a whole, its brands or individual products. A SWOT analysis would be a useful technique to evaluate any new commercial opportunity.

•    Project Updates – where management request a latest status report on ongoing projects.  This is primarily an information gathering exercise to keep management abreast of progress, issues and costs.  For instance, this may involve the installation of a new IT networking system or new machinery, in short any area that impacts upon the smooth running of the company.

•    Debriefing Reports – These reports provide a performance assessment of company activity.  This could reflect upon a marketing initiative or report on the results of company meetings – either internal or external.

In a moment you’ll see a mock debriefing report on the Mighty Word Marketing Proposal you’ve just read, to see how its outcomes are reported to management.

Writing these reports should keep within the theme of ‘Purpose–Clarity-Brevity’ where thought is given to communicating central pieces of information accurately and to the point. 

Think of report writing as an exercise in getting to the point quickly, providing essential information with supporting evidence and offering relevant insights to satisfy your readers.  Reports should be written objectively, giving the facts and with the minimum of personal opinion.  Your own take on events or outcomes can be included at the end of the report or you could create a ‘rationale’ section to explain or provide justification on any aspect.

Separate the written report from the supporting evidence.  Keep figures and charts as appendices.  However, be careful never to assume too much knowledge on behalf of your reader.  It’s far better to spend a few extra lines explaining a point rather than let your reader carry on in a fog of uncertainty.

View the following example as a structural guide. An actual debriefing report could have far more content – it is the section layout that’s important.  You don’t have to slavishly follow this layout.  You can think creatively and give further information to help the reader get mentally adjusted to your report.   Often the introduction section is used to set the scene so busy executives can quickly tune-in to your project.  To make it even easier you can detail the extent of the debrief using a subhead like “Scope of Report”.




Management Debriefing Report – Example

Mighty Word
Pre-Christmas Campaign
Management Debrief

1. Recap on Campaign Objectives – Terms of Reference

1.    To establish an online identity for Mighty Word Publishing
2.    To generate £100,000 of pre-Christmas online sales
3.    To raise awareness of our portfolio of writing talent






2. Management Summary – Campaign Performance

Achievements/Results

•    www.mightyword.com went online on 5th November with a fully
ecommerce package

•    Sales to the value of £90.000 were generated In the period from launch to the last posting date for Christmas

•    An additional sales revenue of £15,000 has been generated from post-Christmas redemptions of special 10% discount promotional vouchers, bringing a direct campaign income of £105,000

•    A post-campaign telephone research programme among consumers who had made purchases online revealed an increase in awareness of the Mighty Word portfolio authors

•    55% of consumers opted for the direct present mailing service with complimentary gift wrapping


Shortfalls/Issues:

1.    The one week delay in the website going online was caused by the late loading of content which impacted on sales performance.  This is directly responsible for the £15,000 shortfall in pre-Christmas sales.

2.    Complaints were received from both small independent booksellers and the main chains about our new online presence.  10 complaints were received in total.  The accusation was that Mighty Word, in selling direct to consumers, were taking away their sales.

3.    The campaign budget was overspent by £5,000 taking the campaign cost to £30,000.  This was partly caused by an underestimate of the online marketing costs - £2,000 and £3,000 extra for email marketing templates and ‘cleaning’ the list of email addresses.  However, the post-Christmas sales delivered an overall net-gain.

3. Campaign Summary

1.    Strategically the establishment of an online presence was overdue and will reap benefits in both increasing revenue and providing future promotional opportunities – see ‘Next Steps’ below.

2.    In future the website will include a ‘Directory of Stockists’ with contact numbers and email addresses to help overcome negative comments from existing stockists.


4. Next Steps – Future Marketing Action Plan

The website launch will create a total communication package of online and conventional offline marketing for Mighty Word.  The combination of these two elements will help to build business over the coming months by introducing themed events such as:

1.    January – New Year – New Talent – Introducing the work from our newest authors.
2.    February – Valentine’s Day Campaign – Focus on Romance – Authors & Titles
3.    March – Mother’s Day – Mighty Word selection of fiction titles.


5. Final Recommendation – ebook Downloads

It is recommended that a working party is set up to explore the income earning potential from ebook downloads.  This will give our customers the option to download digitally to their computers,
i-phones and the new handheld digital eBook readers.  


Debrief Report Ends
Report Writer’s Template

The Mighty Word debriefing report is designed to take you through a structural process and build a comprehensive report.  The following report template will help you prioritise and manage the flow of the presentation whether you’re writing a Commercial Evaluation, Project Update or Project debrief. 

Report Writer’s Template

Structural Elements    Preparation Notes
1.
Report Header

Title – Target Audience – Date

•    Be clear about who the report is aimed at
•    State date of writing and give any relevant campaign/proposal dates/action by Dates
2.
Background/Introduction/Contents

•    Be concise with background details to set the scene
•    You may like to open the report with a ‘key point’ review.

3.
Executive/Management Summary    •    Prioritise key points and communicate concisely
•    Lead with achievements/developments
•    Follow with any ‘issues’
•    Give a financial statement
•    Summarise outcomes
•    State supporting evidence
4. 
Report Criteria – Aims     •    Provide fuller details of report aims and achievements supported by charts & data


5.
Report Issues/difficulties    •    Detail issues and implications with an assessment of solutions
•    Provide sourced evidence to quantify issues/difficulties

6.
Recommendations & Financials    •    State recommendations and financial costs – input & output to indicate the projected net-gains
7.
Full Action Plan with Timing Schedule and    a final ‘Next Steps’ Summary    •    Prioritise key tasks by importance and urgency
•    Produce a timing plan and key date
Schedule.


3.  Letters

There are many types of letters.  Letters of complaint, ‘thank- you’ letters, letters for job applications, for accepting a job offer, for resignations and so on.  These tend to be of a functional nature.  The more difficult to write are letters of introduction to a new business prospect.  Here are some suggestions to help you get past the gatekeeper and on to the desk of the person you want to contact.  Many letters are screened and placed in the bin before the letter is even fully unfolded. These suggestions will improve your chances of success.

Letters of Introduction

Writing effective contact letters will gain business. In an email-dominated world of cyber static, the incisive use of a carefully researched, accurately targeted and well constructed letter has a better chance of cutting through, especially, if the purpose and benefits of the letter are clear and compelling.


Increase your chances of success

1.    Go for quality rather than quantity and tailor your message to a selection of chosen targets

2.    Do your research – find out about your target company, their market, their competitors and their issues

3.    Identify the correct person to contact – name, title, business responsibilities.  Try to gain extra insight into the character of the person you’re contacting.  Your target may have a business or social networking page – check it out

4.    Don’t assume the most senior person is the right person for that important first approach – find out who has the influence – it may be a tier lower than you’d expect

5.    Develop a proposal to generate business for your prospect – what benefit/s can you bring to the table?

6.    Think creatively about the nature of your communication – what will make you stand out in the morning mail?

7.    Don’t combine an introduction with a full-on sales pitch – take one step at a time and get the balance of the message right

8.    Use the letter as the opening gambit – as a means to gain a meeting or advance your cause in a positive way

9.    Always follow-up – via phone or email – don’t be nervous about making the first move.  Accept failure as the price for achieving success – keep going








How to Open & Close a Letter of Introduction – Ff or Ps?

‘Yours sincerely’ is the most widely used letter sign-off; but which is the correct term to use, ‘faithfully’ or ‘sincerely’?

Here are two memory hooks to help you remember the ‘correct’ opening and closing forms - Ff & Ps.
Ff
The first ‘F’ stands for formal.  If you’re writing using a title for instance ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ either to be businesslike or simply because you just don’t know the name of the person then the second ‘f’ is for faithfully.
Ps
On the other hand if you know the person’s name use ‘Ps’ as your reminder, ‘P’ stands for Person and ‘s’ for ‘sincerely’.





Example Letter of Introduction

Notice the text delivers the message crisply on a single page of A4.  The letter opens with the ‘point’ of arranging a meeting, goes on to explain the benefits, then closes with proposed action.

See next page for text:











Date:

Barnaby Wiggins
Business Development Manager
Wiggins Widgets
Widget House
24 Sleepy Hollow
Little Happening

Widgets and Gizmos Alliance Proposal

Dear Barnaby,

I’m writing to introduce my company, Universal Gizmos, and to request a meeting.  The aim will be to explore an alliance between our two companies for mutual benefit.

Wiggins Widgets have particular strengths in the design and marketing of innovative products for the children’s market.  Universal Gizmos has built a strong reputation for their range of products aimed at adults and have a new production facility.  An alliance would help us to break new ground in sales and marketing both at home and abroad with a united strategy.

I believe there’s a natural synergy between the quality and imagination of both our product ranges.  I enclose our latest Spring brochure and look forward to discussing the opportunities that lie ahead.

I will telephone you shortly to compare diaries and arrange a meeting.

If you’d like to get in touch as a result of this letter I can be reached on 0707 123 456

I look forward to meeting you
Yours sincerely
Guy Gizmo
Guy Gizmo
Business Development Manager – Universal Gizmos
Summary of Letter Writing Key Points

•    Guy had researched Barnaby’s name and title in order to speak to his correct opposite number – and having identified a person, he signed off using ‘Yours sincerely’.

•    Guy used just two first sentences to establish who was writing and what they wanted.  The closing lines repeat the request and action to be taken to arrange a meeting.

•    Guy immediately talks about the benefits of a commercial alliance.

•    By explaining his position simply and clearly, Guy added a clear purpose and improved his chances of being taken seriously.

•     Guy was not trying to sell anything.  He demonstrated his positive intentions by including the Spring brochure for information.

•    Notice that the last few sentences are not run together in paragraph form.  They have been written as separate statements to add emphasis.  The added benefit of separating these last lines makes your contact details easier to find and act upon by the recipient.

4. Emails

This purpose of this piece is to help you slice through spam filters and get your email message across.

Top Tips for Writing Effective Business Emails 

1.    Give as full a description as possible in ‘Subject’ section to state the purpose of the email and identify you as the sender of the email.

2.    Think about the person/s you’re sending to.  It’s easy to get so engrossed in writing the email content that you could overlook something which is inappropriate to someone on the address list.

3.    Don’t automatically click the ‘Reply All’ button – if you’ve received a response to an email it may be for your eyes only.

4.    If your email is the first time you’re contacting someone, adopt a traditional ‘letter’ text approach.  A formal approach shows respect.  A more informal style can follow for further exchanges.

5.    In case the recipient wants to print out your email to be filed, it can help to repeat to reinforce the email subject at the top of the message space along with the date of sending.  People are now asked to think about the environment before printing emails.

6.    Emails should be seen as confidential and private.  A legal note should be included to that effect along with a request to delete any email that has been wrongly received – (see email example below)

7.    Emails are read quickly – so get to the point swiftly and include any request for action in the first paragraph.  Use simple, clear language and a size of type that is easy to read.

8.    One subject for one email.  Avoid running different subjects together.  Separating subjects helps understanding in this fast moving environment.  New email, new subject heading.

9.    Some message systems show the first line of the text onscreen before it is opened. Make sure what you write is appropriate for your business.

10.Think about the problem of repeatedly replying to a received     email, adding new text to an original message. The original title     may no longer reflect the evolving message content and unless     you begin a fresh email the length will mean printing pages of     paper when you only want the latest exchange.
11.Use emails as a ‘cover’ note to any important or confidential     attachment. Emails are not suitable vehicles for transmitting     important company information or to detail reports or proposals. 

Example of Business Email Layout and Text

To:             This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  
cc:            This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Subject:    Guy Gizmo –  Widget & Gizmo Meeting Confirmation

12th November 2009
Confirmation of Widget & Gizmo Alliance Meeting
9.30am-12.00pm 14th December 2009.

Dear Barnaby,

A quick note to confirm our meeting at your offices on Monday 14th December at 9.30 am.
I will be accompanied by Peter P Nocchio -Head of our Wooden Toys Division.

We look forward to discussing our future plans.

Best regards
Guy Gizmo
Guy Gizmo
Business Development Manager – Universal Gizmos
Telephone: 0800 247 247  Mobile/Cell: 07084 127 234 Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 Please consider the environment before printing this email.
This e-mail may contain confidential and privileged information and is subject to copyright. If you are not the intended addressee please delete the message.  Please note that any distribution, copying or use of this information is prohibited.
If you have received this e-mail in error please inform us immediately by e-mail or telephone us on 0800 247 247 before completely deleting the message.


The ‘Poisoned Sandwich’ Email

Tom Evans, www.thebookwright.com reminded me about this technique.   A poisoned sandwich email is where bad news is sandwiched between two good bits of news.  For example:

Hi! Julian,

We cannot thank you enough for helping the sales team to smash this month’s target.
Your probationary period in sales is now over and unfortunately your position is surplus to requirements with the resultant 30 days notice.
However, should a position in sales become available you will have the opportunity to apply along with other applicants next year.

Merry Christmas

Ebenezer Scringe
Head of Finance
Take the Money & Run Ltd

5. Intranet Articles – Intranet vs. Internet

Writing rules vary between the Intranet and the Internet.  This is why.

The Intranet:

•    The Intranet is a closed-circuit communications media.  It is of interest to a particular group of people normally working for the same company with shared interests as co-workers

•    The Intranet is not a selling medium.  Its job is to inform, persuade and in some cases influence behaviour among its captive audience

•    The Intranet presupposes an interest and/or commitment to the information being released as the content could affect company and personal performance

•    The Intranet structure does not have a limited information width band.  It can be designed to reflect the workings of the company and feature the spoken word, sound & music recordings as well as video without transmission quality problems

The Internet

•    The Internet has the potential to attract a worldwide audience.  An audience without any assumed allegiance.  Estimates vary as to the length of time people stay on a site when they are in search mode.  The mouse is often clicked in less than 7 seconds to hasten the move to the next site.

•    The Internet is a competitive arena in sales and information with online marketing and SEO (search engine optimisation) going head to head to achieve the best rankings for their site owners.   A company intranet has no such concerns as it has its own captive audience.

Intranet Techniques & Styles

The Intranet is a private onscreen newsroom.  The style and content will be presented in the company image – probably following set brand communication guidelines.

Tips for Preparing & Writing for the Intranet 

1.    Use a size and typeface which is easily read on pc and laptop screens

2.    Adopt a scrolling mentality to page design and story writing – so a reader can continue to move their mouse to read down to absorb the news item without being diverted elsewhere

3.    Avoid clutter and provide a simple navigation guide with well signposted links to take you to associated/supporting information to the main article.

4.    Use headlines, subheads and straplines that telegraph the news point simply and easily.

5.    Use plain English and short sentences to develop a one-to-one personal relationship with an ‘approachable’ style that can be maintained over time.

6.    Use eye catching images and photographs with straplines describing who/what the visual images convey.

7.    Place the different page elements carefully – make sure the key tabs are visible on top of the page and the eye reads from top right to bottom left in a sweeping ‘S’ curve

8.    Use lists or drop down menus to show total content and help navigation

9.    Always check your facts and get someone else to proofread your piece.  Double-check any legal statements or political issues.

10.Before you start to write – immerse yourself in the story – gather     any supporting evidence and think of an interesting way to     present the item

11.Most importantly when you’re writing for the Intranet, search     for a personal story featuring your fellow colleagues and create a     distinctive welcoming tone-of-voice

12.If time allows, leave your first draft to return and rewrite later.      Nine times out of ten the article will be improved with a rewrite





6. Blogs

Crossing over from social to business media

The shrewd business person has two interconnected identities in social media and business networking.  As well as having a personal presence on the social networking sites, it’s an effective strategy to devote a separate profile page for your business life.  This is a valuable way to raise your own online business profile. Likewise researching business networking sites may reveal useful profile details about a potential business contact.  The background information listed online could give you an insight on the best approach to adopt when preparing a new business pitch.

What is a Blog?

The word ‘blog’ is short for ‘web log’.  Blogs are chronological postings of personal web diary entries, musings on life, of politics, of the human condition, in fact anything that you want to air.  Blogs share news, ideas and opinions. Writing a blog can turbo-charge your business website and become a fundamental part of your online marketing strategy by promoting your name and the company’s activities across the internet.

Action & Reaction

One of the most important features of a blog is the opportunity for readers to post replies directly underneath the original text.  Getting other people’s views and reactions to your post generates interest and attracts more people into your blogging circle of influence. When a blogger writes, it is an invitation for comment and feedback, to either challenge or support a point of view. 

The Benefits of a Business Blog

Content rich postings could be the mainstay of your viral marketing.  Freely sharing information and giving free advice to others in a worldwide community will establish your company as a trusted authority. Trust builds confidence. Confidence builds business.

The whole psychology of business is changing.  Your website and blogging activity is a continual advertisement for your company.  But be careful.  Overt selling is frowned upon in blogs.  A subtle approach based on ‘giving’ not receiving will produce solid results.  This may not happen overnight but it should happen if you are consistent.

Setting up a Business Blog

Blogging software produces an online interface that allows access to the internet either from a direct feed or from your website.  Blogs can also be hosted separately by specialist companies. You can download free software from companies like ‘Blogger’  www.blogger.com and ‘Wordpress’ http://wordpress.com

Blogging software creates a content management system (CMS).  The CMS allows the author to publish new posts, edit old ones and develop a personal template designed to create an individual identity.

Promote your Blog – Tag your Posts

Your business blog should not stand alone.  The invitation to catch-up on your latest blog should be present on your website and included in your email marketing campaign.

Tagging your posts, allows you to group together similar topics and stories.  This helps if someone wants to search for a particular subject in your blogging archive.  Someone searching could be that very someone who’d like to make use of your commercial services.  










7. Business ebooks – Total Communication Integration

The Interweaving of Communication Threads

In reaching this point, we’ve examined six out of the seven forms of business communication.  Each have heir own merits and applications but don’t think of them as six separate communication streams.  The six channels could all project the same image and style, representing your company as a cohesive entity. 

Hold that thought.  Now open your mind to another possibility; a seventh way to promote your business and its products in a fully integrated digital format: the ebook.


In preparation for writing this piece, I interviewed Sy Whitehall, Managing Director of www.myebook.com.

This short Q&A is the result.
Q:
The concept of the ebook is a new development in online communications.
What would you say are the main benefits to business?
A:
The ebook affords us the ability to operate in a much more direct approach towards our audience, target market, reader or potential client and get information in front of them like never before. It is the compilation of this content and the media within that got my attention. The term ebook has arrived into our every day vocabulary as rapidly as the term CD did in the early 80’s with the digitization of music. Essentially it is the same digitization for books as it was for music. The difference and a big difference is that these digitized books are capable of including many different forms of media.


Q:
How could a business optimise the use of an ebook?
A:
You now have the ability to include audio, video, text, animation and a host of other assets to convey your message to your audience in a way never before possible. We all understand the principle of the book. You start at one end and read to the other taking in the information as you go. This is exactly the same principle with the ebook. You place the content inside your ebook in the order in which you wish to impart it to your reader.

An ebook is a far more succinct and logical way of delivering your content. If people follow the theory of reading a book, they will have had the information imparted to them in the way you wanted them to receive it.

In business, we have to look long and hard at how we continue to deliver content and ebooks are certainly one of the most viable options.


Q:
Some people may think that creating an ebook is complex and expensive – is it?
A:
The ebook system I have been involved in developing for the last few years. It’s free and allows total control of the content within. You can restrict access and only let the people you wish to read it gain access. The integration of myebook into your current site and social systems allows you to get your word out easier and quicker than ever before.









Q:  How do you go about publishing an ebook?
A:
We’ve tried to make the whole process as simple as possible.  Go on to www.myebook.com and you’ll be able to take a tour around the site which explains the steps you need to take.  Just register and within minutes you can upload a pdf of your content and publish it on the internet.  Before your ebook goes live you can decide if you want to restrict the readership.  If you need help to create a book from scratch or want to add more media assets you can follow the ‘Build a Book’ instructions.

Promoting your Business Message

Another benefit of including ebooks into your communications strategy is that you can cut and paste your ebook URL and send it electronically to contacts and customers.

A practical way of using ebooks would be to promote new products.  For example, if you were launching a new cookery ebook, it could include sound and vision, like a mini television programme to explain and demonstrate recipes via your laptop in the kitchen.  By including an extra introductory piece is could also be used as a way to brief your sales teams.  As access can be restricted, the ebook could give company briefings, similar to video conferencing on a worldwide basis if desired.













Section 3 Summary

A New Reality

Writing for business today is an exhilarating challenge.  It is still important to master the basic communication skills of report writing and conventional techniques while embracing the interactivity of new media.  It’s no longer enough to think along ‘straight lines’.  Establishing and maintaining a presence on social and business networking pages and understanding the vital inter-connectivity of these criss-crossing strands of communication is the new reality. 

The myriad of choices we now enjoy reflect a paradigm shift in the way people think.
In business the expectation is to build commercial relationships and trust through sharing and co-operation. This underscores the need to develop personal skills in communication, even if you only meet your opposite number electronically, people still ‘buy’ people – so the more fluent you become the greater the returns.   

Section 3 Key Point Recap - Craft The Message to Suit the Media

•    Use the Writer’s templates to help shape your thinking and structure your arguments

•    Create new templates to suit documents you use most often

•    Ask a colleague to proofread your work – and play ‘Devil’s Advocate’ to question your preparation

•    Try to take a break after completing your first draft.  ‘Writing is re-writing’ is a phrase used in this context.  You’ll usually find a way to improve when you look afresh at a piece

•    Get to the point without appearing sharp or abrupt. This is especially the case when drafting emails that can be taken-the-wrong-way by the recipient


Section 4 – Punctuation, Spelling & Grammar

1. Punctuation & Spelling

A  Working Guide

This section is designed to dispel the dark arts of punctuation and hopefully guard against over reliance on spell check. The English language is constantly evolving.  Writers often use punctuation as an integral part of creative expression, for example switching to capital letters when someone is ‘shouting’.  This may not be grammatically correct but it certainly livens up the word on the page.

This section on punctuation is designed for more conventional usage.  This means that we’ll primarily concentrate on punctuation and words commonly used in business whether you ‘favour or favor’ UK or USA English.

The UK to USA spelling differences crop up mainly in words ending in IZE in USA English, that convert to ISE in UK English.  For example ‘prioritise’ and ‘prioritize’ or ‘nationalise and nationalize’.  Also the letter ‘U’ is included in many UK English words but is omitted in USA English, for example ‘humour/humor’, ‘colour/color’ ‘valour/valor’. 

Punctuation Marks Decoded

The Full-Stop, Full-Point or Period

•    At the end of sentences:
The single dot of a full-stop marks the end of a sentence that     doesn’t end in an exclamation mark or question mark.  The     point     at the bottom of these marks is the full stop that     triggers an     automatic capital letter in the next line when you’re using a     personal computer.



•    As 3 dots:
When you see three full stops together it means the reader is     expected to complete the flow of text in their head, or that     the writer has deliberately left a thought hanging for the reader     to complete.

‘The handcuffs snapped shut, the prisoner was dragged away     never to return. With a backward sneer of undiluted venomous     hatred Paul knew he could never count on it…’

•    Time:
am and pm – no full-points for a modern look and no spaces –     3am, 9pm

•    As one word sentences:
“Halt!”  “Stop!”  “No.”  “Goodbye.”

Notice the full point is directly after the word and ‘inside’ the speech marks.  The use of the exclamation mark reinforces a command but has the same punctuation effect. When writing documents it’s a good idea to vary the length of sentences and often the abrupt use of just one word adds drama.

The Comma

Commas are staging points in a sentence.  They allow the reader to take a heartbeat pause when faced with a long block of text, but they can also be used to add emphasis and stress to a piece. Commas can help to organise chunks of text into logical blo

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