JWI 505 Business Communications and Executive Assignment
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JWI 505 Business Communications and Executive Assignment
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WEEK 2: BUSINESS WRITING
Composing, Organizing, and Editing Written Messages
An email sits in your inbox. You reread it several times. The message could have several different meanings, some of them very bad. Then again, you could be overreacting. It could be nothing. Before you know it, you’ve wasted several hours worrying about it.
Worse, perhaps you’ve written a reply based on one interpretation of that message, and now, you’ve ended up in a back-and-forth exchange with a colleague who is offended that you jumped to the wrong conclusion.
There are so many ways emails – or any form of written communication – can go wrong. When they do, lost productivity, injured feelings, and damaged business relationships result. This is the opposite of effective communication and works at cross-purposes with your goals.
As a leader, you cannot afford to have your messages be misinterpreted. You also cannot afford to have them ignored. So, what do you do? Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, once said, “Clarity in business writing is not a luxury.”
Business leaders – and professionals in every business organization – do a great deal of their communication through writing. In emails, in memos, in reports and business cases, and in white papers and proposals, the written word is an integral component to all business communication.
Learning how to compose, organize, and edit your written messages is a critical skill that you must develop, if you are to achieve your own goals, as well as the goals of the organization.
The Three Pillars of Effective Business Writing
In the modern, fast-paced business environment, no one has the time or patience to read long, complicated documents. Your colleagues require written communications that are clear and efficient. But even clear, concise messages can do more harm than good, if they are not also written with authenticity, positivity, and an eye toward professional presentation. The three pillars of effective business writing, therefore, are:
- Keep it simple Don’t make the reader search for your meaning. Be clear, concise, and efficient in your delivery.
- Keep it positive: Be authentic, candid, and diplomatic in your writing. You want to achieve rapport with your audience, to establish a connection with the other party or parties. You can’t do that if your messages are negative, pretentious, or fake.
- Keep it professional:
The mechanics of proper writing still matter, even though modern text messaging and sloppily written conventions have seemingly become the norm. Your written communication must never undercut your credibility or you’re meaning. It must never distract the audience or diminish your credibility. That means writing to accepted standards of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure, as well as overall presentation.
If you keep these three basic rules in mind, your writing will get your messages heard. It will ensure that they are well received, and that they facilitate better business relationships.
The Writing Process Writing is a five-step process that begins with identifying the need to write. If there is a need, the process continues with setting your goal and strategy, formulating and presenting your message, and then editing the end result to produce an effective message. The process can be summed up as follows:
- Should you write? If not, stop. You’re done. If yes, continue. 2. What is the goal, the desired outcome of writing? If you can’t define it, don’t try to write your
message until you can. 3. Do you know what you need to know? If you lack the information necessary to compose your
message, go and perform the necessary research before trying to write. 4. Once you know what you need to know, compose your message. 5. Edit your message, with the goal of making it more concise.
Deciding whether you should write may be as simple as asking yourself if you’re angry, upset, or otherwise emotionally alarmed. It’s never a good idea to compose a written message when you’re emotionally excited.
Always wait until you’ve had a chance to calm down, so that you can write from a more objective emotional headspace. You may determine that you do not need to write at all, once that moment passes. If you do need to write, you must identify your audience.
To whom are you writing? Is the message customer-facing? Is it intended for technically skilled employees? Is it a message to management? Does it move up or down the hierarchy of the company?
Different audiences require different message strategies. Next, determine what the desired outcomes of your message are. These outcomes will also dictate the strategy and structure of your message. Are you relating simple, straightforward information that is not controversial?
Are you transmitting a message that is potentially delicate and must be handled with diplomacy? Are you asking for feedback, for buy-in, or for information you don’t have? The circumstances and the audience will dictate a different strategy and structure for every message.
Some messages require that you impart information. Others require that you have specific knowledge about specific subjects, such as a white paper or business proposal. If you do not have the information needed, you’ll need to perform the necessary research and obtain it.
In some forms of written communication, this means citing your sources to avoid plagiarism. Once you have identified that you need to write, as well as the audience, the desired outcomes, the corresponding message strategy, and the information and research requirements for that message, it is time to compose your message.
Constructing Your Message Written communications can be a quick email composed on your smartphone, or a lengthy, fully researched and referenced business proposal or white paper. The basic tenets of effective message construction – the macro of message design – start with the process we have already described. They continue with these broad guidelines:
- Keep it simple and on message Overcomplicated messages will be ignored because the key points get lost in the length and detail. Always keep your messages as simple as possible, conveying only necessary information.
- Construct your messages methodically and logically A message should flow logically from start to finish. The reader should not have to struggle to determine its meaning. That meaning should be obvious.
- Design your messages so they can be quickly skimmed and reviewed When most people got their news from printed newspapers, those papers were designed to be easily skimmed. Headlines and subheadings called out the most critical information in every story.
It was possible to visually skim the front page of the newspaper, or the individual sections, to glean the basic news before drilling down to read individual articles. Your messages should employ the same strategy, so they may be easily reviewed at a glance before they are read in detail.
- Avoid text walls and long paragraphs thick blocks of text that are not broken by white space are difficult to read and absorb. This will cause your message to be ignored or dismissed. Always avoid these dense text walls.
- Employ bullets and lists where appropriate These are especially useful for action items and critical data, as the bullets draw attention to the items in the list and emphasize them to the reader. Bulleted lists make it easier to organize information, so that it may be more easily absorbed and digested by the reader.
When you have drafted your message according to the guidelines we’ve described, you must then edit that message. Editing Your Message Once drafted, a message is not final until it has been edited.
This does not mean merely reading through it to correct errors. It also means improving the message by making it shorter, more effective, and – if needed – more professional. It goes without saying that you should spell-check and grammar-check your message whenever possible.
You should also employ global find-and-replace changes to keep your message compliant with any necessary brand standards and organizational specifications. Edit your message for brevity, focus, style, and correctness.
If identifying the need to write, setting your goals and strategy, composing your message, and following the three pillars of effective business writing is the macro of the writing process, then the micro of the process – the nuts and bolts of writing well – is being mindful of brevity, focus, style, and correctness.
Brevity, Focus, Style, Correctness Brevity is keeping your message short. Every message you construct should be direct, concise, and to the point. Brevity shows respect for the reader’s time. It also makes it easier for your audience to understand, process, and respond to your message.
When you edit your message, always do so with an eye toward making it shorter, not longer. Individual sentences should be short, too. Separate lengthy constructions into shorter individual sentences. Focus is not letting your message get bogged down in extraneous details.
Don’t include anything that distracts from your key points or which does not support your objectives. This includes assigning blame. Blaming doesn’t support your objectives or further the purpose of your message.
It also puts your audience on the defensive and, therefore, works against you when you are trying to communicate effectively. Style is the manner in which you present your message. Is the message formal? Is it informal? Or is it, as most of your communications will be, business conversational?
Writing in a business conversational style means writing clear, succinct messages that are presented with professionalism and authenticity. Very formal messages may seem pretentious and will distract or even offend the reader. Very informal messages may offend because they are inappropriate or too familiar.
Correctness is the mechanics of writing. Proper grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation are important, even in the days of streamlined text communications and Internet-driven abbreviations. Failure to use correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure can work at cross-purposes with your objectives by undercutting your credibility. It is therefore in your best interests, when you write, to write well.
Writing Well Writing well means writing correctly. There is no single standard for writing well because what is correct changes from organization to organization. Standards differ, but there are some basic rules to follow. Correct writing:
- Cites its sources to avoid plagiarism • Avoids buzzwords and jargon • Complies with organizational standards • Does not offend; it is gender neutral and inclusive • Does not embarrass you or the organization
Always cite sources that you use for references in proposals, white papers, and other lengthy communications. Brief messages, such as emails, rarely require this type of citation, but this will depend on the message itself and the context in which it is sent.
Remember, just because something is on the Internet doesn’t mean that it’s free to use without attribution. Buzzwords and jargon are occupational hazards in most organizations. Avoiding these makes your writing clearer and more authentic.
This does not mean that you must never use terms that are frequently employed in your industry. If a buzzword or piece of industry jargon is the fastest and most effective way to get your meaning across, then by all means use it.
Just avoid using too many of these references, which can turn your message into an indecipherable code if the recipient doesn’t know all of your terms. When being mindful of buzzwords and jargon, you must also avoid bogging down your writing in unnecessary font changes, italics, or other stylistic flourishes intended for emphasis.
This is distracting and does not actually improve the clarity or impact of your message. If your organization or industry uses a commonly accepted set of specifications or a style guide for writing, take the time to familiarize yourself with these standards. Comply with them.
This includes, where applicable, avoiding passivity, weasel words (indirect phrases like “some have said” and “studies have shown” that deflect responsibility), and exclamation points. Exclamation points are worthy of specific mention because they are almost never appropriate in business writing. They look accusing or alarming and may even appear unprofessional in tone.
The choice not to offend has nothing to do with being politically correct. Your messages cannot reach their audience and be understood if the audience takes offense. Use gender-neutral and inclusive language where appropriate, such as they or you instead of he. Your goal is to keep the reader engaged. Offending your audience causes them to disengage. Finally, never write anything that is potentially embarrassing to you or your organization.
This includes, but is not limited to, poor grammar, sentence fragments, run-ons, and other lazy or sloppy writing that makes you look unprofessional or uneducated. It also means never writing anything in a message that you wouldn’t want to be read by every person in the company – assuming the information is not privileged. In other words, never write something that you know would be deliberately offensive.
Take the Time to Present Yourself Well Written communication can make or break a leader. Do it poorly and you risk undercutting your own credibility. Do it well and you will engage your colleagues authentically, gaining buy-in and building consensus. Using your writing in business to strengthen your relationships better positions both you and your organization to win.
JWI 505 Business Communications and Executive Assignment
QUALITY OF RESPONSE NO RESPONSE POOR / UNSATISFACTORY SATISFACTORY GOOD EXCELLENT Content (worth a maximum of 50% of the total points) Zero points: Student failed to submit the final paper. 20 points out of 50: The essay illustrates poor understanding of the relevant material by failing to address or incorrectly addressing the relevant content; failing to identify or inaccurately explaining/defining key concepts/ideas; ignoring or incorrectly explaining key points/claims and the reasoning behind them; and/or incorrectly or inappropriately using terminology; and elements of the response are lacking. 30 points out of 50: The essay illustrates a rudimentary understanding of the relevant material by mentioning but not full explaining the relevant content; identifying some of the key concepts/ideas though failing to fully or accurately explain many of them; using terminology, though sometimes inaccurately or inappropriately; and/or incorporating some key claims/points but failing to explain the reasoning behind them or doing so inaccurately. Elements of the required response may also be lacking. 40 points out of 50: The essay illustrates solid understanding of the relevant material by correctly addressing most of the relevant content; identifying and explaining most of the key concepts/ideas; using correct terminology; explaining the reasoning behind most of the key points/claims; and/or where necessary or useful, substantiating some points with accurate examples. The answer is complete. 50 points: The essay illustrates exemplary understanding of the relevant material by thoroughly and correctly addressing the relevant content; identifying and explaining all of the key concepts/ideas; using correct terminology explaining the reasoning behind key points/claims and substantiating, as necessary/useful, points with several accurate and illuminating examples. No aspects of the required answer are missing. Use of Sources (worth a maximum of 20% of the total points). Zero points: Student failed to include citations and/or references. Or the student failed to submit a final paper. 5 out 20 points: Sources are seldom cited to support statements and/or format of citations are not recognizable as APA 6th Edition format. There are major errors in the formation of the references and citations. And/or there is a major reliance on highly questionable. The Student fails to provide an adequate synthesis of research collected for the paper. 10 out 20 points: References to scholarly sources are occasionally given; many statements seem unsubstantiated. Frequent errors in APA 6th Edition format, leaving the reader confused about the source of the information. There are significant errors of the formation in the references and citations. And/or there is a significant use of highly questionable sources. 15 out 20 points: Credible Scholarly sources are used effectively support claims and are, for the most part, clear and fairly represented. APA 6th Edition is used with only a few minor errors. There are minor errors in reference and/or citations. And/or there is some use of questionable sources. 20 points: Credible scholarly sources are used to give compelling evidence to support claims and are clearly and fairly represented. APA 6th Edition format is used accurately and consistently. The student uses above the maximum required references in the development of the assignment. Grammar (worth maximum of 20% of total points) Zero points: Student failed to submit the final paper. 5 points out of 20: The paper does not communicate ideas/points clearly due to inappropriate use of terminology and vague language; thoughts and sentences are disjointed or incomprehensible; organization lacking; and/or numerous grammatical, spelling/punctuation errors 10 points out 20: The paper is often unclear and difficult to follow due to some inappropriate terminology and/or vague language; ideas may be fragmented, wandering and/or repetitive; poor organization; and/or some grammatical, spelling, punctuation errors 15 points out of 20: The paper is mostly clear as a result of appropriate use of terminology and minimal vagueness; no tangents and no repetition; fairly good organization; almost perfect grammar, spelling, punctuation, and word usage. 20 points: The paper is clear, concise, and a pleasure to read as a result of appropriate and precise use of terminology; total coherence of thoughts and presentation and logical organization; and the essay is error free. Structure of the Paper (worth 10% of total points) Zero points: Student failed to submit the final paper. 3 points out of 10: Student needs to develop better formatting skills. The paper omits significant structural elements required for and APA 6th edition paper. Formatting of the paper has major flaws. The paper does not conform to APA 6th edition requirements whatsoever. 5 points out of 10: Appearance of final paper demonstrates the student’s limited ability to format the paper. There are significant errors in formatting and/or the total omission of major components of an APA 6th edition paper. They can include the omission of the cover page, abstract, and page numbers. Additionally the page has major formatting issues with spacing or paragraph formation. Font size might not conform to size requirements. The student also significantly writes too large or too short of and paper 7 points out of 10: Research paper presents an above-average use of formatting skills. The paper has slight errors within the paper. This can include small errors or omissions with the cover page, abstract, page number, and headers. There could be also slight formatting issues with the document spacing or the font Additionally the paper might slightly exceed or undershoot the specific number of required written pages for the assignment. 10 points: Student provides a high-caliber, formatted paper. This includes an APA 6th edition cover page, abstract, page number, headers and is double spaced in 12’ Times Roman Font. Additionally, the paper conforms to the specific number of required written pages and neither goes over or under the specified length of the paper.
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