Good business writing can communicate ideas in ways that neither spoken nor visual media can express. The written word carries the greatest authority and conveys the most credibility. Good writing is not only a pleasure to read, it provides the following advantages to communication:
- Ensures consistent, uniform delivery of your message.
- Enables you to communicate with those you cannot reach in person.
- Extends the useful life of your message by making your message more memorable.
- Provides a form of self-checking to assess whether your thoughts are clear and organized.
Good writing is built on good ideas, but good ideas do not automatically produce good writing. If your ideas are mediocre, no amount of skill can conceal this weakness. Good writing requires these four foundations:
- Clear organization of your thoughts.
- Logical development of an argument.
- Appropriate writing style and vocabulary.
- Attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, and syntax.
Clear Organization of Your Thoughts
As you approach a writing task, organize your thoughts on the subject by developing an outline. The outline is the framework of your writing and a valuable tool that helps prevent inconsistencies in organization. Remember, it is more cumbersome to rearrange prose than to revise an outline.
As you prepare the outline, you assemble a document that expresses how you think about the subject. Put yourself in the reader’s place to determine if your message will be understood. You may have to rearrange your thoughts to conform to the way your reader thinks.
Logical Development of an Argument
Your ideas should be presented, developed, and concluded logically. Review your outline for internal inconsistencies. A convincing argument should lead the reader to your conclusions, which should be the logical, natural result of your thought process. While you may need to elaborate on a particular point, there should be no digressions from your logic.
Appropriate Writing Style and Vocabulary
Use a writing style that is appropriate to the situation and type of document. A terse, formal style may be appropriate for budget reports, but offensive for a personal memo. Likewise, a folksy, conversational style for a formal project proposal may appear amateurish. Some people write as they speak, which is usually not an effective form of written business correspondence. To avoid this mistake, read your writing and place yourself in the reader’s position, or ask someone else to review it.
Exercise care in your choice of words. Misused words are easy to spot. Avoid clichés unless they truly convey an idea better than any other phrase.
Always remember that you do not need a large vocabulary to impress people. Clarity and brevity will impress. Wordiness won’t.
Attention to Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation, and Syntax
Proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation add credibility to your ideas and help the reader grasp your point. Correct syntax enables you to express ideas simply. Some of the most common problems in business writing include run-on sentences, lack of subject-verb agreement, and lengthy paragraphs.
Factors that Determine Content
Before beginning a writing task, it is important to consider the factors that will influence the content of your document. These factors include:
- Purpose of the document
- Length of the document
- Circulation of the document
Purpose of the Document
Facility managers produce documents to serve many purposes:
- Fulfilling legal requirements, such as documentation of environmental compliance and filing for construction permits.
- Writing requests for proposals and contractual documents for construction, facility services, consultants; documenting procurement actions and contract performance.
- Providing information to senior management on financial performance, space inventory, and energy management.
- Developing presentations for project proposals and major management initiatives.
- Developing facility management policy on space standards and allocation, furniture standards, cost allocation, housekeeping, project approvals, and customer commitments.
- Filing routine reports on cost control, meeting minutes, and other operational details.
Each of these purposes presents a unique set of requirements a writer must support. The content for each type of document should be tailored to its purpose.
Length of the Document
Decide at the outset how much information a reader needs to understand your message. The length of typical reports are predicated not only on how much time the reader has, but also on how much information the reader will need. Typical reports about an HVAC upgrade project might average between 1 and 2 pages to brief an executive; 3 to 4 pages for a mid-level program manager; and 10 to 20 pages for a technical report reviewed by a technical expert. Make your point before your readers lose interest or time.
Before writing a lengthy document on a complex topic, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the subject exceptionally complex in both scale and scope?
- Must the accuracy of the technical details that support the argument be proven?
- Will several types of readers read the document, each having a different understanding of the subject?
- Do readers need background knowledge on the subject?
When writing, stop after you have made your point. Do not oversell by repeating material. Providing additional information in an appendix gives readers the option of delving further into the subject.
Circulation of the Document
Although most business documents are directed to a particular individual, many different parties can read them. For example, an executive summary addressed to the chief financial officer (CFO) may also be reviewed by several staff assistants. The assistant may call in a technical expert to advise on a particular aspect. The CFO may then pass the report to another high-level manager for further discussion. Because a document’s potential audience is so large, most documents should be written as if they were public. This approach minimizes the chances of misinterpretation, confusion, or embarrassment.
This article is adapted from BOMI International’s course Fundamentals of Facilities Management. More information regarding this course is available by calling 1-800-235-2664. Visit BOMI International’s website, www.bomi.org.