Often, small business owners don't think of themselves as writers, but maybe they should. Considering the types of projects they're involved with, small business owners often have a hand in creating emails, letters to clients and employees; blogs, press releases, white papers, and, perhaps speeches. Each type of message may require a different format from other types, but to be effective, all messages should contain five essential features.
Most forms of business communication are meant to achieve a purpose; they must be purposeful. If you're responding to a communication, being relevant means that you reply promptly, using the mode of communication requested of you and providing the information you've been asked to provide. If this advice sounds obvious, consider that a good thing. You won't be the type of business owner who takes weeks to reply, who sends a text when you should have sent an email and who poses questions instead of the decision you've been asked to render. If you're sending a message of your own volition, being relevant means that you're stating your purpose clearly at the beginning; maintaining the message's focus; and keeping the recipient's needs top-of-mind. For example, if you suspect that the recipient lacks the background information that he or she needs to fully understand your message, then provide that information – or at least, point the way to it. The gesture should be appreciated, and the recipient should deem your message relevant.
A sage once said that “clear writing is the result of clear thinking; it's not a substitute for the lack of it.” Essentially, this sage was touting the importance of organization, in terms of organized thoughts and an organized structure of ideas. Most organized messages (even speeches) follow a basic, three-step structure: First, introduce the goal or purpose; second, amplify the ideas and provide support, details and evidence; third, conclude with a specific action step (often referred to as a call to action) that points forward. If, as you write, you find yourself thinking, “This isn't coming out right,” consider it a sign that you're having organizational problems. Stop writing and start talking your message – to yourself or to someone else – until you can formulate clear, precise and understandable thoughts. The extra time it takes to do this should be appreciated, and the recipient should deem your message organized.
Many messages falter not because people lack the knowledge base to communicate but because they fail to dip into that base and share it with others. While it's important not to “talk down” to an audience, it's even more important not to talk over their heads by assuming that the audience will "know what you mean." If you cannot decide which tack to take, err on the side of providing “too much” information. Logic follows that a fully informed, astute person can whiz right over information that he or she already knows; an uninformed person will appreciate the time you took to provide the facts, details and history that he or she needs to make crucial connections.
Being explanatory also means: being specific (not vague and indirect); developing logical sequences (for example, how you arrived at a conclusion); being illustrative (“drawing a picture” by providing a telling example); and doing your best to anticipate ancillary questions or concerns. Instead of taking all this for granted, the recipient should deem your message explanatory.
Follow the journalist's tenet: “Trust but verify” all information, and then double check it to ensure accuracy. Your message must contain sound, reliable and current facts, statistics and information. Otherwise, you – and your message – will not be taken seriously. If you're unsure about the veracity of a piece of information, leave it out. You can always follow up with another message later, once you have the chance to authenticate it. The risk of communicating false reports is too great. Your efforts won't be for naught; the recipient should consider you to be credible and trustworthy, and should deem your message accurate.
Thousands of reference books have been written on the conventions of grammar and usage, and it pays for small business owners to buy at least one grammar book to keep on their desk. Knowing how to write clear, concise and descriptive sentences takes practice, and so does avoiding some of the most common writing mistakes: writing fragments, run-ons, non-parallel sentence structures and using faulty punctuation. In addition to at least one writing reference book, a dictionary should be always be on the desk of small business owners. A message that has a misspelled word smacks of carelessness, and casts doubt on the writer's conscientiousness. And consider this: Although the recipient may not like what you have to say, he or she will not be able to fault you for how you said it. So, although a grammatically correct letter may not impress the recipient -- the recipient should regard you – and your message – professional.