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What are the seven traits?
The seven traits are the qualities of effective business writing. By focusing on each trait, writers can improve their work.
Trait 1: Strong Ideas
State Ideas Clearly
If a good idea is stated clearly, the reader can understand it and use it. Construct a clear idea statement by following this formula:
|Formula:||A specific subject + a specific thought, conclusion, opinion = a good idea statement or claim.|
|Example:||Rankin Industries needs to update its automated phone system.|
Support Your Ideas
Once you have clearly stated your main idea, you need to provide strong support. Suppose you need to support the following idea statement:
Rankin Industries needs to update its automated phone system.
To support your ideas, you need to provide details that accomplish your goal. Here are different types of details and the reasons to use them in your writing:
|Type of Detail||Reason||Example|
|Use facts and statistics||to prove something.||The automated call system requires callers to wait through six options before they hear the feature that handles 90 percent of calls: the catalog-request service.|
|Use sensory details||to engage the reader.||The “on hold” music is too loud, it bristles with static, and it loops abruptly in the middle of a trumpet solo.|
|Use anecdotes||to connect to life.||Once, our president’s wife was waiting on hold when the system hung up on her.|
|Use quotations||to appeal to authority.||President Blastovich said, “We need to reconsider our public face, and our phone system is an important part of that public face.”|
|Use definitions||to explain terms.||We could provide service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, if we hired an off-site call center with interactive voice recognition software—an automated system capable of understanding speech.|
|Use predictions||to imagine the future.||If we update our phone system, our customer satisfaction rating will rise, as will the number of catalogs sent and orders received.|
Qualify Your Ideas
Your main ideas and support should be plausible. Overly positive or negative words (such as best, worst, or never) make statements hard to prove and details hard to believe. Words and phrases like those listed below can qualify and lend credence to your ideas.
Trait 2: Logical Organization
Be Direct or Indirect
Before you begin writing, consider how your reader will respond to your message. Then choose either a direct or an indirect organizational approach.
Good- or neutral-news messages
If your reader is likely to respond to your message as good or neutral news, be direct. Use the SEA organization formula:
Situation + Explanation + Action.
Situation: Explain your reason for writing.
Explanation: Expand on the main point.
Action: Focus positively on what’s next.
If your reader will likely be unhappy or angry with your message, be indirect. Use the BEBE formula:
Buffer + Explanation and Bad News + Exit.
Buffer: Open with a neutral statement.
Explanation: Build toward the bad news.
Bad News: State the bad news honestly.
Exit: End as positively as possible.
When your reader may be indifferent or even resistant to your message, be indirect. Use the AIDA formula:
Attention + Interest and Desire + Action.
Attention: Use a creative opening.
Interest: Create curiosity about your cause.
Desire: Encourage your reader to “take ownership” of your cause.
Action: Inspire your reader to take action.
Trait 3: Appropriate Voice
Levels of Formality
Just because business writing is considered professional doesn’t mean it should be stuffy. The key is to write with a conversational yet professional tone. That means making your writing sound natural. When writing is natural, its tone or level of formality is right. Consider the chart below.
||The goal of UpWrite Press is helping businesspeople become better writers and communicators. UpWrite Press strives to provide quality materials for communicating in a globally connected world.|
||Our goal is making you a better writer and communicator. Today’s business environment requires you to communicate quickly and easily with a global audience, and our materials will help you do so.|
Could you please make 12 copies of the stipends report for the finance meeting on Thursday morning? Thanks. See ya then! —Craig
Trait 4: Precise Word Choice
Choosing Precise Words
Good business writing is not filled with the biggest words; it’s filled with the most precise words. Use the following information to incorporate precise words into your business writing. A precise word is fresh, clear, energetic, fair, and respectful. In general, precise words are the simplest ones you can use to get your meaning across.
Here are our top five suggestions for precise business writing (in no particular order).
- Replace or clarify general words. Balance general words with concrete, precise terms. Choose specific nouns, vivid verbs, and strong modifiers.
- Rewrite unprofessional expressions. Slang terms and clichés weaken your writing’s authority, clarity, and energy.
- Avoid “business English.” Use plain English instead of language that sounds overly technical, vague, or trendy.
- Use fair, respectful language. People want respect, and it’s the writer’s job to address readers respectfully.
- Eliminate wordiness. Concise writing involves cutting unneeded words, irrelevant information, and obvious statements. (See below.)
Wordy Versus Concise Phrasing
Use concise words and phrasing that deliver your message quickly and clearly. The following list should help you write more precisely.
|a majority of||most|
|any and all||any/all|
|are of the opinion that||believe|
|ask the question||ask|
|at an early date||soon|
|at the conclusion of||after/following|
|at the present time||now|
|based on the fact that||because|
|brief in duration||brief|
|consensus of opinion||consensus|
|despite the fact that||although|
|due to the fact that||because|
|during the course of||during|
|engaged in a study of||studying|
|few in number||few|
|filled to capacity||filled|
|first and foremost||first/foremost|
|for the purpose of||for|
|for the reasons that||because|
|free of charge||free|
|having the capacity to||can|
|in connection with||about|
|in light of the fact that||since|
|in order to||to|
|in spite of the fact that||although|
|in the amount of||for|
|in the event that||if|
|in the vast majority of||in most|
|in view of the fact that||because|
|it is often the case that||often|
|it is our opinion that||we believe that|
|it is our recommendation||we recommend|
|it is our understanding||we understand|
|make reference to||refer to|
|of the opinion that||think that|
|on a daily basis||daily|
|on a weekly basis||weekly|
|on the grounds that||because|
|personal in nature||personal|
|postponed until later||postponed|
|until such time as||until|
|with regard to||about|
Trait 5: Smooth Sentences
Sentence variety creates a pleasing rhythm. Try these tips for creating variety:
- Vary beginnings: Start with an introductory word, phrase, or clause.
- Vary lengths: Use long sentences for complex ideas, medium sentences for most ideas, and short sentences to hammer home a point.
- Vary types: Use statements, questions, and commands.
When sentences are short and choppy, you can improve your writing by combining them. Remove the repeated bits and reword the rest as a single sentence.
|Choppy:||We made a bid. It was on November 6. Rankin has not responded yet.|
|Combined:||Rankin has not yet responded to the bid we made on November 6.|
If a sentence lacks information, expand it using the 5 W’s and H. Answer the questions Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? and insert the answers into the sentence.
- The bid was made.
- Who made the bid? (Devlin Call Center)
- What was the bid about? (offering its voice-recognition service)
- Where was the bid made? (it was made to Rankin Industries)
- When was the bid made? (on November 6)
- Why was the bid made? (to provide customer service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
- How was the bid made? (via e-mail)
- On November 6, Devlin Call Center e-mailed a bid to Rankin Industries, offering its voice-recognition service to provide Rankin with customer service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Transitions and Linking Words
Transition words and phrases pave the way for readers, signaling how ideas are linked. Note how the different words and phrases below connect ideas in different ways.
Trait 6: Correct Copy
Top 10 Errors in Business Writing
An error-free document reflects well on the writer and avoids distracting the reader. When editing for punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and usage, watch especially for these top 10 errors.
Make sure each sentence contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought.
Make sure modifying words and phrases are close to the words they modify.
Do not join two sentences with only a comma. Use a semicolon, or use a comma and
a conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet).
Missing comma in a compound sentence:
Place a comma right before the conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet)
in a compound sentence.
Missing comma after introductory phrase:
Place a comma after long introductory phrases.
Missing comma with additional information:
When a group of words adds information that is not needed to understand the sentence,
set off the words with a comma.
Make sure items in a series have the same form.
Pronoun agreement error:
Make sure pronouns agree in person and number with the words they replace.
Verb agreement error:
Use a singular verb with a singular subject and a plural verb with a plural subject.
Make sure that easily confused words (there/their/they’re, too/to/two) are used correctly.
Trait 7: Polished Presentation
Design with a Purpose
Effective page design is attractive and easy to read, and it reflects positively on the writer and her or his company. When designing a document, do so with a purpose. The form that words take on a page should relate to the function of the words.
Format shows what kind of message you are sending.
Fonts make text readable.
Paragraphs group related ideas together.
Headings help readers navigate through your message.
Lists show that ideas are parallel.
White space breaks text into digestible chunks.
January 22, 2009
To ensure prompt delivery of packages, I propose that we centralize our shipping procedure.
Currently, couriers such as UPS, FedEx, and DHL deliver to the shipping department, while the USPS (United States Postal Service) delivers to the receptionist. This division means that some important packages are delivered to the front desk and may take a day or more to reach the shipping department.
If USPS deliveries also came to the shipping department, all deliveries would be tracked in a central location. Also, because the mailroom is part of the shipping department, the mailroom could ensure prompt delivery of all envelopes and packages.
If you would like me to make this change, I will . . .
contact the USPS to change our delivery point,
contact the receptionists to inform them of the change,
coordinate the switchover in the mailroom and shipping department, and
monitor the new approach, reporting the results to you.
Please let me know if you would like me to make this change.