CUNA Management School, Year 1: Business Writing

This entry was posted by Wednesday, 25 July, 2012
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From: Gregory Langen

Tips to avoid frustration with business writing

Deciding how to begin this blog post should not feel like a life-changing event. However, after attending Year 1’s Business Writing class with Sara Gibson, I am feeling oddly self-conscious about every word that I type. Is everything I am writing essential to this piece? Surely this sentence isn’t. Does what I say have direct relevance to the reader? You tell me. Is this blog post even regarded as a piece of professional communication where the rules of business writing apply? The jury is still out, but I am wary of giving the blogging world too much credit.

Before I paralyze myself entirely with self-doubt, I remember Sara giving the CUNA Management School Year 1 class a few easy to remember guidelines for how to write professionally in any business situation, without sounding like a 19th century Duke or Duchess.

First and foremost, business writing has evolved. Bombastic and orotund verbiage elicited only to demonstrate the author’s wit, perspicacity and stunning mastery of the English language is no longer, appreciated by the average 21st century reader. Instead a more colloquial and open dialogue is suggested when communicating with your audience, both to establish an egalitarian relationship with your readers and to ensure your message gets across to everyone. Effective communication is, after all, your primary goal, and you shouldn’t write words that you wouldn’t say to your reader in a face-to-face conversation.

Keeping your authorial voice in mind, writing what you want to convey to your audience becomes simply a matter of structure. For most internal and external communications, Sara suggests using the inverted pyramid formula:

  • Purpose - Get straight to the point. Tell your reader in plain English the purpose of your correspondence and the exact points you would like them to take from your message. View this section as part summary of your message, part analysis. 
  • Details – After telling your reader the core of your message, use this section to bolster your argument and/or message.
  • Conclusion – tie any loose ends back to your central thesis and always conclude with action steps to keep the conversation moving forward.

There may be a time when an apology or letter of condolence might be appropriate. For instance, you might have to reject a member’s loan request.  Keep in mind that writing may not be your best route. Sara reminded the class that there are plenty of communication channels available, and a key part of effective communication is knowing which communication channel your audience prefers. Maybe connecting over the phone is a better way  for you to relay the bad news. However, if you prefer a written form, Sara suggests using this easy to use formula when dealing with more sensitive communications:

  • Thank you - Thank them for their effort to reach out to your credit union.
  • Reason - Explain not only the bad news, but why the bad news is coming.
  • Sorry - apologize that this is how it has to be. Reference your reason again, if you’d like.
  • Thank you - thank them again for their continued service.

With every communication you make, you should always keep in mind the “WIIFM principle” or What’s In It For Me. This is the question that is running through your readers head constantly while they are reading. Perhaps the very same phrase has been rattling around your mind for too long now. If you keep this question in mind and answer that question for your audience in terse, athletic prose, you can be sure your message will come across effectively and professionally.

How’d I do Sara?

Greg Langen is the Marketing Copywriter for the Credit Union National Association

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