Eclectic Blog

Do You Want to Persuade Your Readers? Remember The Need

Sometimes we need to write persuasive documents, such as proposals or recommendation reports. The main goal of these types of documents is to persuade your readers to take some sort of action.

Features and Benefits

Too often, these types of documents only focus on features (what a product or service does) and benefits (the outcome of choosing a product or course of action). What’s missing? The need.

If you want to persuade people to do something or make a significant change, you need to start by focusing on a problem you are trying to solve for them.

For example, let’s say you want to convince your management team to buy a new photocopier/printer for the office. You might write about the great things a new photocopier/printer can do for you, such as copying 100 sheets a minute and using trays that hold 1000 sheets of paper. These are features.

You might also talk about the benefits of these features, such as staff spending less time refilling trays since the new trays hold so much paper. 

The Need

But don’t forget to start with the need. Why do you need to spend money on a new photocopier/printer? When trying to assess the need, ask yourself: what is the problem and why is this a problem?

Going back to our photocopier/printer example, maybe your current machine jams regularly, so staff members waste too much time trying to remove paper jams, which keeps them from doing their actual work. And maybe your current photocopier/printer has trays that only hold 100 sheets of paper, so your staff also wastes time (and therefore money) with constant refills.

The best persuasive documents discuss needs, features and benefits with clear details. It’s difficult to convince people to make a change if they don’t first see a problem. 

Are Emails Costing Your Organization Money?

For many of us, email is an integral part of our workday, whether we deal with a few emails each day or dozens. Whatever the volume of our email output, we should strive to always write clear, concise and specific email messages.

This should be everyone’s email writing goal: for your audience to be able to read your email quickly and with complete understanding. What if you don’t achieve that goal?

Ineffective emails can result in confusion as well as delays in work processes. They can also cost organizations a lot of money, but most of us have never calculated exactly how much that cost can be.

To estimate this cost, we have a helpful email cost calculator on our website. On the calculator, enter the following information:

  • number of staff in your organization or department
  • estimated number of emails sent each day
  • average staff salary (in thousands)

Then click calculate to see how much money you might be wasting with your work emails.

Need to Improve Your Email Writing? We can help you write more effective emails in your workplace. We offer in-person, online and virtual workshops. One of our books, “Using Writing and Editing Methods that Work”, also has a section on email writing. Email us at: administration@eclectic.ca for more information.

 

 

11 Tips for Proofreading Your Own Work

If you write anything at all, chances are you’ll sometimes have to proofread it yourself. Here are 11 tips to make the job easier.

  1. Get a friend to do a quick once-over
    Even if you have to do the detailed proofreading yourself, a quick read-through by a colleague or friend will still help. Spotting mistakes in other people’s work is much easier than checking your own work.
     
  2. Leave it a while
    Time away from your writing gives you fresh perspective and helps you see where the problems are. Leave it for as long as you can before you re-read it. You’ll be amazed at what you spot with fresh eyes.
     
  3. Print it out
    Reading your work on paper instead of on the computer screen helps you see it in a new way. It also makes it easier to cover bits up, get closer, and focus on one line at a time.
     
  4. Keep your style sheet and style guide handy
    If you’re working on a long document, you might keep a style sheet while writing to record things like specialist words, capitalization, and hyphenation. If your organization has a style guide, get to know it. Keep both of these things handy while you’re proofreading. They’ll help you make everything consistent.
     
  5. Get rid of distractions
    Perhaps the hardest thing about proofreading is concentrating. Make it easier to focus by clearing away clutter, switching off the internet, and taking the phone off the hook.
     
  6. Slow down
    Because we usually read for meaning, we’re not used to focusing carefully on each word. To pick up errors, you need to slow down and look at each word in turn. Be aware that this sort of concentration is hard. Your mind will wander. Focus hard for short bursts and give yourself plenty of breaks.
     
  7. Know what you’re looking for
    As well as checking spelling and punctuation, proofreading means checking numbers, headings, page headers and footers, page numbers, graphics, tables, cross-references, and formatting, among other things. You need a good list to keep you on track.
     
  8. Check one thing at a time
    You won’t be able to check for everything at once. For example, you can’t check formatting while you’re concentrating on spelling. A better approach is to check one thing at a time.
     
  9. Sound it out
    Find some space away from other people and read the text aloud. If you prefer, read silently but sound out each word in your head. For long words, you can even sound out each syllable to help you spot missing letters.
     
  10. Use your technology
    Use Microsoft Word’s spellchecker. Set the proofreading language to make sure you’re applying the spelling used in your country, then use the ‘Ignore’ and ‘Add’ commands to build a dictionary customised for you. Zoom in so any mistakes will be easier to see. Also, use Word’s ‘Find’ function to check the consistency of terms you’ve used a lot.
     
  11. Accept that nothing’s ever quite perfect
    Your best proofreading often happens after you’ve sent or published your writing. This is known as Murphy’s Law. Don’t worry — even award-winning novels have the occasional typo. This just shows that writers, editors and proofreaders are human too.
     

This guest post is by Write — a world-class plain language consultancy based in New Zealand. Like Eclectic, Write helps individuals and workplaces transform how they communicate. As well as offering insightful consultancy, expert writing services, and bespoke training, Write is the founding sponsor and host of New Zealand’s Plain English Awards. They also write a much-loved blog, where this post first appeared.

Use Bulleted Lists for Visual Appeal

How you format a document is just as important as the words you put on your page. Documents that are visually appealing are compelling and easier to read than poorly formatted ones. One of the things you can do to add visual appeal to your documents is to use bullets.

If you have a list that contains more than three items or a brief set of instructions to follow, use bullets for readability. Bullets allow you to create white space and chunk out key points.

When using bullets, here are general guidelines to help you format your list:

  • Keep lists to a maximum of six or seven bullets for easy scanning. Longer lists are harder to scan through.
  • Use white space between points to enhance readability, especially if each bullet is two lines or longer.
  • Ensure that all text is properly aligned on the left if your bullets are longer than one line. (Using the bullet function in Microsoft Word will take care of this for you.)
  • Only use numbers instead of bullets if the order of your list matters.
  • Don’t split a list over two pages; this makes it harder to scan.

 

Are Poor Spelling and Grammar Really All that Bad?

How much of an impact can poor spelling and grammar have on a reader? Is getting it right really that important?

How Bad Can It Really Be?

I recently decided that I had to get to the bottom of this. I wanted to know, from people who regularly receive and read important documents, how they really felt about the ‘odd’ spelling or grammatical error. And so I asked them.

I sent out the following sentence to a small but (from my perspective) influential group of contacts:

Michael and me have decided that the documnet, that we sent you today, is fine and theirs no further need for action.

The people I contacted ranged from company directors to the deputy editor of a newspaper through to a professor of philosophy. I asked each person whether they would question the professionalism of an individual or organisation that communicated this sentence.

A Surprising Amount of Fervour

The feedback I received didn’t surprise me but the fervour of some of the responses did. Every person I quizzed said they’d doubt the professionalism of a person who’d send this through. “Not only that, I would question whether or not the author was competent to review the document mentioned, and would have to follow up with them again to confirm someone competent had reviewed it,” said Dave, chief policy analyst at a high-profile government department.

Company director Marina felt the same way about the errors. “My reaction to the sentence is one of annoyance and the back part of my mind is almost certainly judging them … I wouldn’t hire someone who wrote like that.”

“Even if it were dictated to a totally incompetent typist I would wonder about their selection of staff,” said author and academic philosopher, Rosemary.

We All Make Mistakes

Although everyone I contacted doubted the competence of someone who’d write the ‘offending’ sentence, a couple did express at least a little forgiveness.

“It’s all about context,” replied deputy editor Piers. “We can all make some of those fundamental mistakes and the more comfortable the relationship between correspondents the more you can get away with. The key is to always read over your email before you send it. Poor spelling and grammar always makes the reader feel a little bit superior for not making those silly mistakes themselves.”

My Conclusion on the Importance of Correct Spelling and Grammar

Correct spelling and grammar really do matter — a lot. And checking and rechecking is key.

This guest post is by Write — a world-class plain language consultancy based in New Zealand. Like Eclectic, Write helps individuals and workplaces transform how they communicate. As well as offering insightful consultancy, expert writing services, and bespoke training, Write is the founding sponsor and host of New Zealand’s Plain English Awards. They also write a much-loved blog, where this post first appeared.

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