E‐mail and texting have killed the art of writing clearly and persuasively.
Yet, there are times when compelling written communication is key. For example buying or selling a company requires descriptive memorandum, creating a presentation where there are high stakes outcomes for success or failure demands engagement, or basically getting a team to achieve a common goal on time and on budget requires clear communication of complex ideas, required actions and budgets.
Thus, I offer these guidelines, a blend of structure and philosophy:
- Assume readers have little knowledge of the specific issue and provide what is essential for gaining critical agreement to recommendations.
- Clearly know the objective of the communication. If there is difficulty in writing about a thought, probably it is irrelevant to the central concept. Net, when in doubt, leave it out.
- Pursue simplicity. Be concise omitting needless words. Ben Franklin said: “Excuse the length of this letter. I did not have time to write a short one.” Net, do not burden the reader or viewer with the responsibility of figuring out what you want to say. Spend time necessary to get the message aligned with the objective concisely.
- Hold objectives of communication to under three issues. Otherwise there are none. Think: 10% of 10 to dos is 0 % achieved, not 100% of anything.
- Keep big ideas in line of sight. Most sentences should be fewer than twenty words People over 40 especially have short term memory problems.
- Know your audience. If academic, use complex words to build rapport. In business, keep it simple.
- Minimize jargon. With clarity as the goal, define terms and assign acronyms, for example: gift with purchase (GWP), thousand households (MHH), fiscal year (FY) etc.
- Plan how to communicate so as to achieve desired goals. Broadly, structure communication in terms of: 1) Objective, request for approval and top line basis for interest; 2) Background; 3) Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations; 4) Budgets and 5) Key Steps and Timing.
- Believe that decisions are emotional supported by fact. Focus on the values of your readers and support recommendations in factual exhibits.
- KISS (keep it simple stupid). Restrict fonts, text sizes, colors, underlines