By Corporate English Solutions

24 May 2022 - 09:00

Reading time: 6 minutes

When we write effective business communications it boosts our credibility, enhances relationships, and increases performance and productivity. All great gains which you can easily achieve with some simple strategic planning. In this article, read about the SAPOCAM planning tool to get your business writing read. 


Are you someone who procrastinates over business writing? Or do you perhaps rush through it to get it done as quickly as possible?  

SAPOCAM is a strategic planning tool developed by the British Council that helps with both; it stops you from staring at a blank screen and helps you to step back and think. Taking the time to do this can make your writing clearer, more targeted, and more considerate of your readers. 

In this article, discover how to use the SAPOCAM tool to strengthen your business writing skills to improve emails, reports, and other written communication.  

Introducing the SAPOCAM tool

The SAPOCAM tool not only helps you at the planning stage but also when reviewing and improving your pieces of writing once you have drafted them. 

SAPOCAM is an acronym made up of seven interconnected elements:  

S – Situation 
A – Audience  
P – Purpose 
O – Outcome 
C – Context (workplace) 
A – Approach (to communication) 
M – Message 

When you consider all of the elements in SAPOCAM, you can craft more engaging pieces of written communication that ultimately encourage your readers to take the desired action. 

How to use the SAPOCAM tool

It can be useful to work through SAPOCAM in order, to help your ideas flow. If you find that this doesn’t work for a particular piece, you can move freely between the questions until your plan is clear. 

Let’s take a closer look at each component of SAPOCAM and the key questions to ask yourself at each stage. 


It’s easy to focus on the obvious reason for writing: perhaps you need to reply to an email, write a report or draft a proposal.  

The situation questions in SAPOCAM look below the surface and ask you to think about the problems and solutions your professional writing needs to discuss. This insight will help you identify the strategic purpose and audience needs of each piece of writing, while also affecting your choice of content and tone.  

Key questions to consider: 

  • What has created the need to write this piece?
  • Are there any problems that need dealing with?
  • How can your business writing be part of the solution? 


When we choose a gift for somebody, we think about what they want and need and how they will feel when receiving it. Professional business writing is the same.  

Who your audience is determines what you say and how you say it. You may need to consider what they need and want to hear, and that these two things may be different.  

By adapting your writing to your readers’ current knowledge, needs, and the closeness of your relationship with them, you can better engage them and achieve your desired outcomes.  

Key questions to consider: 

  • Should you include a lot of detail or just the main points?
  • Is it better to structure and write in a direct or indirect, formal or informal way? 
  • Will your audience understand jargon or technical language? 


How often do you read emails, reports, and other written communication and wonder what the point is or what you need to do next? If the purpose of your writing is unclear, your readers could waste time, lack confidence in you and fail to act.  

Identifying both the practical and strategic purpose of your piece of writing will ensure that it has the ideal impact on your readers.  

Key questions to consider: 

  • What is the practical, task-oriented goal of your writing? This often results in action, for example: to inform, ask or instruct.
  • What is the more subtle underlying purpose for writing? For example: to highlight the success of a project; motivate or convince; let your team know you’re aware they haven’t been doing something.  


While your purpose identifies what to say, your desired outcome shifts your attention to how to say it. This is one of the most strategic decisions you can make when planning business communications. 

Your purposes might be to inform and highlight the success of a project, while your desired outcome could be that your readers: 

  • think, feel and speak positively about you
  • choose to work with you on the next project
  • give you a good performance review. 

 Key questions to consider: 

  • What are your readers’ preferred communication styles? 
  • A concise summary focusing on action or detailed communications showing extensive research?
  • Success stories about people or factual information?
  • Visuals and charts, bulleted lists or paragraphs? 

Context (Workplace)

When we start work in a new organisation, we often spend months understanding the culture, expectations and norms of the context to ensure we fit in, project a professional image and build credibility and trust.  

Reflecting on these areas will help you adapt the content, structure and tone of your business writing, while also ensuring you project the right ‘image’.  

Key questions to consider:  

  • Does your organisation have a style guide? What is the expected tone of voice?
  • How hierarchical is your organisation? Do you need to adapt your vocabulary for more senior stakeholders?
  • Do your readers communicate in more direct or indirect ways? 
  • Are they more task or relationship-focused in their communication? 

Communication approach

Professional writing can fail to make an impact simply because of the time of day, format, or even the sender.  

When writing, be sure to keep these factors in mind:  

  • The time zones of your readers.
  • Whether they would respond better to one long or several short communications.
  • Whether you can write immediately or need to speak to them first. 

Key questions to consider:  

  • How many different pieces do you need to write?
  • Who is the best person to write/sign/send them?
  • When is the best time to send them? 


While the message itself is often the first thing that comes to mind when writing, it can be useful to analyse the other elements of SAPOCAM first. This way, the knowledge and understanding you gain can help you make your writing more targeted to achieve the outcomes you need.  

Key questions to consider:  

  • What do you need to say?
  • What is the best way to say it? 

Important takeaways

SAPOCAM may seem simple – even obvious – but do you make it a habit to consider each of these elements carefully before writing? Using SAPOCAM will get you started, save you time and boost reader engagement, better realising your goals.  

Analysing the writing context using the SAPOCAM framework can help you communicate much more effectively by ensuring that each piece of business writing you undertake is: 

  • a suitable response to the situation
  • informed by the needs of the reader
  • sensitive to its professional context
  • expressed, presented, and delivered in a way that best achieves the desired results.  

British Council business writing training

We provide online, face-to-face and blended business writing courses where you and your employees can engage in flexible, practical learning to help you enrich your business writing skills. 

Find out more about our business communication training for employees. 

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