The increase in hybrid and remote working means that L&D leaders are now communicating more frequently in writing. We have to write about complex and sensitive topics which we would have previously spoken about in-person. Strong business writing skills are critical to success: enabling us to write clearly, concisely and diplomatically. It’s not easy. However, help is at hand. Follow our four-step writing process to master even the most complex and challenging messages, engage your readers and raise your professional profile.
Reading time: 6 minutes
The rise in hybrid and remote working has changed the way we communicate in the workplace. More often (than not) we’re putting everything in writing – even the most sensitive and complex subjects. L&D leaders now find themselves sending emails about topics they would have once spoken about in-person.
While many of us have developed skills in influencing, engaging and communicating challenging messages face-to-face, written communication adds another dimension: our readers can’t hear our tone or see our body language. What’s more, communications can be re-read, forwarded and published.
How confident are you in communicating complex or sensitive information in writing? Can you influence diverse audiences unfamiliar with L&D topics?
Read on to discover a straightforward four-step process to help you home in on key messages, and communicate them clearly, concisely and diplomatically in writing. Mastering advanced business writing skills will ensure you demonstrate credibility and confidence and enable you to connect with readers.
Step #1: Put yourself in the readers’ shoes
Communicating complex or sensitive information requires empathy. Who you are writing impacts what and how you communicate. Before you begin, take time to understand your audience’s needs. Ask yourself: How can I tailor messages to ensure they are accessible and relevant?
Write for the non-expert
Remember not everyone understands L&D jargon or technical terms: “We need to measure learning transfer”. For non-experts, “We need to measure how well employees use the skills they learn …” is much easier to understand.
Use the right amount of detail
You may be quite knowledgeable about measuring skills gaps, but business managers may be hearing about it for the first time. Make sure you include the details they need to know, especially if they have to follow up and take action.
You may need to communicate sensitive information, which could be received negatively by the reader. Consider providing more details, explaining the thinking, processes or data behind decisions to help your readers understand and accept them.
Choose the best format
Are you reporting training ROI to the L&D team as well as busy business managers? Do they need the same format? Match your document type to your target audience. While the L&D team will need the full report, business managers will more likely read a one-pager.
Step #2: Distil your message for simplicity and memorability
How can you make complex messages memorable? Keep them simple, clear and concise. Easier said than done? With practice, you can master refining your overall message. Here’s how:
Identify one thing
Ask yourself: What is the one thing I want readers to understand and take away?
For longer, messages, the number of ‘one things’ may increase. To identify the essential messages, consider:
- What do they already know?
- What do they need to know?
- What do they want to know?
Use consistent key words
Identify and use common words or phrases to make your message memorable.
- Carry out a quick keyword search to see what is currently trending.
- Use an online text analyser or word cloud generator to scan documents for recurring terms.
- Create a list of words and terms that describe your key concepts and stick with them.
To identify the ‘essence’ and ‘key terms’ of your message:
- Start by identifying your main ideas or key messages
- Describe each in one sentence up to 30 words
- Write them again using 20 words
- Then using 10 words
- Then using 5 words
Repeat the exercise with different readers/audiences in mind to see if they change before you craft your communications.
Step #3: Make your messages engaging
Start with the end in mind
To engage readers from the start, consider what you need or want them to think, feel and do. Address their WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) by focusing content around it and communicating it at the start. That way, your audience will find your documents more compelling.
Use strategic structuring
When presenting new or complex concepts, include familiar (known) information before unfamiliar (new) information. Make links between the two to help readers understand.
First and last: Make use of the psychological ‘serial-position effect’: people tend to recall the first and last items they read best. Include your key messages at the beginning and end of each section of your document.
When writing sensitive messages, put the explanation or detail before the news or decision. This prepares the reader and makes them more likely to accept difficult messages.
Adapt your writing style
Adapt your content, structure and writing style to your readers and context. Ask yourself if their ideal communication is:
- comprehensive, detailed, accurate and credible,
- personal, conversational, informal and warm,
- clear, linear, concrete and task-focused, or
- direct, concise, focused, and relevant
You can also adapt your style to different document types. A report may be more comprehensive, detailed, accurate and credible. But an email with constructive feedback can be more personal, conversational and warm.
Step #4: Edit your messages
No one writes a perfect first draft. Editing is an essential stage for any business writing. It’s particularly important if your messages are complex, confidential or sensitive. If possible, write and review over several days. When you give time for your ideas to develop, you give yourself the opportunity to make your writing clearer.
Follow this essential editing process:
Remove redundant points
Remove unnecessary information, repetition and ‘filler words’.
Shorten sentence length
Reduce sentences that contain more than 20 words. Distil them to one main idea.
Use clear language
Have you used simple, everyday language? It will help readers understand and retain information. Especially for non-native speakers.
Check your tone
If your messages are sensitive or confidential, check that you have written objectively and diplomatically. Remember, your messages can be read many times over and forwarded to others. Don’t write anything you wouldn’t say to your readers in-person.
One last thing
Before you press send and start sharing what you’ve written, there’s one last step. Read it aloud. This may sound simple. But it’s often overlooked. When reading your writing aloud, you’ll more easily find areas for improvement.
2023 has just begun. Prioritising your own learning, especially business writing, will help you become a more influential and credible L&D leader. Today and into the future.
With over 80 years’ experience of working in over 100 countries in 6 continents, we have unrivalled experience of professional development for organisations. Find out more about how our 4-step process, business writing courses and 121 coaching can grow your and your team’s skills and prepare you for the opportunities of 2023 and beyond.
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