One of the reasons writing can be so hard is that we often dive into the writing part without a lot of thought to the strategy and purpose of our message. By giving yourself a slower start and working a bit on the overall picture of what you want to accomplish in your writing, you will likely finish with a much better message!
Tip 1: It is all about ME! ME! ME! ME! ME!
Actually, that is a joke. It is not all about you. When you write, try thinking of things from the other person’s perspective. Why is the information you are trying to communicate important to them? Are there problems you want to solve for them? Focus on the benefit the other person will gain through the information you are providing.
Tip 2: Ask yourself a lot questions!
By starting the writing process with questions to yourself, you will have a clearer idea of what you want to accomplish! Ask yourself: What is the purpose of my letter? Who is my reader? How do I want to be interpreted? What could go wrong with my word choice or tone? How would I want to be told this information?
Tip 3: Be careful about using jargon.
Is your audience going to know exactly what you are referring to or will the reference come across as unintelligible writing? So, if you are going to say “Let’s meet up and have a brain dump so we can get a 10,000 foot view of this project and devise the actionable items that will help us hit the ball out of the park for the client. We want our ducks in a row so we don’t have to scramble after the low-hanging fruit when we could be hitting a grand slam!” just be sure you are 100% confident your readers will know exactly what you are saying!
Tip 4: Delivering bad news is best done with a sandwich.
You might have heard this before. Or, perhaps one of your college professors used this technique with you. Giving someone bad news isn’t easy. One of the best ways to do it without bringing up too many hurt feelings and defensive reactions is to sandwich the bad news between two bits of good news.
For example: “Jeff, thanks for your work on the proposal. The overall message of our product strategy was right on target. We need to work a bit on the specifics as there is room for improvement on points 1, 2, and 3. I’m sure you can get it corrected easily. The closing was well written – good job.”
Tip 5: Close your letter with your contact information and call to action.
Sometimes it will be obvious how to reach you and why. In other situations, it will not be so obvious and should be stated explicitly. It is especially important when you are writing a proposal or cover letter.
For example, closing your cover letter like this will be effective and helpful: “If these sound like the experiences and traits you are seeking, contact me. I can be reached at 917.584.3022 or via email at email@example.com to arrange a meeting. I promise it will be worth your time. Thank you for your consideration.”
Tip 6: Speaking of cover letters…
The topic of cover letters is a whole article in itself. For today, let me give you an overview of the goal. As you know from Tip #2, you want to start by answering a few questions about the purpose of your letter. From there, write an engaging opening (avoid the old school “I saw an ad…”), then create the body of your letter by tying your experience to the employer’s needs (notice how this follows Tip #1), construct your sentences so that you don’t use the word “I” constantly (simply rearranging the sentence usually works!), and then follow Tip #5 to close it with your call to action!
You can see a sample cover letter on this page of my site.
Tip 7: Just say it!
How often have you written “I wanted to thank you for…?” Really, you just needed to write “Thank you!” When you are writing, be wary of any time that you write those pesky introductory words. They take emphasis OFF your actual message.
Doesn’t “In follow up to the ABC project, when will draft report be ready?” come across much stronger than “I wanted to reach out to you to follow up with you about the ABC project report and when you think it might be ready?”
Tip 8: Remember the perils of the hastily sent angry email…
Did you see the email from the CEO of the PR firm that threatened to fire the next staff member that did not replace the milk when it was empty? A Google search of him turned up 10 full pages of results. That is a lot of bad press for one angry email sent in the midst of an emotional reaction to a relatively minor event.
Learn from this guy’s mistake. If you are feeling anything but calm and serene, it probably is not the right time to hit send on that email you drafted!
Tip 9: Proofread. Then do it again.
This is the one thing that will get us all at one time or another. MS Word has a terrible habit of not telling us when we use the wrong word! Form becomes from and principal becomes principle. Ugh. It is stuff that makes us cringe when we do finally see our mistake (usually after it is sent off to a VIP client!).
Some of the best proofreading techniques include 1) using a ruler and reading your document line by line, 2) reading the letter out loud, word for word, 3) reading backwards (this really helps with spelling), 4) asking someone else to read your work, and 5) let the document sit overnight before proofing it one last time before sending. A fresh set of eyes catches a lot more than a tired, overworked pair!