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Enacting an Executive Tone and Presence

usiness writing is an interactive exercise: Writers and readers work togetheraccomplishing tasks, achieving goals, direct-

ing othersthrough various business communications. A successful business writer must recognize that the effectiveness of his or her message depends as much on the information within the document as on the impression the reader has of that documents author. Likability might sound silly as a key component of effective business writing, and credibility too lofty for the slews of emails and everyday documents we produce, but along that range rests the key consideration: character. Im intentionally using character for the words dual meaning: in the sense of the actual ink marks on a page and in the sense of the person who conceived of those marks in the first place because each impacts the other. How we writeconsidering issues of word choice, mechanics, tone, organization, layout, and designimpacts the effectiveness of what we say. In business writing, how you come across as a person can be equally, if not more, important than what you write.

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Written documents act as messengers between writer and readers, but they do so without any of the flexibility and responsiveness of interpersonal interactions. If were speaking to someone, we can perceive how were coming across (both in terms of clarity and character) as we go, and we can therefore react and revise on the fly. But once we finish and transmit a business document, it is forever in the ether. You cant change it or fix it. This is a critical point because we must always remember that writing lasts. Nearly all writing outlasts the original context: Reports and memoranda rest in file drawers or email servers or hard drives well beyond their immediate needs. Readers and writers reference, review, and reuse existing documents all the time. Emails or other electronic information that we assume are gone remain long after we hit the delete key. Therefore, the success of our business documents, emails, presentations, and so on rests entirely on the words on the page and on the readers reactions. The range of possible reactions is vast, and identifying all possibilitiessatisfying all readersis a very tall order. We should never assume that weve thought of everythingeven the best writers cannot predict all responses across all audiencesbut we can make certain best guesses. We can craft business writing and communication that represents ourselves and our company well, with writing that gives our readers the information they need as clearly and immediately as possible.

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Agent and avatar: You are your companys driving force and representative Setting the tone for your audience Setting the tone at the word level Setting the tone at the idea level

CEO: Conciseness, emphasis, and organization BLOT: Get your bottom line out on top

Your goal in business writing should be to accomplish each task with an approach and tone that both gets the job done and reflects well on you and the organization.

Agent and Avatar: You Are Your Companys Driving Force and Representative
In business, each of us acts as both agent (responsible party, instigator, investigator, operator) and avatar (representative of the company, part of the companys public image). We know that a companys chief representatives can sometimes project a negative image. But we need not look only to scandalous situations. Consider any of the following correlations: Steve Jobs and Apple Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. Bill Gates and Microsoft

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Jack Welch and General Electric (GE) Richard Branson and the Virgin Group

In each of these instances, the individuals act as mirrors of the institutions: We understand or appreciate one as a by-product of the other; the success or failure of the whole seems due, in no small measure, to the actions of the individual. Because of the nature of these people and their positions, we see these relationships in broad strokes and grand scale: press conferences, media events, industry-impacting activities. All of these people worked hard to achieve their status, and little if any of their public personas currently revolve around writing. But all of them reached that point because they excelled in the day-to-day particulars of their industry. The people above act as both agents and avatars of their organizationsthey represent their companies even as they work within them. Who they are and what they do depend almost entirely upon each other. Now scale that dynamic down to the level of individual communications, to the kinds of business writing we do every day: An email to a friend or colleague across the hall An application for research funding or admission to business school A contribution to a globally distributed annual report or a popular blog Another deck of presentation slides Any of the myriad writings in between, to higher-ups or direct-reports (people who report directly to you)

If we view these tasks as tedious chores, activities simply to do and then dismiss, we overlook their potential. At work, what we do and who we are overlap as much as they do for the famous figures above, just on a different scalethey simply have a wider audience. This chapter covers the various strategies for presenting

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an executive tone and presence, so wherever you are on the corporate ladderanxiously eyeing the first rung or moving much more quickly up near the topthe writing you create and disseminate will reflect the professional person you want others to perceive you to be.


Old-time orators like news criers, door-to-door salesmen, and your general merchants hawking their wares all faced challenges: Grabbing peoples attention Making their points to the audience quickly and coherently Neither exhausting themselves nor their audience with too much flash and magic

Being engaging, accommodating, and interestingall in quickly manageable dosesseparated successful from unsuccessful orators. These skills are essential in business writing as well. Our world has many communication technologies that rely on writing but are managed more like speech (text messages, chat, email in many cases). Add to that mix the fact that nearly all of us in business face what seems like reams of printed communication, documentation, and information every day, and the notion of standing out from the crowd becomes desirable. Therefore, the first rule of effective business writingKnow Your Audienceclearly has an important relationship with presenting the right tone. Coworkers tend to judge managers and executives on five key factors: Decisiveness Clarity Efficiency Approachability Fairness

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Satisfying these criteria interpersonally is a tall challenge like pleasing all of the people all of the time. But effective business writers embrace these criteria and realize the impact their writing has on these judgments, as well as on overall productivity and time management. For example, lets take a close look at clarity and efficiency. If you write with exceedingly lofty language and complex constructions, youll face five probable outcomes, as described in the following chart.

Probable Outcomes of Writing with Lofty Language or Complex Constructions Outcome 1: Confusion Outcome 2: Failure Outcome 3: Wasted Time Your readers understand your message, but wonder why you couldnt have come more quickly or cleanly to your point. Your readers become confused or aggravated, and they stop reading and think nothing more of it. Your readers take extra time to determine what you want, and then blame you or your message for their falling behind. Your readers become so confused, aggravated, or distracted that they judge your document (and you) in a negative way and express their disapproval to you, your coworkers, or your supervisor. Your readers experience a combination of any of the previous four outcomes.

Outcome 4: Resentment

Outcome 5: A 1-2-3-4 Punch

Avoid these negative outcomes at all costs. Youll look good and youll get the job done (which will make you look even better). Give your readers what they need: clearly, early, obviously, and in a form they are familiar with. Do so and youll come across as credible, effective, and professional.

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Early in the 20th century, poets T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound conceived between them the notion that language faced many affronts to its integrity and was slowly dissolving into something more base and corrupt: the everyday language that regular folks used. The poets job, they said, was to purify the language of the tribe, to save language from becoming debased. Some business writing experts picked up on this theme and proposed, erroneously, that successful business writing depended in part on the following: Understanding and perpetuating the language of the work tribe: the lingo, jargon, tone, and terminology that are particular to the office, industry, or organization in which youre working. Using the language of the tribe as a kind of filter, to distinguish those with the expertise from those without.

These assumptions are flawed. Weve come to realize that such thinking is not only impolite but also counterproductive. Imagine the frustration you might feel trying to decipher all of your local tax or zoning codes without the appropriate expertise, or the irritation you feel when someone at work spouts off a seemingly endless series of TLAs (a joking acronym for three-letter acronyms). This can cloud, not clarify, a message. Perpetuating work tribe language might have made sense several years ago when business faced less diverse competition and operated more locally, with less complexity and on a smaller scale. Todays fast-paced, globally oriented, technologically driven business world requires different handling of language and communication: Todays business writers still need to stand out from the crowd, but we need to do so while speaking clearly and directly to that crowd. Effective contemporary business writers need to focus less on creating tribes that speak only to one another, and more on acting as successful orators in a crowded town center. What

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follows are word-choice options you can apply to your daily writing that will set the right tone.

Avoid -ists and -isms.

All of us know how to recognize and avoid obvious slurs and insults in our writing, but in these days of heightened sensitivity and political correctness, a whole range of words or phrases that reflect distinction are potentially problematic. The key here is to consider the impact of each descriptive word you use (adjective, classification, demographic label) and to balance maximum clarity with minimal (ideally zero) potential insult. Avoid words or phrases that are sexist, racist, or in any way biased against any specific groups.

Avoid clichs.
Clichs are quick, cutesy catchphrases that are more interesting sounding than they are informative. Business culture overflows with such phrases. Many people consider using business clichs as an effective strategy (demonstrating mastery of the lingo, the language of the work tribe), but we are targeting conciseness, clarity, and a kind of timeless credibility that clichs do not support. These clichs may have some value in oral/interpersonal communication (to foster interest, engagement, contemporary coolness), but clichs have no set place in business writing: At best, clichs are less clear than alternatives; at worst, the writing outlasts the clichs popularity, and your writing ends up seeming outdated, vague, or silly.

Avoid jargon.
The term jargon can refer to words, phrases, and abstractions, in addition to clichs and acronyms. Unclear jargon presents probably the single biggest obstacle to clear understanding in business writing, because jargon often combines unrelated slang and other verbal shortcuts.

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Also, meaning, value, and usage can vary widely, even within similar industries or organization units. Therefore, jargon not only separates experts from nonexperts, but it also splits experts from all otherseven potential or blooming experts. Building obstacles (verbal or otherwise) for new clients, customers, talent, and labor forces makes for bad business. Confusion of any kind distracts from the work.

Avoid squishy (weak, vague) words.

Avoid words that are squishy because they infuse questionable emotional value; but also avoid words that imply that you are uncertain, ill prepared, uniformed, or incomplete. Consider the following examples.

Cut useless introductions.

Cut the words and phrases that serve only to warm up to your point or approach. The phrase that most makes me laugh is As you already know at the beginning of a sentence. If your audience already knows what youre about to tell them, why are you wasting your time and theirs to tell them again? You could argue that phrases like According to the experts or After crunching all the numbers serve to boost a writers credibility. I would counter that if your assertions are sound and your recommendations solid, business readers will understand that youve done the research and number crunching, so there is no need for these kinds of justification phrases. If your assertions are flawed and your recommendations unreasonable, blaming the research or the numbers will not help you.

Some business writers swear that contractions are inappropriate; others swear that contractions are entirely appropriate, even preferable. The debate may seem a bit silly, but Id bet we all know

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people who stand firm on one side or the other. Both groups focus on the same issues: clarity, credibility, connection with the audience. But neither simple answer is correct. Effective business writers realize that the real value of contractions depends on all of the following: Who your audience is What youre writing How you want to sound in your writing Which word (contraction or any word) will most clearly convey your meaning

As you consider the specific message youre writing and the audience youre addressing, consider the choice: If you want to sound casual and conversational, use contractions. If you want to sound serious or somber, dont use contractions. Understand and assess your options, and then make the choice that works best for your audience, message, and voice.

Spell out abbreviations, at first and after a while.

When you use an abbreviation, spell out the full word the first time. In longer documents, when you return to the abbreviation after a relative while, spell out the word again. A common and effective method for handling abbreviations and their long forms (including abbreviated phrases, acronyms, and tab-access information like form names) involves parentheses. Examples include the following: SEC (the Securities and Exchange Commission) NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) Sitrep (situation report) I-99 (a form on which new employees indicate their tax status)

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Indicating the full form alongside the first use of an abbreviation allows an effective business writer to accommodate both the expert audience (readers who immediately understand the abbreviation will effortlessly gloss over the parentheses) and the lessinformed audience (readers who do not understand the abbreviation have immediate access to the long form or explanation within the parentheses). Parentheses work wonders because most readers understand that parentheses indicate relevant but nonessential information. There are many common missteps in business writing associated with abbreviations. Here are some recommendations on how to avoid them: Dont bother with double duty for numbers: Some industries require the handling of numbers as both words and numerals: We loaded three (3) pallets of material onto the truck. Most industries and organizations do not. Either the word or the number will do the job. Both together simply clutter the page. Consider the number versus word choice as a visual issue. Numbers are easier to spot in text, so a reader is more likely to see $10,000 than ten thousand dollars as they scan a page. If you cant easily expand the abbreviation, dont use the abbreviation: If the long form of the phrase is too long or confusing, your writing will be stronger if you rethink your entire approach. CINCPAC: Seasoned military personnel will immediately grasp the acronym to mean Commander in Chief, Pacific. New recruits could use an explanation in parentheses. But civilians would best understand a different phrase altogether: the commander of the entire Pacific fleet. Similar situations abound in business.

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Target eighth grade.

Many people misunderstand this business-typical guideline: Effective business writers generally target an audience with an eighth-grade reading level. That target generates language choices that nearly all business readers can easily absorb and understand. Business writers target the best aspects of typical eighth graders (nearly full literacy, openness, energy, initiative) and provide appropriate strategies (clear instruction, appropriate context and value, easy access points). Even Ph.D.s and CEOs benefit from these strategies:
Understanding the Target an Eighth Grader Guideline Do Not Undervalue Eighth Graders Eighth graders are not dropouts or delinquents. Do not assume your reader is Ignorant Do See the Eighth Grader Challenge Eighth graders are full of potential and energy. Do target a reader who is Interested but impatient

Unable to act or understand Motivated but needing instruction Easily distracted Superficial Lazy Focused mostly on the present Open to new ideas with clear value Questioning of authority


Leaders act decisively and confidently. They consider options, make informed decisions, and support and accept the outcomes. These are our idea-level targets for strong tone in business writing.

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The key to succeeding along all of the lines Ive outlined below involves audience: Follow these recommendations, but from your audiences point of view. You might see a public accusation of failure as positive. Your target would not. You might see blowing off some steam or distancing yourself from blame and responsibility as a strong approach. Your direct-reports would not. Many offices, organizations, and industries operate collectively. Effective business writers understand the value of the team dynamic, and they balance considerations of the team, the message, the audience, and the context. Effective business writers consider three essential team dynamics, in the following order: 1. Act as an equal member of the team: All of these guidelines privilege exactly the dynamics that have grown in American (and other) business models since the late 1970s and early 1980s: the notion of synergy, that we can accomplish more together than the bunch of us can accomplish working individually. 2. Take one for the team: Mistakes happen, and mistakes can be costly in more than financial terms. As you consider how you will commit details to print, realize that you have two priorities: a) Fix the mistake or address the consequences, and b) demonstrate your character and leadership. 3. Position yourself as team leader: Most teams have leaders, but the most productive teams choose or recognize that leader collectively. If you choose to assert your own authority without team support, remember that the lines of distinction between leader and show-off or sellout are fine lines, easy to overstep. Problems come and go. Reactions and responses to problems linger. People who react well will last and advance. Use the following strategies to improve your chances in the long term and to be clear, concise, and credible in the short term.

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Avoid humor.
Humor rarely carries well through business writing. When we tell a joke to someone facing us, we perceive dozens of subtle signs of interest and understanding from our audience, and we can enhance the wit or humor of our words by projecting similar signals as we speak. Business writing lacks both the interactivity and the subtle signals necessary to convey humor effectively. Here is a list of some options people sometimes use to convey emotion in writing. As you review the list below, ask yourself three questions: 1. How appropriate are these signals or their sentiments in business? 2. How many of these signals can you stand before they start to irritate rather than inform? 3. How often do you see these strategies at work? Emoticons: Those typed characters that represent emotion. Examples include : ( for sadness, : ) for happiness, ; o for shock or wry humor. Emotinyms: Abbreviations or acronyms designed to convey emotions. Examples include JK for just kidding, UC? for you see? (as in do you understand?), ROTFLMAO for rolling on the floor laughing my assets off, and the doubleduty LOL which signals, depending on the context, laughing out loud or lots of love. Exclamatory excess: Strings of punctuation marks in an attempt to convey emotion. Examples include ??????? or !!!!!!!! or . . . . . . or -------- or *******.

Avoid sarcasm.
Sarcasm differs from humor in that humor can be funny at no ones expense. Sarcasm blends humor and insult, or humor and

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offense. People often confuse irony (which means communicating the opposite of what you mean) with sarcasm, which means irony + insult (saying the opposite of what you mean in order to hurt someones feelings). Neither humor nor sarcasm has a place in business writing: Humor can fall flat, and worse, sarcasm can sting; both can lead to larger problems. Business writing operates with a specific audience in mind, and offending that audience should never be our goal. Many people, business professionals and others, let their emotions overwhelm their sensible responses. We all face pressures at workunreasonable bosses, unrealistic demands, strangling time constraints, insufficient resourcesand too many of us refuse to stand up and voice our concerns clearly (in writing or in person). So we resort to sarcasm or sarcasms ugly sibling, passive aggression. Do not succumb. Effective executives did not reach their positions by keeping their opinions to themselves or by clouding their opinions in ambiguous phrases. Be clear and constructive in order to get ahead. Also consider litigation or review. If you email a colleague who works under you the message Great job!!!!! with every intention of conveying the opposite meaning, youve not only been insulting and irritating, but youve committed your sarcasm to print. When that employee complains to a superior (or to a governing board, review panel, or regulatory agency), there are two likely outcomes: 1. You, as the supervisor who wrote those words, come off looking petty. 2. You have given your subordinate phrases that could read as praise. Neither outcome will serve your career advancement goals. Be clear and keep your cool.

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Accept blame.
Business writers become the voice of the team and its particular business situation because their words are the ones that remain when the dust has settled. Effective business writers realize that spreading blame or otherwise obscuring negative consequences often requires more words and ambiguity, irritates others, and causes the writer to come off as defensive or insecure. Accept blame along with your team or in place of your team. You might face some immediate logistical obstacles, but no one will doubt your character and credibility.

Look forward, not back.

Missteps, mistakes, and outright failures can be costly in terms of time, money, credibility, and other consequences. But we should remember that very few people set out to fail. Learning from past mistakes, cleaning up present messes, and anticipating future problems all involve actionable items. Effective business writers see the value of looking ahead: outlining new ideas, establishing new processes, mandating changes, encouraging interaction and innovation, and creating motivations for moving forward. First, specify the agent and the action, and then add essential contextual information as needed. Your writing will be tight, clear, and direct as a result.

Chart a course.
Effective business writers look for the segments of a larger whole. Business readers are short on time, so successful business writers write in quick, informative, easy-to-manage, and easy-to-access blocks of information, and they mark their progress as they go. Outline specific steps and stages, whether your business writing is an observation or a recommendation. Business readers need structure in order to access and understand information; effective business writers see organization on the whole and as an

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interconnected series of points. Begin with the news and emphasize action, and then move methodically and clearly through supporting information.

Subordinate background information.

Consider the past as a complement to the present and future: Include background information, but sparingly, and only after acknowledging whats going on now and whats coming in the future. Many documents require background information, but some do not. Few require that the background information take priority over the forward-looking recommendations or observations sections. Give your audience what that audience needs, with preference to forward-looking actionable items.

Be open-minded, not open-ended.

The actual act of business writing is sometimes collaborative, often individual; effective business writers convey information without closing doors to other peoples ideas. The business writer is the voice of the business situation, but effective business writers know not to drown out other voices. During the writing process, solicit feedback and response. Gather others ideas and insights, and incorporate them as fairly and fully as space and good sense will allow. Then finish the job: Decide between essential and extraneous information, and make the best case possible for the topic at hand. Never position yourself as offering the only assessment or option. Even after those involved have accepted the final result, they can still respond negatively against the writer or organization if those involved felt left out of the process. Plus, a colleague needs only to find a single exception or alternative to destroy the position you builtand your credibility along the way. Effective business writers involve and acknowledge their specific audiences, both to solicit valuable insights and to provide positive public relations. They pitch phrases like Please

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let me know if you have any questions or Im eager to hear your ideas so that business readers accept their sentiments as sincere.

Dont preach, teach, or reach.

These terms all partly imply positive elements: Preachers inspire and motivate, teachers instruct and inform, and reachers look beyond current situations toward solutions, innovations, and opportunities all excellent attributes. But effective business writers recognize the clear threat of overdoing these elements in writing, which lingers past the particular situation and doesnt carry emotional elements as effectively as some other communication options. Do strive to inspire, motivate, instruct, inform, and to look toward solutions, innovations, and opportunitiesbut be sure you include, clearly and concisely, information necessary to support those approaches: Dont preach: Do target the positives of this term (inspiration and motivation), but also avoid the negative associations: Dont condescend, moralize, or imply extreme consequences for alternative ideas. Dont teach: Do target the positives of this term (instruction and information), but also avoid the negative associations: Dont prioritize conformity and control, dont stifle dialogue and interaction, and dont act as the only authority. Dont reach: Do target the positives of this term (solution, innovation, opportunity), but also avoid the negative associations: that your ideas are unfounded, ill advised, or ill conceived. Do support your ideas with strategic outlines of fact, foundation, and implication.

True leadership comes from clear assessments of the situation, concise depictions of the outcomes, and fair and equitable handling of those involved in the process. Responsibility, hierarchy, accountabilitythese issues play central roles in business

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processes and also in business writing. Be professional. Let your clarity, conciseness, and sense of equity and fair play carry your credibility. Singing your own praises sounds selfish and hollow under most circumstances; stroking your ego sounds worst when you do so in writing. Effective business writers know their audiences well enough and the value of language specifically enough, that they can share credit, gratitude, and praise in order to outline past information and simultaneously move the readers toward a path of future action. Dont soften or sharpen blows either. Trying to infuse additional criticism or to imply unearned support adds empty words to the page and might obscure the actual message. Stick to the business at hand; leave personal issues out. Effective business writers address the actions and outcomes.

Close with a connection . . . sometimes.

If the message, context, and your approach allow for a quick nod to the human beings behind the work, include a personal touchat the documents end. Strategic personalization can positively impact a documents readability and success; just dont let personalization obscure the work message.

Keep the other lines of communication open

Many kinds of business writing do not allow for genuine interaction, but email does, faxes might, regular and express mail claim to. Add to these written approaches the realities that every businessperson, writer or not, has access to a telephone, and that some of the best ideas have occurred while chatting with someone else on the phone or in a hallway. See writing as one facet of business communicationthe most permanent and consistently reliable facetbut then use whatever communication channels your audience requires so you

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can maximize interactivity and information exchange. Effective business writers prioritize business writing, but they also complement their writing with any other available communication resources. The best idea? Be open to any communications, and document the verbal ones: Send email follow-ups to phone and in-person interactions, turn those verbal communications into written ones (not only to create an audit trail, but also to confirm key points and understandings). Invite and encourage communication in all forms, but appreciate all the while that business runs on writing.

CEO: Conciseness, Emphasis, and Organization

In business, information carries value according to the impact or action that writing brings about. Business writing depends in great measure both on the characters on the page and the character behind the characters on the page. Successful leaders are clear and commanding: They assess and prioritize information, they lay out clear courses of action, and they identify and outline consequences and outcomes in ways that efficiently motivate action and understanding in their who follow their lead. Many great CEOs are also dynamic speakers, and their speeches can inspire and motivate in ways that writing can barely match. But the impact of these speeches is often fleeting. Writing lasts. And those leaders resonant strengths and influence can be found in the words they commit to print. It is appropriate then that the three keys to building strong character in business writing form the easy-to-remember acronym, CEO: Conciseness Emphasis Organization

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We have so far discussed language choicewhat words and phrases to avoid and what ideas to keep in mind while writingin order to sound professional and credible. These CEO keys are tactics that will help you ensure that you are creating strong, credible, authoritative writing.

The higher up the corporate ladder you move, the less time you have for fluff and bluster. For executives, time is tighter, pressure is higher, responsibilities are greater, and the consequences of their actions are more profound. As we consider effective business writing, assume executive business writing strategies: strategies that executives employ either because they can or because they must. Write like an executive either because you are one or because you report to one. Write so that you come across as assertive and clear. How? Write only whats necessary and cut the rest. Some situations require wide ranges of detail; most do not. As you consider which and how many details to offer, consider these parallels: Vermouth in a martini Shimmy in a golf swing Fuel on a fire

Each of these elements is essential to the larger process. But too much brings ruin. Let your conciseness carry your credibility. Readers will appreciate your focus and attention to their time, and youll come across as confident and sure. Youll look good. Begin with a tight focus, and then introduce and balance other elements only as your audience needs them. Effective business writers first focus their attention and writing on actionable items, and carefully question the value of any information beyond that essential core. The balance between actionable items and context can be difficult to strike, but that balance is

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essential: Too little information and readers are confused, too much information and readers miss important details, become overwhelmed by the bulk of information, or simply choose to stop reading. Also, dont include your guesses as central to your recommendations. Whether youre acting in clean-up mode or smoothly leading an initiative forward, stick with information that you can support, rely on, or build from. Including alternatives that youve discarded or options that you know to be less than sound not only confuses your readers, but clutters your pages. Do the work, research the circumstances, assess the options. Decide. And then make your pitchclearly and confidently.

Effective business writers dont waste time simply describing what they, or their readers, know. Successful business writers emphasize what readers should do with what they know.
Actionable Items Next Steps: Impact or Outcome: Outline who needs to do what, when, with whom, how, and how much. Identify either looming or longer-term consequences. Offer current events or information as springboards for future events or activities. Provide insights into potential profit or loss, benefits or burdens, risks or payoffs.

Process Analysis:

Value Statements:

Effective business writers also focus on the work and forego their emotional responses (frustration, exhaustion, envy,

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opportunism). Remember that business writing stems from specific situations but lasts potentially indefinitely, and it lacks many of the nuances of oral/interpersonal interactions, so humor and emotionality dont carry as clearly or as well. Consider these emotional jabs in the table below and their possible consequences.
Emotional Jab Singing your own praises Outlining another persons shortcomings Emphasizing past mistakes Dodging, hedging, or over-qualifying Immediate Consequences Your confidence comes off as arrogance. Lasting Consequences You come off as trivial or short-sighted.

You seem hostile You face damaged or insecure in your working relationown successes. ships. You add nothing You come off as new to the project argumentative rather or discussion. than insightful. Your writing is longer and more cumbersome or confusing. Your sheepishness impacts your reputation.

You cannot avoid all negative or critical reactions to you writing. Readers react with the same range of personal and emotional responses as writers do, and we cant always accurately predict human nature. But there are certainly reactions that you can steer clear of by emphasizing the worknot emotional responsesin your writing. All of us would rather have friends around us than enemies, but our relationships at work operate on two levels: personal and professional. In the business writing we do, professional relationships should trump personal ones every time. Interpersonal interactions come and go. Writing lasts, and writing sets precedents and identifies responsibility chains, so we need to be especially

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careful with our written work. Ive outlined some situations in the table below. Thinking interpersonally, you could see any Option One occurring exactly as Ive listed here. But thinking professionally, youll immediately see the pitfalls. Avoid potential scandal at every turn. Be a colleague firsta sound and sturdy representative of the organization.
Failure in the Making: Professionalism versus Personality in Writing Scenario Joke versus Sincere Response A customer emails a complaint about what he perceives to be a shoddy product. In his message, he vents his frustration with curses and some other colorful phrases. Two Possible Responses Option One: The customer service representative tries to diffuse the situation with humor, writing, We thought a lower price would mean more to you than a sturdy product, but well be happy to send another. Option Two: The customer service representative builds on the basics: Thanks for the message, sorry for your troubles, please accept this replacement, let us know if we can do anything else. The response is clear but isnt clever or charming. Option One: The supervisor includes references to golf games, long lunches, and a weekend trip that the subordinates and supervisors families recently took together. The review is very positive. Option Two: The supervisor focuses only on work-related issues, addresses both professional successes and failures, and outlines goals going forward. The review is very positive.

Recognition versus Favoritism: A supervisor writes up a subordinates performance review.

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Superficial versus Substantive: A colleague writes up a site analysis for you to integrate into your larger report.

Option One: The colleague uses words like awesome and cool and includes observations like Id love to be the one to pave these woods over with asphalt. Option Two: The colleague includes perspectives like these: The site rests between a highway exit and a large residential subdivision and Well do all we can to retain green space and natural accents as we also address the challenge of providing adequate parking. Option One: This employee begins and ends each day by forwarding to the group a series of nonwork-related emails with introductions like I thought youd like this or Isnt this wild? You find some of these emails interesting, some not. Option Two: Employees agree to email only with work-related information and insights, but groups of people also agree to meet for occasional lunches and biweekly happy hours.

Make Your Day versus Do the Work: A coworker is genuinely interested in making people happy and improving onthe-job satisfaction.

The Option One responses in the table will almost certainly seem ill advised or ridiculous. Face-to-face, any of the Option Ones might have worked, even though, in writing, each would almost certainly fail. These kinds of situations occur every day, and the temptation to infuse personality into our writing is always around. Resist that temptation in your business writing. You could argue that emailthe most pervasive and impactful business writing we do these daysis interactive to some degree, and youd be right. But email only demonstrates how writing

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of any kind fails to carry emotion and personality effectively. If youve even once read a color-coded email, youve at least once been first fascinated and then frustrated by the colors. If youve even once appreciated the value of a single exclamation point for emphasis, youve at least once found a string of them irritating or obnoxious!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If youve even once positively observed that a colleague writes like he talks, then youve at least once asked yourself, Did he mean that like it sounds? Email is among the most interactive forms of written communication we have, but even email can fall short of effectively capturing actual interpersonal meaning. Business writing, in any form, focuses on business. Being professional does not have to mean flat, flavorless, or boring, but effective business writers know when and how to balance professionalism and personality, absolutely favoring the former over the latter. Emphasize the work first. Represent the organization well, and youll represent yourself well.

Too many of us write as we think, and we never go back to rearrange and reorganize that information after weve finished. Thinking order is organic and nonsequential. Ideas occur to us in some series, but not necessarily the best order: We dont always think according to clear first-to-last or start-to-finish relationships. A third idea might occur to us between the first two; another might pop into our heads for no clear reason; at times, we might not even realize the key point of our writing until were nearly all the way through the writing process. In this last case, the writing process serves more like brainstorming or prewriting: Putting our words to paper causes us to organize and prioritize them as a result. Such organic methods come from intelligent and invested minds: We understand the issue with such breadth that our challenge is how to distill it down to the key elements and put it in the best order.

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But such organic methods are parts of the writing process, not the end result. Even as we find ourselves identifying and incorporating new or various elements into our writing, we must recognize that our readers cannot see inside our heads to understand this spontaneous structure. Our readers will require an organizational model that makes sense alone. Too often we overlook the value of reconsidering our writing and applying an organizational model that works. The solution to poor organization is easy to implement, and also has an easy-to-remember acronym that I first introduced in chapter 1: BLOT, or get your bottom line out on top. The steps in this model include the following: In every sentence: Put the key items within the first few words. In every paragraph: Put the key items within the first sentence. On every page: Put the key items within the first paragraph.

The BLOT method acts both as an excellent editing strategy and as a way to streamline the overall reading and writing processes in these situations: When editing: Read only the first lines of each paragraph. Does that sentence summarize the paragraph? Then read only the first paragraph of each document. Have you outlined all the documents key information there? Lastly, read each sentence. Does each sentence open with clear and valuable information? Can you cut any extra text? When writing: Sometimes we cant bring our ideas into clear focus until we write those ideas down. In this case, go back through your writing and apply these clear opening elements after you are sure of your topic and key points. If your ideas are already set, then be sure to open each page, paragraph,

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and sentence with clear overview or impact statements. Your readers will be more likely to understand your message, and theyll perceive you to be more confident and credible than they would without these openers. The BLOT technique, like the blotting process itself, works on many levels if you think of the mess a disorganized piece of writing makes. Consider these metaphors:

Metaphor Spill Something

Key The cleanup will work best if you blot the liquid dry. If you rub, smear, or let the liquid sit, the mess gets worse or becomes permanent. The safest way to pour something is with balance and measure, and only in adequate portions.

Parallel in Business Writing Spontaneous or on-the-fly organizational models are a mess. Clean them up with effective editing, one part at time. First approach BLOT as an editing strategy. The more you think BLOT, the quicker and more easily that model will integrate with your writing.

(Fix currently poor organization.)

Pour Something

(Apply effective organization in the first place.)

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Business writing takes character: the actual written characters on the page and the impression of the writers character and credibility in the writing. Whether you are an actual or aspiring executive, write with an executive posture and presence. Attend to issues of conciseness, emphasis, and organization (CEO). Trust yourself and validate others trust in you by doing the work, determining the best path, and outlining that path in your writing. Above all else, be clear. Determine whats important, and then say what you mean.

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