Sunday, March 19, 2006

Make your writing flow

Are you like everyone else in the corporate world who thinks writing is difficult? Think again. Writing is the easy part if you have the right structure.

Ask any corporate employee what they hate most about their job, and they universal answer will be writing. This is a sad situation because writing is not difficult. It is a process of putting together ideas using subjects and verbs, and adding adjectives, adverbs and articles.

The difficulty in writing is often caused by a lack of structure. Picture this typical scene: A busy employee sits in front of his computer with a head full of jumbled ideas and starts pounding out words on the keyboard thinking that it will all make sense in the end.

Not surprisingly, the end result is a mess, and the writer swears that writing is difficult as he tears out his hair trying to untangle the jumble that he just created.

To make writing easy, start with a structure. Before writing a report, e-mail, speech and presentation, take the time to organise your thoughts. Once an outline is established mentally, clear and effective writing will naturally fall into place.

Here are five structures to make writing simple:

1. Inverted pyramid
Trained journalists use this method to write newspaper articles, and it works well with any piece of written communication.

Typical of a newspaper article, the most important information appears at the top of an inverted pyramid in the first paragraph, and it answers the who, what, when where, why and how questions. The rest of the information is then presented in order of importance, with the least important informaiton at the inverted tip.

For example, if you are writing a press release announcing your company's quarterly earnings, then you would put the earnings result in the first paragraph because htat is the most important information that shareholders need.

To beging writing, answer these questions: Who? Company ABC. What ? Reported earnings rose 65 per cent to $100 million. Put all this together and you get: "The reported earnings of Company ABC rose 65 per cent to $100 million, or $10 per share, in the third quarter."

In the next paragraph, you answer the why question - why did profit rise 65 per cent? For example, "Revenue was driven by a 90 per cent surge in sales to the Middle East during the quarter."

In the third paragraph, provide a quote from the chairman beause shareholders like to hear from the person who is responsible for the result. The rest of the paragraphs in the press release should provide all of the financial details and back-ground information.

2. Egyptian pyramid
Management consutants use this method. It is actually the same as inverted pyramid style; it is just a mentally different concept of putting the most important information at the tip of the pyramid, and then adding information to build the rest of the pyramid down to the base.

For instance, a chairman who hires consultants to fin dout why his company is not profitable whoudl first want to know the problem. Thus, this information should be at the tip of pyramid.

The solutions to the problem then go into the middle of the pyramid, and the reason for the problem should form the based of the pyramid structure.

3 Number Priority
If pyramids are too difficult to conceptualise, then simply use numbers to organise information in written communication. This is a simple method of deciding in numerical order what the most important fact to be communicated is, followed by the next most important fact, and so on.

For example, if you are writing a memo in inform colleagues about a meeting, then the first paragraph should announce that a meeting is going to be held, and then provide the date, time and place. This is the most important information that the reader wants to know.

The next paragraph should state the purpose of the meeting, the third should describe the importance of the meeting, the fourth should provide any additional details and background, and you could sign off the last paragraph with a motivating mesage to encourage members to attend the meeting.

4. Beginning, middle and end
This method relies on skills learned in sschool on how to write essays. Start with a beginning, support the beginning with a middle, aand then end with a conclusion.

For example, if a report is being prepared for the board of directors to request funds for a $1billion plant expansion, start with the request at the beginning so that the reader does not have to wait until the end to find out the requested amount.

The middle section could focus on explaining the need for the requested funds, while the ending could carry a summary of the expected benefits from the capital expenditure.

5. Most important to least important
This structures simply groups the most important information and the least important information.

For example, an internal memo to employees telling them that salaries will be cut 20 per cent across the board is important information that needs to be stated right away at the beginning, and the benefits to the company from the salary cuts should be left to the end as this is the least vital information for employees.

Article contributed the Carolyn Tiemann, who conducts corporate writing worksthops. E-mail:

In my opinion, blogging can improve your writings tremendously, over time.

No comments: