Grande caffè latte. Extra shot. No foam, with a caramel swirl and chocolate sprinkles.
On your early morning coffee run, you want things to run like clockwork. You enter Starbucks, stand in line, say the magic words and receive your coffee. You want your coffee made just as you asked.
It’s always much easier to put it out there correctly the first time, rather than to backtrack later and try to explain what you meant. Likewise, writing clear and concise emails without ambiguity is essential in virtually all industries and situations. If you get it right from the start, you, and your colleagues or clients, won’t have to deal with the myriad issues that can follow poor communication in the business world.
Thus, good writing is not merely a theoretical exercise for grammar pedants. To understand why, think about the problems that poor writing causes:
In my leadership role in tax compliance for a large bank, part of my job is to ensure that the department communicates our messages to the wider organisation promptly, concisely, and without ambiguity. I frequently get involved in the writing and editing of my subordinates’ emails because I have seen the havoc caused by unclear or ambiguous communication.
When you order coffee, you expect to receive exactly what you have ordered. The same applies to the replies you receive from the recipients of your email messages. Just as you would not expect your barista to intuit your order, you should not expect your recipients to be mind readers. If you find yourself thinking about your reader, ‘he must have known what I meant,’ it’s likely that your writing is unclear or ambiguous and it’s not your reader’s fault. It’s time to review how you structure and write your email messages.
Rant over. Where should you begin?
Start each message or document by thinking about why you are writing it. What is the point of the email? Who needs to read it? How much background information or detail does the recipient need? Do not unnecessarily copy the world or to burden your reader with unnecessary details. Always start with your audience and purpose in mind.
What message do you want to send? What’s the ultimate outcome? What do you expect your recipient to do? Are you confirming or memorialising the details of a meeting or discussion, providing information to your reader, or do you really want your recipient to take action? Before you type your first word, you must know what you want your email to achieve.
Here are a few points to ponder:
If you do not clearly articulate the issue or desired outcome, you cannot expect your recipient to match your expectations. By starting with the end in mind, you can write emails that will communicate what you need to achieve.
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Former Head of tax compliance