Business Writing For Dummies, 2nd Edition
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Perhaps defining the goal and audience for your business audience sounds like unnecessary busy-work. But doing so helps immeasurably when you’re approaching someone with an idea, product, or service that you need him to buy into.

Suppose your department is planning to launch a major project that you want to lead. You could write a memo explaining how important the opportunity is to you, how much you can use the extra money, or how much you’ll appreciate being chosen for the new role. But unless your boss, Mark, is a totally selfless person without ambition or priorities of his own, why would he care about any of that?

You’re much better off highlighting your relevant skills and accomplishments. Your competitors for the leadership position may equal or even better such a rundown, so you must make your best case. Think beyond yourself to what matters most to Mark.

A quick profile of Mark reveals a few characteristics to work with:

  • He likes to see good teamwork in people reporting to him.
  • He’s a workaholic who is usually overcommitted.
  • He likes to launch projects and then basically forget about them until results are due.
  • He’s ambitious and always angling for his next step up.
Considering what you know about Mark, the content of your message can correspond to these traits by including:
  • Your good record as both a team player and team leader
  • Your dedication to the new project and willingness to work over and beyond normal hours to do it right
  • Your ability to work independently and use good judgment with minimal supervision
  • Your enthusiasm for this particular project, which, if successful, will be highly valued by the department and company
Again, all your claims must be true, and you need to provide evidence that they are. For example, you could include a reminder of another project you successfully directed and handled independently.

Your reader profile can tell you still more. If you wonder how long your memo needs to be, consider Mark’s communication preferences. If he prefers brief memos followed by face-to-face decision-making, keep your memo concise, but still cover the major points to secure that all-important meeting. However, if he reacts best to written detail, give him more information up front.

Creating a reader profile enables you to create a blueprint for the content of all your messages and documents. After you’ve defined what you want and analyzed your audience in relation to the request, brainstorm the points that may help you win your case with that person. Your brainstorming gives you a list of possibilities. Winnowing out the most convincing points is easy, and you can organize simply by prioritizing.

Thinking through how to profile your reader works equally well when you’re writing a major proposal, a business plan, a report, a funding request, a client letter, a marketing piece, a blog, a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, networking message, or website copy. Know your goal. Know who your intended audience is and what that person or group cares about. Then think widely within that perspective.

Another way to think about your content is to consider that everything you write is an “ask.” Even a message that just conveys information is asking your audience to read it and act upon it in some way, if only to absorb or file it. An event announcement asks the recipient to take note and usually, you’re asking her to feel motivated to participate. A “congratulations on your promotion” note asks the lucky person to notice that you’re on her side.

Try to think of a written communication that doesn’t ask for something. It’s pretty tough. There’s an advantage to seeing every message as a request: Doing so sets you up to frame your message with the right content for the person to whom you’re writing.

About This Article

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Natalie Canavor's career spans national magazine editing, journalism, corporate communications and public relations. Her writing for business media, professional audiences and The New York Times have won dozens of national and international awards. She has taught advanced writing seminars for NYU and conducts frequent workshops.

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