Ensuring a Purpose in Technical and Scientific Writing

             



Most of us have read documents where we get to the end and think, “Why am I reading this?” or “What is it that I’m supposed to do with this document?” I call this the "and" factor, as in “ And I’m supposed to do what/think what about this document?” In technical and scientific writing, this is crucial, as readers don't want to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what they're supposed to do with the document.

To ensure that our readers don't have "and" moments, as writers we need to have a concrete goal in terms of what we want our reader to do with the document and what it is we're trying to achieve. To put it simply, always focus on the action we want our readers to take, and make it evident right away in whatever you’re writing.

What are the purposes of writing in business?

Make the sale, right? That’s the reason why businesses produce written materials, isn’t it?

Not so fast! There’s more to purposeful writing than meets the eye. Indeed, purposeful writing is a concept that many writers don't understand. For one thing, your purpose isn’t the only one that matters. It’s critical to understand that any document needs to address not just your purpose for it, but your reader’s as well! There are always multiple purposes of writing any given document.

And to make a document maximally effective, those purposes must align.

But what does that mean?

The writer’s own writing purposes can vary dramatically.

Writers often have multiple purposes when writing a document, and they might include any combination of the following:

  • Sometimes the writer needs to inform the reader, so they know how or why to take a specific action or simply to enhance their understanding of the subject.
  • Sometimes the writer needs to persuade the reader by breaking down objections and making compelling arguments.
  • Sometimes the writer needs to motivate the reader, or make them want to act.
  • Sometimes the writer wants to establish credibility, showcasing their expertise and authority around the subject matter.

Remember, the ultimate action or impression the writer makes on the reader may not be limited to a physical action or behavior (something the reader does), it might also be intellectual (something he or she thinks, feels, or understands).

Readers have their own purposes too, and the writer’s needs to align with theirs.

Aside from what the writer wants to achieve, readers themselves hope to gain something useful from their document, and they need to be able to answer questions like, “Why am I reading this?” and “What am I supposed to do with this document?”

We call this the “walk-away” message, and our job as writers is to provide it. The purpose is to ensure readers always walk away with a clear understanding of what they’re supposed to do with or think about the document.

This is particularly important when it comes to technical and scientific writing: readers don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do with the document, and the writer needs to make it clear to them.

We sometimes call this the “and…?” moment, as in the reader finishes reading, puts the document down, and thinks, “And what am I supposed to do with / think about this document now?”

Most readers decide to keep reading in six seconds.

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The purpose and the walk-away message must all be aligned.

In the end, the writer must ensure the purpose of the document fits both the reader’s and their own purposes. So, if the proposal is a response to a Request For Proposal (RFP), the reader probably has specific questions about the product or service. The document needs to provide the necessary information for the reader to be able and willing to do business with your organization, but the information also needs to be tailored to be convincing and persuasive.

In short, to master the many purposes of writing, whatever they may be, we as writers need to ensure that we have a concrete goal in terms of what we want our reader to do with the document and what it is we're trying to achieve. To put it simply, we need to consider the action that we want our readers to take and our “walk-away” message, and make this what drives our writing.

Oh, and there’s one last purpose of business writing, too: “What is the purpose of improving your business writing from a workforce perspective?

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