Writing for Impact: For when your boss reads your reports with a groan

10 April 2018 | 1:30 min read


Everyone knows the importance of good writing. It can touch your reader or move them towards you. Yet, much less frequently recognised is the ability of bad writing to achieve the reverse. Although, talk to any company director whose monthly lot it is to wade through windy reports, and you soon hear about an almost overlooked area of real corporate pain.

Directors, of course, are just one type of business audience. But being legally obliged to read reports gives their judgements an edge. Board after board makes identical complaints. Reports are too long, too technical or strain too hard to impress. More than anything else, readers hate having to struggle to see the point you are trying to make.

Oddly, few people seem to appreciate how career limiting it can be to have your boss pick up your report with a groan.

But if most bad writing seems to be bad in similar ways, there are also consistent ways of turning a business writing problem around. Rather than relying on any innate skill, they focus on planning a document before typing a word.

SenateSHJ has taught Writing for Impact – our core business writing training course over more than 15 years to several thousand people in Australia and New Zealand. Invariably, our participants rate most highly learning structures that ensure they put their readers’ needs first.

A first step is a clear division of labour. As good detective stories show, writing can demand close attention, but this is not a problem when the author takes on the burden of still showing the way.

Style is important. Short words are better than long. As Einstein said, you should keep everything as simple as possible, although no more than that.

But even more important is structure. Mapping the logic of a document in advance helps make the point of it clear. Our brains seem to like to take in information in consistent ways, and a surprisingly small number of writing structures serve to build out the arguments that give a document’s central premise support.

Our course participants put this into practice by mapping a document’s structure and logic before ever writing a word. For those of us who use them, these maps soon become the starting point for every business document you write: they can even help your reader start on your next opus with a smile.

To learn more about writing clear, well-structured documents that have impact, contact Robert Mannion.


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