Updated: Dec 6, 2019
I used to teach English at a school, and in one of the writing books that we used, it described how in different cultures, people present information in different ways.
I had never thought of this before!
Now, the book definitely used generalizations, but even so, there was truth in what it said.
For example, in some cultures, the writer will reiterate his or her point again and again throughout the essay or story. In other cultures, the writer doesn’t directly tell you what the essay will be about; instead he or she drops clues throughout the piece.
In America, with most writing (such as emails, business documents, etc.) we tend to be direct.
I want to talk about one way to create a direct written communication that might work for you.
There’s a popular expression right now called reverse engineering. It means to start your project (i.e. your email, your essay, your presentation) with your goal in mind, and then ask yourself:
What steps do I need to take to reach this goal?
We can use this idea when producing effective communication. Here’s how it works. I’ll use writing an effective business email as an example.
1. What’s the specific goal of this email?
In other words, what do you want your reader to specifically do after he or she finishes reading it. This is sometimes called a “call to action.”
Here are some possible outcomes:
You want your reader to make a decision.
You want your reader to simply feel more informed about a situation.
You need an answer or a solution to a problem.
There are numerous goals you might have; these are just examples. Now that you have defined your goal...
2. What does my reader need to know in order for this goal to be reached?
Brainstorm a list of everything that your reader needs to know in order to reach your call to action and respond accordingly. Focus on the most important items. Here are some things they might need to know:
Maybe they need to know the specific features of a product or service.
Maybe they need to be aware of a process that they need to follow.
Maybe they need information like a deadline.
Maybe they need to be directed to a person or resources.
3. What is the most direct and logical way to explain this information?
Effective communication occurs when the writer leads the reader comfortably through the information,and the reader doesn't have to stop and question something they just read. Here are some ways to make that happen:
Sometimes short paragraphs work well in an email if you need to describe a problem or situation (but remember, we tend to scan emails and articles for key information).
Bullet points work well to deliver “bite-sized” pieces of information.
If you’re describing a process, number the steps so it’s clear to your reader that there is a specific order that must be followed.
4. What is a clear and direct opening sentence that would encourage the reader to read until the end?
We started with our goal in mind, we delivered our information, and now we are at the beginning. Be straightforward and let your reader know immediately what is expected of them. For example:
I need your help to….
We have a process that is designed to help you. It is outlined here…
I have a problem and need your help developing a solution...
All to often, we just start writing emails, hoping that we get our point across. This can lead to a written communication that lacks focus and is ineffective. If you think of emails with the goal in mind, it increases the chances that your reader will respond in the way that you would like.
Additional Resources on Communication: