Whether we’re talking about an email, sales materials, internal reports, training materials, or anything else, you must always ask yourself: what do you want the reader(s) to do after they’ve read the material?
All too often, writers fail to think about what they're trying to accomplish. Lack of clarity on this point increases the risk that your writing will be unclear. The writing may leave the reader unsure, unprepared, or even outright unable to do anything with what they just read.
Here are four questions that should help you use any particular piece of content to achieve your desired outcome.
First question: what’s the goal of the writing?
Almost every piece of written communication has a goal, even if it’s just to inform, and many pieces have multiple goals. Can you articulate the goal(s), at least to yourself? For example, your goal for a report aimed at a group of colleagues might be to help them make better business decisions in general. Or, you might have the goal of persuading them to make a specific business decision. Be clear with yourself about the outcome that you’re trying to achieve.
Second question: do you tell the reader what to do?
Once you’ve established your goal, do you tell the reader what step(s) to take to achieve it? Including a call-to-action is the easiest and best way to realize your goal. You eliminate confusion and uncertainty and increase the likelihood that your communication will have the desired impact. For example, your report might conclude with discussion of “the next step” or even a full list of “action items.”
Third question: does the reader share that goal?
You might need to think strategically here. For example, you might be trying to persuade the reader to take an action they otherwise wouldn’t – or are even actively resisting! If they don’t share your goal, you need to think about how to get them to want to take your desired action anyway. You could emphasize the ways the action will directly benefit them or you could offer them incentive. The key is to give them reason to act.
Fourth question: do the readers have all the information/resources they need to do it?
Even if readers understand perfectly what to do – and they are willing – can they do it? Ensure your communication addresses any logistical or practical constraints that could affect their ability to act. For example, if you want them to fund your project, tell them what they need to do to make that happen. Whatever specific action you need/want your readers to take, give them the information they need to complete it.
Apply this framework of four questions to any writing project to strengthen its impact. For more information about making your communications more effective, contact us.
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 25 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.