Business Writing For Dummies, 2nd Edition
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Writing persuasively can be useful in business. Persuasion is a topic that obsesses marketers, communicators, psychologists, neuroscientists, and even economists, who created the field of behavioral economics with breakthrough thinking about how humans make decisions.

The nutshell version is that while we may believe we make choices based on information and logic, in truth, our decisions are usually driven by emotion and then justified with rationality. Because analytic thought consumes enormous amounts of energy, we typically call on it only when we more or less force ourselves to take the trouble.

In business writing, the lesson is: Whenever possible go for both the heart and the mind. Look for ways to capture people’s imagination, give them a vision, and provide reasons to trust you. Help them back up instinctive decisions with solid facts and evidence. These two elements of persuasion support each other. For example, if you don’t establish trust, a long recitation of facts is unlikely to convince your audience to take a chance on you. But likability isn’t enough. Aim to satisfy their analytic review.

Communicating with conviction

Nothing is more convincing than your own belief. When you write an important message to introduce yourself, for example, or pitch a product, take a minute to reinform yourself of why that product or service is outstanding and why you’ve made it your life’s work. What drew you to do what you do — a passion? A commitment to solve a problem or help people? Why are you certain that knowing about your service will benefit the other person? Or, why are you the ideal person for the opportunity?

Try This: To further reinforce your positive spirit, experiment with proven techniques for calling up your confidence. Actors, presenters, and salesmen commonly use them, and they can help you infuse confidence into your writing. When you’re about to work on an important email, letter, proposal, or other document, energize yourself by assuming an assertive but comfortable posture and walk around that way for a few minutes. This technique exploits the mind-body connection, signaling to your mind that you are capable, resourceful, and so on.

Another strategy, drawn from the psychologist’s repertoire, is to relive a proud moment from past experience as vividly as you can, employing all your senses to re-create how you felt. Or: put on whatever music lifts your spirits and energy. Carry your conviction and upbeat mood to the writing task.

Good, well-strategized writing is inherently persuasive. The best quick self-check is to read your message aloud and identify the stumbling blocks to smooth delivery. Then edit until your copy reads easily and naturally. Humans are attuned to oral communication, and material that reads well aloud conveys credibility and competence. Also:

  • Write for speed reading.
  • Build sentences with action verbs.
  • Use short, easily understood words that are tangible rather than abstract — things you can see and measure.
  • Alternate short and long sentences.
  • Compose short paragraphs.
  • Minimize the use of meaningless hyperbole.
  • Skip the wishy-washy.
  • Edit for totally correct spelling and grammar.

Attend closely to all transitions between sentences and between paragraphs. Add extra transitions to help you clarify your own logic: You can always cut some in final editing.

Connecting with your reader

Whether you’re asking for an appointment or writing a blog, the first essential is to get your message read. Assume you have about 4 seconds to entice someone to read your message instead of tossing it. Time yourself if you don’t believe me: Scan your email inbox and note how quickly you make decisions about whether to read a message, and note what kind of subject lines and leads draw you in.

Here are some techniques to help you make the most of your brief window of opportunity. Adapt them to your purpose.

  • Characterize your audience before you begin writing. Imagine the ideal reader you want to reach and think about the message you’re delivering through her eyes.
  • Write action headlines. This applies to proposals, reports, marketing pieces, and other materials. Online materials, including blogs and websites, also need headlines that attract readers and crystallize your message to establish its relevance.
  • Write organized, progressive subheads. Action subheads entice readers along and are worthwhile even in short messages. Even a skimmer will absorb the important points, or may be drawn in more deeply.
  • Keep the reader going with a compelling lead. Focus in on what is most interesting, useful, or relevant about your subject. Why should your readers care? Answer that question yourself to find your best opening.
  • Use graphics and images to lighten and liven. If it appears dense and difficult, few people will dive in. Give every kind of document lots of white space. Keep type and format simple, and use images whenever possible to attract and entertain the eye and promote understanding.

Maintaining reader engagement

Yes, you must capture your reader’s wandering eye, but good leads and writing style aren’t enough to keep him. For that you need solid substance. Before writing, brainstorm all your selling points and write them down. Here are a few ways to deliver the message convincingly:
  • Cite evidence of your expertise or the wonders of your product. Include reviews, testimonials, statistics, awards, signs of authority such as blogs or articles, and published interviews.
  • Sprinkle your material generously with anecdotes, examples, and illustrations. This brings it alive and makes it both real and relevant.
  • Center on benefits, not on features. What does the product or service do for people and how does it makes them feel?
  • Create a vision of how life will be more wonderful. If your idea is adapted or your product is bought and put to use, how will some aspect of life improve?
  • Call the reader to action. What do you want the reader who’s made it to the end (or skimmed to get there) to do now? Call? Write? Read your blog? Go to your website? Subscribe? This should be built into your conclusion.

Here’s a favorite technique to help you be your most persuasive: Figure out the main opposing arguments and build in the rebuttals. Take account of opposing ideas rather than ignoring or dismissing them. You become more credible. This affords you good openings for citing evidence, too. For example:

One reservation you may have is that the system requires adapting to a whole new technology.We know there’s a learning curve, but we also know that users become 18 percent more efficient. And we have a good training program ready to go.

It’s true this strategy was tried 10 years ago, but at that time, we couldn’t tap big data to fine-tune each step.

You can produce a new website less expensively. But a Second Opinion site generates twice as many leads for our clients than any of their previous sites.

Giving people time

When you sell a service, product, or new way of thinking, it’s wise not to expect overnight miracles. Decisions are grounded on trust. Think “one goal at a time.” A good letter can gain you entrée to meet with someone; a well-crafted email pitch draws people to your website; an interesting tweet leads someone to read your blog; a free webinar brings in people ready to pay for a service; effective blogs lead readers to trust you enough to buy your ebook.

Good teachers aim for incremental learning. They start where their students are and take them, step by step, toward more knowledge and understanding. Experienced marketers also know that persuading someone to buy a different product or adopt a new idea takes sustained effort and a consistent message across platforms.

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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