Posted November 5, 2019
Your readers won't necessarily care about your topic just because you do. In fact, organizations can devote enormous efforts to producing written materials that fall flat with intended readers. One way to conquer this challenge is through outcome statements. Such a statement explains (1) the objective and (2) the purpose of the document. Writers can structure the statement like "the objective of X is to achieve Y for the purpose of Z."
For example, imagine that your organization is writing about a new innovation in industrial paint that prevents corrosion in metallic surfaces, with intent to publish an article in a reputable industry journal. The objective of this article might be to extend awareness of the new solution for the purpose of gaining new leads. But what about the readers? What is the outcome they are seeking when they decide to read the article? Only if the author understands why the reader is reading and what the reader hopes to gain from the act of reading – and can align their own writing goals with the reader’s reading goals – can the document be maximally effective. But what does this entail?
First, understand which of the four basic types of documents the writing project involves: informational, results-oriented, persuasive, or negative.
The first type is purely educational: the reader is reading to gain knowledge. Results-oriented documents usually aim to get readers to take a specific action. Persuasive is more mental, aiming to shift a reader’s viewpoint on, or understanding of, a subject. Finally, negative communication is about breaking bad news to the reader (e.g., telling customers about a data breach). It’s important to understand the type (or types – they’re not mutually exclusive) because it impacts what the reader expects, wants, and needs. For example, an informational document must lay out cold, hard, and preferably substantiated facts.
Next, understand why the reader is reading and what information they need to meet their own goals.
Returning to our example about the anti-corrosion paint, the organization wants to get the word out, generate some excitement and interest, convince readers to contact them, and make sales. But to maximize those outcomes, the writer(s) needs to ask why readers will be reading the article in the first place. Here, it’s likely to keep themselves informed about developments in their industry. That means they’ll be receptive to new information, but given the communication channel – a reputable journal – a salesy tone or message will go over poorly. They want facts, evidence, and explanations; they want to learn.
Finally, look for ways to use the document (not just the subject matter of the document) to solve real problems.
Here, we need to divorce the document itself from what the document is talking about. What’s the problem the article – not the anti-corrosive paint – is solving? It might be discoverability; the reader doesn’t know the new technology exists, and they turn to industry journals to learn about such new developments. Contrast this with, say, a Request For Proposal (RFP), where the reader’s problem is deciding between multiple potential solutions. In this case, the document needs to be persuasive and provide arguments to make and justify a buying decision.
Altogether, writers can use these three steps to create written documents that connect the dots between their own goals and their reader’s – and produce more impactful written materials as a result.
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 30 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. Links: internal