Step-by-step guide to better business writing
Who is your ideal reader?
The person I most want to connect with is
- Pains I can relieve
- Problems I can solve
- Passions I can tap into
- Joys I can increase
- What gets him out of bed in the morning?
- What keeps her up at night?
- Words my ideal reader would use
- Words I use that my ideal reader might not understand
How do I want my ideal reader to
My ideal reader is most responsive to
- All or some of the above
What subconscious motives drive my ideal reader?
What gets her up in the morning?
What keeps him up at night?
Draw a picture or grab a photo and tape it to your monitor.
Give your ideal reader a name. Draft a Facebook-like profile.
Whatever works for you.
What’s your personality?
How will you convey it?
What’s the personality of the person or organization you’re writing for?
How will you convey that?
What gets her up in the morning?
What keeps him up at night?
What is your point?
1. In as few words as possible, write the main point you want your reader to get and remember.
2. Shorten. Eliminate unnecessary words. Reorganize words so you can cover more than one thought under the same umbrella of words.
3. Connect your main point to your ideal reader and objectives.
Here’s an example.
Draft 1, 29 words
To further the patient’s journey, a holistic range of treatment modalities will be directed towards positive outcomes for a complex array of co-morbidities, including ambulation deficits and psychiatric impairments.
Draft 2, 15 words
To help the patient, various treatments will be tried for different physical and mental health problems.
Draft 3, 21 words
You won’t need to worry when your parent returns home, because we’ll have investigated and treated probable health problems.
How will you support your point?
Pick the structure that works best to support your main point. This is the road map you will follow when you write.
What subheads and other organizational frameworks will you use?
What do readers need before they can begin?
What are the steps they must follow?
What should the result be?
What else can you use to help, e.g. pictures, video links?
What are your three most important tips?
What are the emotions you need to plug into?
Which pains can you relieve?
What problems can you solve?
Do you have a compelling story?
Are you arguing from a general rule to a specific outcome?
Are you arguing from a specific outcome to a general rule?
Can you establish a causal connection?
How do you back up your claims?
What noble aspirations do we share?
How can we help a larger group or even the world?
If you are combining more than one structure, how are you doing it?
Write your title and first paragraph, using as many drafts as you need to reach that sweet spot of information and interest.
Now revise them to create a more interesting, memorable conversation.
Don’t worry about what your boss, your prospect or your high school English teacher would think. Don’t run away from thoughts you’d be embarrassed to say out loud. This is for your eyes only.
Read it out loud to your goldfish or a very patient colleague. Keep revising and talking until you feel you have struck up a conversation.
How to write like you talk
Think about what works for you in conversation. Use these to spice up your intro.
I love talking to people who
- Use words I understand
- Use colorful expressions
- Consider my interests
- Ask for my opinion, answer or other feedback frequently
- Make lots of references to me
- Mention celebrities, politicians, historic figures and other people we all know
- Tell stories that I can relate to, often funny, exciting or touching ones
- Are easy to follow
- Respect my feelings, values and beliefs
- Provide new or different information and perspectives
- Have clear ideas
- Paint vivid pictures
- Reveal themselves
- Speak with pleasing rhythm and pacing
- Are dramatic
- Aren’t afraid to be controversial, argumentative or outrageous
- Make me laugh
Any more you can think of? If any just aren’t you, then delete them.
Turn off your email, Twitter and other distractions.
Tape your picture of your ideal reader to your monitor.
Paste your intro here.
Expand on your intro, while pretending to talk to your ideal reader.
If you need to, paste your most important research notes at the end.
Don’t worry about fixing anything. You can catch it on the return trip.
Enjoy the ride.
End with a bang
Offered a sense of completion
Reinforced the benefits
Provided a specific call to action
Left them wanting more
Can you aid your readers’ memory in any of these ways?
- Repeating your main point, but not too often
- A message that’s clear, relevant, valuable to the reader
- A narrow focus, with fewer than five things to remember, ideally only one
- Organizing the information by numbers, problem-solution, geographic regions, chronological order or other framework
- Visuals that will prompt the reader to remember later on
- Subheads, bolded text and other type visuals
- Experiences or feelings that you and your ideal reader shares
- Catchy phrases
- Similes, metaphors or analogies
- Comparisons and contrasts
- First or last on a short list
- Special or extraordinary
- Repetition with a twist
- Capitalizing on what’s memorable about you
- Questions, commands and other conversational techniques
1. Have you deleted all redundant or otherwise unnecessary
2. Have you changed or deleted any words specific to your world
that your readers might not understand?
3. Have you replaced fuzzy phrases with precise words?
4. Have you eliminated as many “that”s as you can?
5. By how much have you reduced your word count?
6. Can you shorten some more?
Paste all your sentences and phrases that aren’t in the perfect spot
here. Try moving them to better places or delete.
Write logical subheads, or idea buckets. Paste sentences that belong in
them. Does this sharpen your clarity? If so, revise accordingly.
Review your plan
Review your worksheets about your ideal reader, you or the personality you represent, your main point and how to best structure it.
Will your ideal reader, and like-minded people, understand you?
Has your image of your ideal reader evolved or changed as you have
written? If so, do you need to revise to reflect that?
Have you touched your ideal reader emotionally or on a
subconscious level, for example the desire to look good in front of
Will your ideal reader have read, remembered and be primed to
respond to what you have written?
Will your ideal reader be likely to think, feel or act the way you
want? Can you do more?
In addition to your ideal reader, who else will be reading what you’ve written?
Have you included their motivations and benefits?
Have you used terms they will understand?
Have you provided enough context and other information to ensure they get you?
Should you follow grammar and punctuation rules or other concerns that matter deeply to them?
Does your main point come across clearly?
Have you stated it in the introduction, expanded on it in the body
and linked it to a call to action in the conclusion?
Can you compose a tweet or other short summary based on your
Did your structure succeed in accomplishing its objective? For
example, did you leave your reader with steps they can follow and
refer back to? Or did you inspire them?
If not, go back and see if you need to improve or change your
structure. Don’t feel bad if you need to revise here. It’s like taking
your return trip on the much better route you discovered.
Does what you have written make sense? Are there holes you need
to fill? Proof you need to provide?
1. Confusing possessives with contractions
Did you use its as a possessive and it’s for it is?
Did you use your as a possessive and and you’re for you are?
Did you use their as a possessive and they’re for they are?
2. Other sound-alikes
Did you confuse hear with here or heal with heel or other sound-alikes?
3. Me, myself and I
Were you correct, as in x and I took a walk
He went to the store with me and x.
I did it myself?
4. That, which, who
Did you refer to things as that and people as who?
Did you use which only when I meant which one or in the sense of which witch is which?
Did you use they to refer to a singular subject because your readers aren’t fussy about grammar?
Or did you change the subject to a plural or alternate he or she because they are grammar sticklers?
1. Is each of your commas helpful to readers? Have you left out any that could help them?
2. Can you get rid of quotation marks around words that aren’t direct quotes and still have the reader understand you? If not, is there another word or phrase you can substitute?
3. Have you used semi-colons only as super commas or to link two short thoughts? Can you replace some semi-colons with commas or start a new sentence instead?
4. Is each and every exclamation point really necessary? If you can use an exclamation point only once, where’s the best place?
5. Have you used apostrophes correctly with possessives andcontractions? Can you eliminate apostrophes used with numbers, letters or other plurals?
6. Does your page look cluttered by punctuation?
7. Will all your punctuation marks help your ideal readerunderstand?
Caps, style, numbers and other pesky details
Have you applied capital letters consistently?
Have you over-capitalized?
Have you written as I to you?
Have you rounded off numbers?
Have you provided context for your numbers and used metaphors
that mean something to your ideal reader?
Are your sentences and paragraphs as short as can be?
Is most of your copy toward the left side of the screen?
Have you used a picky proofreader? If not, have you taken the timeto print and check thoroughly?
Does it open with a conflict and hero your ideal reader can relate to?
Does it set up, build and deliver your point?
Could your story be shorter without losing impact?
Is it believable?
Is it based on conflict, problems and obstacles?
Can your readers unite against your villain or at least relate to enough conflict to move the story along?
Have you selected the best details to develop the characters, advance the plot and make your point?
Have you made your point clearly and compellingly?