Third grade. The second we learned about the five-paragraph essay, our academic writing improved, but our business writing suffered. When we started writing in the first and second grades, we got right to the point. “My name is Charlie.” “I like to play sports.” “The dog is fast.” When we learned how to write an essay in third grade, all of a sudden we had a thesis statement that went at the END of the first paragraph. We had a minimum of five paragraphs—in academic writing: the more, the better. This is not the case for business communications.
THE “BLUF” APPROACH
In a fast-paced business environment, we need to get to the point QUICKLY, or we lose the attention of our readers. Thus, it is smart to follow a “BLUF” Approach—Bottom Line UpFront.
In the BLUF Approach, we start with “Newsworthy Information”. This is the MAIN POINT that we want to share with our readers. As you write, think of it this way—if all your readers consumed was the first line, they would capture the gist of the whole report or email.
Apart from grade school kids, there’s another group of writers who have the BLUF approach perfected. Journalists. Journalists know that when their article makes it to the editors, if there’s not enough room on the page, it gets chopped up. And when the editors chop it up, it’s not from the top. They will take out the information on the bottom to get it to fit in a crunch-time situation. Therefore, the journalists know that in order for their readers to capture their story, they must put the most essential information at the beginning.
After the newsworthy information come all the important details. This is anything that may help to clarify or support the main point. The information is helpful, but not crucial.
Finally, finish up with any background information. Again, this should be brief because a long email or report can be a turn-off, but there are times for adding in some general background information about a story or issue.
So, really, what is it that first graders teach us about business writing? SIMPLICITY.
WRITE IT LIKE YOU SAY IT
In some practices, having the big, fancy, smart words can be helpful. However, when it comes to business writing, write it like you say it. For instance, avoid words like “aforesaid”, “aforementioned”; “heretofore”; and “herewith in” that you may fumble over when you say them out loud. Stick with “the” or “here is”—think single syllables. We cannot stress enough the importance of clarity because people simply do not have the time to decipher word puzzles. When faced with a puzzle, more often than not, your reader will skip over it.
KEEP IT PERSONAL
Messages that go out to the masses are more likely to be ignored than messages specifically addressed to people. Rather, use personal pronouns as much as you can. For example, when referring to the reader, use “YOU”. When referring to yourself, use “I”, “ME” or “MY”. When referring to your company, use “WE”, “US” or “OUR”. Consider these two options:
It is both conceivable and possible that if current events and performance continue to erode at an escalating rate that actions may be taken in a negative manner.
If the business climate worsens, we will be required to take actions that may affect all of us, including you and me.
It might take a few times and some serious eye-squinting to figure out what Option 1 is trying to say. When we look at it this way, the best option is obvious—Option 2. As opposed to the first option, the second is short and to the point. When reading it, all of the players understand how they relate to the statement. The company’s position is CLEAR. The potential results are UNDERSTOOD. As you do your own writing, make sure you recognize who your readers are—when you write for no one in particular, no one in particular reads your writing.
Wonder if you are using simplicity in your business communications? Consider reviewing your sent emails. Do you state the purpose up front? Do you use short, concise wording and address others personally? You may be surprised by how many extra words you add in your communications. Perhaps we could all use to spend a little more time with third graders. Might pick up a thing or two.
About Brendan P. Keegan
Brendan P. Keegan is Founder & Managing Partner of velocityHUB, a leading management consulting firm. He is a 5-time industry leading President & CEO of large, private-equity-backed companies and served as the Fortune 100’s youngest Chief Sales Officer for EDS, a $22-billion technology industry leader. Brendan has raised nearly $1.0 billion in capital and returned over $2.2 billion to investors through successful exit strategies. He has trained over 100,000 leaders, led nearly 50,000 employees, driven sales of over $100 billion and worked globally in over 150 countries. Brendan was named a Distinguished Fellow by Dartmouth College, a Fast50 Executive by FastCompany, a successful entrepreneur by Enterprise Bank, Best-of-the-Best CEOs by Incentive, 100 Fastest Growing Companies by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Business of the Year by NH Business Journal, Top 10 Coach of the Year by USA Football, and Volunteer of the Year by & Youth Coach of the Year locally for his commitment to community service. Brendan is a sought-after speaker by companies across the globe on leadership, sales and performance. He has authored over 200 articles and been published in global publications including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Business Week, Fast Company and InformationWeek.
Brendan serves on corporate boards to include Revolution Armor, Merchants Auto Group, ExpressIt Delivery, Olaeris, velocityHUB and nashuaHUB. Brendan and his wife Dana founded the Keegan Courage & Faith Foundation with the goal of giving back $1.0 million for youth education, athletics and at-risk youth across Southern New Hampshire.
velocityHUB delivers results-oriented training programs, high-value consulting and targeted executive coaching to many of the world’s leading companies, small and medium businesses, and non-profits. Our vision is to build one million leaders to drive performance, sales and revenue growth.
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