Easy Reference Guides
Tips for Business Writers
Tips for Fiction Writers and Journalists
improve your chances of a positive response
document, you need to keep your reader in
mind. The more ‘readable’ (easy to follow and understand) you can make
document, the greater the likelihood of getting your reader onside with
message – and this, of course, means greater likelihood of approval/
acceptance/ contribution/ compliance.
generally think that getting their info
‘out there’ is the way to go – that once a reader reads what they have
they will leap on board. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.
busy people; reading has to be made easy for them and the benefits
– and it’s best to do this early in the document rather than at the end
not every document is read in its entirety, particularly if the reading
that make a document easy to read
good layout – info
packaged into memorable bits with short, easy-to-understand headings
kept to an
(whenever you can)
simple explanations, use smaller words rather than longer ones, avoid
wordiness. For example, I recently edited an exciting new business case
the writer got a bit carried away and wrote about ‘transformational
‘aspirational goals’. Don’t say something in 10 words when you can say
graphs or diagrams used to break up (and pretty up) the text. (Tables
have to go at the end)
– if you are
including a lot of sector-specific terms. Keep definitions simple and
You might think
that this reader-friendly approach is
unnecessary, that once your reader reads the info you’ve presented, the
alone/ your line of reasoning/ the altruism or commonsense of your
do the job. Maybe, maybe not. Even with ‘worthy causes’, not everyone
prioritises them in the same way – the fact that more money is spent on
than welfare is a good example of that. A well-organised, easy to read,
understand, enjoyable document is a subtle, practical way of helping
put your name at the top of the list.
‘enjoyable’. There is no reason why a
high-powered business document should be a hard read. Where
can apply the following techniques to let in a bit of sunlight
case studies or relevant examples from your personal experience
– just because a topic is dry doesn’t mean your language has to be
if they suit your message – with care of course
metaphors if they are appropriate
though less is
more in long documents, 4 small words are often better than 2
the person reading your document will be a
person very much like yourself, with a lot to do and not quite enough
do it in. Take it easy on them.
Ten tips for preparing and writing a
thing I have noticed from proofing lots of different documents is
that things the writer thinks are perfectly obvious frequently aren’t.
important documents, you don’t want your readers having to guess what
– in case they get it wrong. Nor do you want to make your document a
read. You want a sympathetic, enthusiastic even, response from your
the end of it. Here are ten tips to maximise your chances of both.
WRITTEN DOWN of what you want the report to cover. (This will form the
your overview when you come to write up your report.) You know yourself
much you appreciate a well-structured, easy-to-follow document.
cover areas you have decided in advance are
important – and will guide your managers on the info they collect. E.g.
Overview, Proposal/Target, Implementation Plan, Timeline, Problems with
Implementation, Benefits, Costs, Glossary (if necessary.)
your report will consist of more than one section –
say you have several initiatives on the go at once, or you have several
for a client to choose from, or your report will consist of input from
than one manager – then make sure you have your headings worked out and
standardised. If the layout is the
same from one section to the next, this makes it easy on your CEO or
they want to compare sections or just be able to follow the flow of
information. Headings should be the same for all sections and in the
and size. Sub-headings can vary and should be smaller than headings to
a realistic time
frame for collecting info, drafting, review, editing and
Final presentation is important.
a long document, or one covering a specialised
field, a Style Sheet is necessary
and should be prepared as you write your first draft. This is an info
which tells the proofreader how you want certain words to consistently
in your document(s). It covers spellings, especially those specific to
field, or more general, e.g. coordinate (or co-ordinate), healthcare
care); capitalisations; numerals etc. In less specialised fields this
left to the proofreader.
start of the report is very important. Make sure
you provide a concise overview of what your document will cover. (No,
not covered by the Contents page. No one actually reads this!) The introduction should briefly introduce the
reader to the topic of the report, contributors and how info was
Omit if not necessary. The overview
should consist of a brief statement or paragraph summarising the
purpose of the
report and then 4-6 headings summarising the different areas to be
(Each heading can have bullets which will be sub-headings later in the
document.) Brevity is important here because it is easier for your
keep the purpose of the document in mind if it is summarised in a
statement, and easier to remember objectives/initiatives if they are
headings than if they are sentences.
terms at the start of your document – or, if you are using a
sector-specific terms, prepare a glossary for your reader. (This is a
terms and meanings in alphabetical order.) It is often a good idea to
separate, unattached, photocopy of the glossary so the reader doesn’t
keep flicking to the back of the document for definitions.
Less is more these days. Don’t make your report any longer than it has
Don’t add unnecessary adjectives or phrases like: “…which will achieve
overall aim of…”. This sort of thing goes without saying and should
covered in the Intro or your statement of purpose. The addition of
anecdotes, case studies and/or relevant examples can make a document a
interesting than just the facts and figures.
straightforward and clear. (I recently proofed a document where the
forgot the simplicity rule. He included the phrase “during the hours
offices are closed”. He meant “after hours” and that was all he needed
Always keep the reader (who the document is written for) in mind. If
using specialised vocab – i.e. sector-specific terms – provide a
first mention and at logical places during the document, so the reader
have to break his/her concentration by referring to the glossary.
and diagrams are easy to follow and use the same terminology
as the text
that explains them. Tables/diagrams can be used to break up the text,
colour and make your document more attractive. They don’t all have to
appendices at the end. A well-presented diagram or graph can have more
than a thousand words.
following point is so important, I am repeating it: writers always
need to keep their reader(s) in mind. If you are the writer, make
for the fact that your readers might not know what you know, that they
have a number of similar documents to read, and that they might have
had a late
night! Make your business proposal
report the one that’s really easy to read and remember.