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Crafting the Well-Written Message

Tuesday, October 14, 2014
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Like many business professionals, when a training manager writes a memo to announce a new program, she will likely focus all of her energy on including every detail and overlook one critical element: packaging the message for easy reading. 

A well-written message doesn’t emerge with an information dump—and hoping the reader will find what he needs. When a message fails to engage people quickly or be visually appealing, two things can happen: 

  1. The reader loses interest, begins to skim, or just leaves.
  2. The reader misses the importance of the message because key points are scattered. 

Here are a two tips for writing a message of significance that is three paragraphs or longer—and can hold the reader’s attention. 
Open with a summary 

Few people write summary paragraphs effectively. A synopsis of the overall message highlights just enough background (if needed) to provide context, while keeping the reader on the page. A summary paragraph: 

  • tells the reader anything he must know to understand why the message exists
  • reduces the time required by the reader to comprehend the overall message.   

Here are the opening two paragraphs of an actual memo from HR: 
I am excited to announce the third year of the supervisor training program. In connection with our goal of continual improvement in service, we are offering this development experience, which will offer new and relevant tools and techniques for all of our supervisors.

This year’s Supervisor Training will be two full days of site training at the Sheraton Hotel here in the city. The dates of the training are September 18 and October 9. 

The first paragraph provides no useful information to the reader. And the second paragraph, which gives dates and location, says nothing about the content of the training or about what the reader needs to do in advance. 

This message contains the relevant information for this supervisor training, but it is loosely distributed throughout. And important directions on what readers need to do so participate in training is tucked onto the last paragraph (not shown). 

Instead, spare the reader the “I am excited” opening. Most employees know you are not. While it’s the standard beginning of many internal announcements, and you truly be excited, employees may not be. In addition, rather than talking about a “development experience” that will offer “relevant tools and techniques,” try giving the reader a glimpse into what those tools and techniques are. 

A revised version tells the reader the essential information, allowing the reader to decide whether to continue. If she wants to, fine. But it isn’t necessary; she already knows what is important. 

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This year’s supervisor training program will be held September 18-19 and October 9-10 at the Sheraton Hotel in Plymouth. 

The first session will cover “Coaching for Peak Performance” and “Influencing Skills to Make a Difference.” The second day will focus on “Facilitating Teams and Groups” and “Managing Effective Meetings.” 

Attached is a list of supervisors we plan to invite. If you have others you want to recommend, please call me at ext. 1234 by Friday, August 16. Your mentoring is vital to achieving the goals of the training; please ensure that your supervisors attend. 

Use graphic elements to guide the eye 

If a reader knows from the subject line that she is looking for specific information, bolded headings guide her eye to that information and make the message visually inviting. Likewise, bullets provide prominence to single facts. Here is an abbreviated version of what the second paragraph could look like: 

About the September 18-19 training (two full days of tools and techniques) 

Coaching for Performance will address how to deal with difficult situations, how to deal effectively with performance issues, how to conduct performance appraisals, and how to use strategies to take people to the next level of performance… 

About the October 9-10 training 

Facilitating Teams and Groups will cover group dynamics: tools to manage small and large groups, and techniques to get good information, solve problems, and make decisions… 

Remember: A well-crafted message is about more than just content; it’s about getting readers to take action. 

About the Author

Ken O’Quinn, a former AP writer, is a communications workshop leader and a corporate writing coach. He can be reached at Ken@WritingwithClarity.com

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