11. The Writing Strategy – Business Communication for Managers

Chapter 11

THE WRITING STRATEGY

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.”

 

Lord Byron1

After completing this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Understand the purpose of writing with reference to the context.
  • Tailor your writing to meet the audience's needs and expectations.
  • Organize and arrange the information in a systematic manner.
  • Adopt persuasive approaches in writing, wherever necessary.
INTRODUCTION

All communication is information, but not all information is communication. In business it is important to know that not everything that is available has to be communicated. Busy businesspeople often resort to shortcuts to business writing. Anxious to cover all points, they may hurriedly use blanket generalizations when writing a memo, letter, or report. At times they may not quite know what to do with all the material they have generated. The result is a confused, hugely irrelevant document that lacks focus. This results in the reader being bored, as most readers can only absorb limited information.

In contrast to spoken communication, written communication appears difficult. This is because the written word is more formal and stays on record. Moreover, the written word cannot adjust to the mood and reaction of the recipient. While spoken communication relies heavily on the facial expression and body gestures to convey the exact message, there is no such provision in the written word. It is often received cold. Thus, written communication reduces the power of explanation when compared to the spoken word. For instance, it is difficult to give bad news through this channel of communication.

Written communication demands a sufficiently high competency in writing skill and knowledge of English language and usage. This is especially important today with most of communication being via the new media such e-mail and texts. The new technologies demand that paragraphs be compressed into short, meaningful expressions to facilitate quick understanding.

Planning a communication strategy is, thus, imperative in organizations if one has to build and sustain relationships and get work done in the shortest possible time. A communication strategy has three elements: purpose, audience, and context. The message that has to be delivered depends on a clear understanding of these three elements. The message has then to be “framed” accordingly.

ELEMENTS OF A COMMUNICATION STRATEGY

Communication strategy has various elements, all of which come together so that effective communication can take place.

Purpose

No business writing can be effective if the author writes without a clear sense of purpose. Is the goal to pass on or transmit instructions or requests down the chain of command? Is it to inform staff on new policies, arrangements, developments, or processes? Is it to encourage or reassure staff in certain circumstances and to persuade and motivate them to work as individuals and as part of a team? Or is it to provide information to consumers about the products and services offered by the organization? Whatever the goal, it is best to write it down in a sentence or two so that a clear picture is created before writing the document.

POINT COUNTERPOINT
All writing should be spontaneous and unplanned. Business writing should be highly structured and result oriented.
Writing is essentially sender-centric and based on the needs of the sender. Writing is always receiver-centric and focused on getting the message across.
All writing has the same purpose – to get the work done. Writing is dependent on the purpose. Different purposes demand different approaches.

Audience Analysis

Audience analysis is the process of gathering information about the people reading the document. It helps to create user-focused communication and tailor the writing to the needs and expectations of the intended recipient(s). It also helps to fine-tune the thought process.

Research indicates that audiences characteristically pay greater attention to messages that are consistent with their values and interests. Research also indicates that audiences like to see messages that they are really interested in. This selective attention and selective exposure is the core of audience psychology. A strategic communicator must, therefore, establish “personal relevance” as directly and clearly as possible. In addition, a message can stand out by contrasting it with other messages or ideas with which the audience is familiar. A message is made relevant by emphasizing the main points early, using examples and illustrations, and paying attention to the way the document is organized.

 

 

Maintaining audience attention requires speaking neither too fast, nor too slow and pausing to indicate transitions.

 

In speaking situations, maintaining audience attention requires using a speaking rate that sustains interest—not too fast, nor too slow, but somewhat varied to emphasize key points. It is also important to pause to indicate transitions and give an outline or preview of the talk that clearly identifies the main ideas that are discussed. In writing situations, maintaining audience attention requires paying attention to how the document looks, in addition to what it says and how it says it. The visual impact of a document can be improved by using headings, arranging the text so it is visually easy to follow, paying attention to the size and look of the letters, and checking for spelling and grammatical errors.

The Business Document's Life Cycle

From the point of view of the audience, a document's life cycle comprises three parts: the development stage, the reading stage, and the action stage. Business writing today calls for understanding and cooperation between the writer, the reader, and the person who will be affected by the document being written.

The development stage involves the individual who assigns the task, the primary and secondary audiences, and the writer. The reading stage involves the primary and secondary audiences, and the action stage involves the primary, secondary, and even other audiences (tertiary audiences) who may be affected by what is written in the particular document.

Development stage: In the developmental stage the writer must have frequent contact with the assignor as well as the primary and secondary audience members. A “5W 1H approach” (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How) is helpful here. For example, when designing a business proposal, a vendor must find out all that is possible about the client company so that a persuasive proposal can be framed.

Reading stage: In the reading stage the document is read by the intended audience and moves back and forth among various levels. Thus a complex maze of primary and secondary audiences is created. The writer must know who will be reading the document as this will help him or her to frame sentences accordingly.

Action stage: The action stage is where the writer is signifying the future course that the reader must adopt. Decisions, policies, and implementation plans are made on the basis of information contained in that particular communication. The writer must know that his or her writing affects the lives of the primary, secondary, and tertiary readers and must take this seriously. For example, let's say a memo is to be crafted informing employees that they must work on two Sundays a month for the next three months. The issue is sensitive and would affect employees in a big way. Before crafting the message, it would augur well for the writer to keep in touch with the primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences to know how best to persuade them and minimize antagonism.

Another example where it is important to receive feedback from audiences is when writing product descriptions or manuals on processes and procedures. It is important to understand the experience level of the audience in this situation, as it helps determine the appropriate level of detail, the amount and the complexity of examples, and the vocabulary to be used. In addition, this is also important to understand the tasks to be performed by the users of such manuals. This helps in determining the scope of the document.

Writing for a Standard Audience

There are times when one does not know anything about the reader or user. In reality, it is not easy to figure out what the audience already knows or wants. On these occasions, audience analysis is more an educated guesswork than a precise strategy. The writer in this case should write for a “standard audience.” A standard audience is one that is neither an expert nor a complete beginner, but is somewhere in between. This way, the document does not appear too basic (so as not to offend the expert), nor too verbose (so as not to be totally incomprehensible to the beginner).

Information Bytes 11.1

Lenny Laskowski presents an interesting framework of what an audience analysis involves using an acronym. According to him, the following features come together to create a perfect audience:

Analysis

Understanding

Demographics

Interest

Environment

Needs

Customized

Expectations

 

Source: A.U.D.I.E.N.C.E. Analysis—It's Your Key to Success. Available at http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Laskowski4.html, accessed on June 22, 2011.

Audience analysis is also used to create customer “personas” as a consistent point of reference, especially in market research and related studies. Sample customers of a particular company or brand are interviewed to obtain information on their needs and aspirations. A persona is created on the basis of this exploratory exercise. Personas serve as representations of the customer groups and are used to create a shared understanding of a particular company's target audience. Writers in the advertising business spend tremendous amount of resources unearthing information about their target audiences.

Types of Audience Analysis

There are two basic types of audience analyses: formal and informal. Formal audience analysis includes:

  • Demographics, including age, gender, size, regional diversity, income, and occupation
  • Surveys that assess values, interests, belief systems, knowledge and experience, and cultural connotations
  • Focus groups and in-depth interviews

Informal methods of audience analysis include:

  • Information gained from listening to others in classes or meetings, and paying attention to the questions asked by fellow students or colleagues
  • Examining newspapers and magazines read by the audience
  • Interviewing audience members informally
  • Talking with others who have spoken to similar audiences
  • Library research
  • Direct observation

Context

Context is the circumstance around which any event occurs. It is the setting that influences the performance or the outcome of a process. It is also the backdrop against which something can be attempted. Understanding the context means understanding the backdrop against which writing is being attempted. In fact, no business writing can take place without understanding the context. Often a writer attempts to understand the context from his or her own standpoint. Involving others in situational analysis helps to build a better understanding of the context or situation.

Understanding the context means taking into account the following:

  • Time given for the writing task; the urgency of the situation.
  • What has previously occurred to solicit the writing?
  • What feelings and emotions are currently prevailing regarding the topic at hand?
  • What documentation is already present?
  • What are the relationships between different pieces of information?

Since business writing is both content based and context driven, writing for business varies from situation to situation. Understanding the situation is the first step in deciding and formulating a response.

THE MESSAGE

A message is a thought or an idea expressed briefly with a definite beginning and an end. It is the medium of communication as well as the information itself. A good message has the ideal combination of correct words and meaningful sentences expressed in the form of coherent paragraphs (discussed in Chapter 10). Exhibit 11.1 illustrates the components of a message.

Selecting the most appropriate medium to convey the message is based on the following:

  • Why do we need to communicate? (To inform, persuade, or build goodwill)
  • Whom do we need to communicate with? (Colleagues, co-workers, supervisors, customers, dealers, suppliers, cross-cultural audiences)
  • What is the size of the audience? (An individual, a department, a group, all the employees in a company)
  • What is the amount of detail required? (Minimal to large)
  • When should the information be delivered? (Now, today, tomorrow, in a week, in a month)
  • Where should the information be delivered? (In an office, at a desk, at one's place of residence)
  • What is the relationship with the audience/intended recipient? (Informal or formal)
  • How should the message be delivered? (E-mail, memo, letter, notice, report)

Message preparation, according to the noted philosopher Aristotle, involves three important aspects:

  • Invention
  • Arrangement
  • Style and presentation

Exhibit 11.1 Components of a Message

 

As mentioned in Chapter 10, an effective way to begin a document is by stating the topic sentence early on and then elaborating on the theme by adding evidence. This helps the reader scan the relevant point quickly and arrive at a decision. If there are several key points, then one can order the points in order of importance, where the most important point comes first.

Sometimes, audience agreement to a suggested course of action is solicited. In this case, the speech closing should be made by adding an element of persuasion. At the end of the speech, the speaker should reiterate the benefits of opting for a particular course of action. Aristotle believed that persuasion relies on proof relating to logic, emotions, and ethics. Positive impressions are created if the message is framed according to the understanding of others.

To summarize, it is important to make the documents focused by doing the following:

  • Clearly indicating the topic sentence that is being presented
  • Incorporating three to four important points in support of the topic sentence
  • Planning the logical sequence and presentation of these points
  • Adding an element of persuasion to the message
  • Concluding by reinforcing and summarizing the message

Consider the following example:

“With the objective of emphasizing the role of improvement initiatives in Tata Steel's ever-growing aspirations, “Aspire T3” was launched. Aspire T3 has the following features…This initiative focuses on motivating employees in dedicating themselves to the three Ts: TOC (Theory of Constraints), TQM (Total Quality Management), and Technology.”

Now, let us try to analyse this paragraph. The first sentence is the topic sentence:

“With the objective of emphasizing the role of improvement initiatives in Tata Steel's ever-growing aspirations, “Aspire T3” was launched.”

The important points supporting that topic sentence are:

“Aspire T3 has the following features…” (Indicating why it is an improvement and what it will improve).

The concluding line sums up the theme of the paragraph and also answers the question “why”: “This initiative focuses on motivating employees in dedicating themselves to the three Ts: TOC (Theory of Constraints), TQM (Total Quality Management), and Technology.”

DIRECT AND INDIRECT APPROACHES

If a memo deals with a dry or routine message such as adherence to office timings, then find a way to talk about it in a more humane and interesting manner that will garner respect for the appeal. Instead of starting with a curt reminder of the office timings, gain the attention of the audience by making an appeal to preserve the sanctity of office professionalism or giving an example where adherence to office timings has produced a desired result. This is called the indirect approach to writing, as the main point or the key message comes at the end. (This has also been discussed briefly in Chapter 10.) A “buffer” or “cushion” is added in the initial writing stage to “set the stage” for giving bad news, delivering routine messages, reminding people of office rules and regulations, refusing a request, and so on.

While drafting the delivery of bad news, the introduction is very important. It sets the context in which the bad news is delivered. It can include some praise, a review of a task that went well—in general, something positive. The bad news then is placed in the middle of the document. This is followed up by the reasons for the bad news and a conclusion with a proposed remedy or an alternative plan of action. Keeping a long-term perspective when bad news is to be delivered helps make the bad news appear as part of a larger context. Again, this has to be done with genuine and honest intentions. When communicating with an internal audience, use language that sincerely projects regret and sympathy, making a connection that conveys genuine emotional reaction with the reader. Exhibit 11.2 shows a message delivering bad news. However, the actual writing approach used in this exhibit is direct, while it would have served its purpose better if it had used the indirect approach.

 

Exhibit 11.2 Direct Message Delivering Bad News

Dear Sir,

We regret to inform you that accommodation is not available on the requested dates at the Palace Hotel. However, we can offer from two standard apartments from 9/12/07 to 12/12/07. One apartment can accommodate two adults and both the apartments are without a kitchen. The charges are INR 750 per night per room. This is the only resort near the Ajanta caves.

You have an outstanding bill of INR 500 as well. Please clear the same so that we can confirm your booking at the earliest.

Note: Please also update us with your current address and contact numbers to serve you better.

With regards,

Palace Hotel

In contrast, when a report, proposal, or plan is to be presented, adopt the direct approach to writing, where the main point or the key idea comes at the beginning. Exhibit 11.3 gives an example of an informative message with a direct approach towards delivering the news.

Exhibit 11.4 gives an example of an informative message delivered in an indirect manner.

FRAMING: AN IMPORTANT COMMUNICATION SKILL

A manager's role is to encourage and motivate employees to perform optimally to achieve a common goal. This requires a variety of communication skills, written as well as oral. According to Melissa Raffoni, a manager's ability to “frame” an issue effectively is the most important communication skill.2 According to her, framing or reframing an issue is the essence of targeting a piece of communication to a specific audience. She compares framing to a metaphor, the art painting canvas which is framed so that the essence of colours used in the painting—in essence the visual impact—comes across clearly to the audience.

In other words, framing an issue means choosing the right way to influence the target audience so that they see the subject in the context the sender wants them to. Many managers lack the basic skill of framing. This is because they tend to focus on their singular concerns and fail to factor in the concerns of others when addressing a communication issue. This is especially true in diverse teams.

 

Exhibit 11.3 Direct Message Delivering Information

Dear Sir,

As our new letterhead indicates, we have recently changed the name of our business from India Tourism to India Adventure Travels.

There has been no change in management, and we will be providing the same products and fine service on which we have built our reputation in the industry. We would appreciate it if you would bring this announcement to the attention of your accounts payable department and direct them accordingly.

Thank you for being one of our valued customers. We appreciate your cooperation in this matter.

With regards,

Ashish Sharma

Exhibit 11.4 An Indirect Message Providing Information

Dear Sir,

This is to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of January 3, in which you requested a threemonth extension on your loan, number A110.

After careful review, we regret to inform you that we are unable to grant you any further extensions for the repayment of your loan.

We are sorry about the difficulties you are experiencing, but we must insist on receiving your payment by February 1, 2011.

We hope that you will be able to find another solution to your problem.

With regards,

Imperial Capital Bank,

New Delhi

For example, consider a writing task that has to be done by the manager. He or she is to write a memo to persuade all salespeople to reduce their expenses towards travelling and to economize. Not surprisingly, these messages are hardly popular among employees; the first task of the manager then is to frame the message in a tone that elicits cooperation rather than aggression. His or her frame will include the following considerations:

  • What is the purpose of my communication? (To inform, persuade, or collaborate?)
  • Why am I writing this now? (Any specific incident? A missive from someone higher up? A cost-cutting exercise?)
  • What do I want the reader to do after reading the memo? (Save money? Provide details of expenses? Cut short on sales calls?)
  • Have I incorporated the perspectives of the reader? (Are they hostile to the idea? Upbeat about it? What are their views on this subject?)
  • What is the impact of the message on them? (Financial? Flexibility issues? Personal autonomy?)
  • What is in it for me? (Will they respect me more or less? Will they understand my perspective? Will they feel positive about me?)
  • What is my ethos? (Am I credible? Do they trust me?)
  • How do I frame the message so that my credibility is enhanced? (Direct beginning or indirect beginning?)

Once these questions have been analysed, the manager must frame the perspectives according to the context. Raffoni claims that the best leaders are those who change the frame to suit their leadership style.3 In their book Primal Leadership, Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee state that the best leaders act according to one or more of six distinct approaches to leadership: visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and commanding. Their research found that the leaders who achieve the best results are the one who effortlessly switch from one style to the other depending on business needs. Framing shapes a manager's communication to reflect the leadership style he or she requires with respect to a particular situation.

Written communication is not complete until the intended message has reached the recipient, until the recipient has read and understood it and is willing to act on it. Depending on the goal of the communication and the relationship the manager shares or would like to share with the audience, he or she may need to choose different methods of communicating. Sometimes a long memo is appropriate; at other times, a quick e-mail is better. The manner in which the document is worded also differs from one document type to another.

 

 

Written communication is not complete until the intended message has reached the recipient, and has been understood and acted upon.

 

Exhibit 11.5 is a formally worded memo that uses formal words and expressions. The writer gives some background as well, as an endnote to the memo. The subject line is detailed and given due emphasis. The tone is brusque and commanding. It suggests that the relationship between the two interacting parties is a professional one and that the writer's audience is distanced by either age or seniority, or both.

 

Exhibit 11.5 A Formal Memo

To: Bob Stevens, Vice President

From: Aarti Surendra, Senior HR Manager

Date: November 12, 2009

Subject: Review of proposal (Campus recruitment)

Please find attached a copy of the proposed campus recruitment plan for the region of South India. Based on our discussions held last Tuesday, I have incorporated last year's data as well.

I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

Regards,

Aarti Surendra

Encl: Proposal

In contrast, the memo in Exhibit 11.6 is quite informal, almost bordering on friendly. There is no background and no endnotes. Though a command is made, it is in a light and friendly way. At the end, an option is given that suggests openness and team spirit. This suggests that the relationship between the two interacting parties is professional yet friendly, and no hint of distance by age or seniority is clearly visible.

Now, consider Exhibit 11.6. It shows an e-mail about the same topic. However, the tone is informal and friendly. This is not to suggest that an e-mail is necessarily a less formal medium than a memorandum; it simply illustrates the difference between a formal tone and an informal tone as used in business writing. It is another issue that electronic media lend themselves to greater informality than printed media. This especially happens when the writer knows the audience well and relates well to him or her.

Experts suggest two ways to help frame messages accurately. These are:

  • The mental map
  • Pyramid strategy

The Mental Map

The mental map (or a mind map, as mentioned in Chapter 9) is a process that allows ideas to develop randomly at first. Later, these ideas are categorized, grouped, and regrouped according to the topic and the audience. For example, let us say you have to present a paper at a conference. The theme is “Cross-Cultural Issues Faced by Expatriate Companies.” As a first step, you might list the points that may be covered. The mental map might include:

  • Defining expatriate companies
  • What does cross-cultural imply?
  • List of possible issues:
    • Cultural
    • Social
    • Language
    • Family
    • Education
    • Food
    • Work ethic
    • Possible discrimination

Exhibit 11.6 An Informal E-mail

From: Aarti Surendra <aart@itech.co.in>

To: Bob Stevens <bob@itech.co.in>

Date: Thursday, 12 November 2007, 9:00 am

Subject: Meeting

Bob,

Let's meet at 11 am today to discuss the campus recruitment plan. Please send me a confirmation if this suits you.

Thanks and see ya!

Aarti

Senior HR Manager

ITech Systems, Badarpur

New Delhi - 1100011

  • Any research conducted
    • Process
    • Findings
  • Remedies
    • Legal
    • Support system: host company, peer group
  • Examples; stories; data

Exhibit 11.7 explains this point clearly. The central idea or the topic is represented by the box in the middle. The other connections are the key points. Each key point has further sub-points within it.

A mind map is, therefore, a mental image or picture of the form and organization that your writing will take. The information that is required must be filled in once it is known who the audience is and what creative pitch is to be adopted when writing for the conference.

Now the process of framing can begin after considering the following:

  • What is the purpose of my communication? (To inform)
  • Why am I writing this now? (For a conference)
  • What do I want the reader to do after reading this? (Show interest)
  • Have I incorporated the perspectives of the reader? (How much do they already know? Is my perspective different?)
  • What is the impact of the message on them? (Does it force them to think in a new direction?)

Exhibit 11.7 Example of a Mind Map

 

  • What is in it for me? (Reputation, credibility)
  • What is my ethos? (Genuine thoughts, ideas; acknowledge work previously done; research quality)
  • How do I frame the message so that my credibility is enhanced? (Creative opening, updated examples, real issues, genuine concern)

Exhibit 11.8 shows two different frames that can be constructed based on these questions.

Minto's Pyramid Principle

The classic business writing text The Minto Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing, Thinking and Problem Solving by Barbara Minto is a compelling read.4 Barbara Minto's Pyramid Principle is a treatise on hierarchically structured thinking. It offers simple advice to readers regarding organizing information. The advice is that for effective, structured writing, the thinking process must be structured.

To put this into practice, writers must first craft key phrases (and not sentences). This information should then be split into smaller points or manageable “chunks.” Second, the chunks should be arranged from top down such that the most important point is placed at the top and the remaining points are arranged below in the form of a pyramid. The information each point must develop and support the points above it. This is important as it maintains continuity and flow of thought. Exhibit 11.9 illustrates this further.

 

Exhibit 11.8 Examples of Framing

 

Exhibit 11.9 Minto's Pyramid Principle

PARTS OF A DOCUMENT

The three parts of a document are:

  • The introduction
  • The middle
  • The close

The Value of Introductions

Introductions are vital for a document to be taken seriously. Many executives build on the introduction rather gradually and fail to establish the relevance and the utility of the document as a whole. Introductions set the tone of the document and help the reader decide whether he or she wants to read the entire document.

An ideal introduction has four elements:

  • Purpose: This is the reason for communicating. It could be a problem or a crisis; a meeting; or a question that needs an answer.
  • Query: What should we do in these circumstances? This may be explicit or implied.
  • Context: This is an explanation of the background and the current status quo, which is disturbed and requires a resolution.
  • Response: This is the solution, an answer to a complication.

Exhibit 11.10 illustrates a good introduction to a document.

N.R. Narayana Murthy's speech in Chapter 10 is another example of the question–goal–situation–response. The goal there is implicit.

The Middle Section of a Document

The middle section of a document provides the facts and evidence. Evidence includes supporting materials such as statistics or examples that provide credibility to business writing. Specifically, these supporting materials include:

  • Statistical data such as percentages, ratios, fractions, or absolute numbers.
  • Tables, charts, and graphs that express data in a diagrammatic manner such as via pie charts, bar charts, line graphs, flow charts, area maps, and so on.
  • Examples, stories, and illustrations such as stories of company activities and quotes from company officials.
  • Quotes from authorities and well-known specialists in that subject area.

In Exhibit 11.11, the statistical data supports the topic sentence (given in bold).

Exhibits 11.12 and 11.13 show us examples of tables and charts as evidence, respectively.

 

Exhibit 11.10 Example of a Good Introduction

The purpose of this document is to set down a few rules regarding the use of e-mail communication in the university. The university already has a system that is responsible for the proper delivery of electronic messages throughout the campus. This is necessary to support the university's mission of providing cutting-edge education. However, as e-mail usage has increased over the last few years, a large number of messages end up being unnecessarily sent to too many members of the community. There have been complaints from concerned community members to this effect. Thus, the Office of Information Technology has established a set of guidelines for our e-mail system. We suggest you use them in order to communicate more effectively.

Exhibit 11.11 Example of Statistical Data in a Document

On July 1, 2006, nine months after closing the acquisition, we completed the largest wave of business systems integration so far. We integrated systems in 26 countries, spanning five geographic regions, representing about 20 per cent of sales. This brings the number of integrated countries to 31; we are now taking orders, shipping products, and receiving payments as a single company in these countries. We managed these conversions with minimal business interruptions, which reinforce our confidence that we can successfully integrate the vast majority of remaining countries over the next six months.

 

Source:— Proctor & Gamble, 2006 Annual Report. Available at http://www.pg.com/annualreports/2006/pdf/pg2006annualreport.pdf, accessed on June 22, 2011.

Exhibit 11.12 An Example of a Table as Evidence

Internet services As on March 31, 2006
Number of ISPs XYZ
Subscriber base XYZ million
Annual growth rate X per cent
Broadband connections XYZ million
Dial up XYZ minutes
Total revenue for 2005–2006 INR XXX million

Exhibit 11.13 Example of a Chart as Evidence

The Conclusion of a Document

The conclusion is often the most remembered part of a document and merits special attention by the writer. A conclusion provides a sense of closure to an essay by summarizing the answers to the question that was “opened” in the beginning of the document. In certain fields of writing such as scientific writing or research, the conclusion indicates further areas of research or the limitations of the study. It may also be a call to action on the part of the recipient.

The conclusion indicates why the topic or theme is significant. At this stage of the document, no new idea, argument, or evidence is introduced. In essence, the purpose of the conclusion is to make the reader feel that something of value has been gained from reading the document.

An ideal conclusion should:

  • Show the readers why the document is important and what it will do for them.
  • Synthesize the main points.
  • Gives the readers something to think about.
  • Demonstrate how the ideas discussed will work practically in the field.
  • Echo the introduction and answer the question posed in the introduction.

Exhibit 11.14 might illustrate this further. It is an extract from a research paper on computer-mediated communication.

LOGIC, ORGANIZATION, AND PERSUASION IN WRITING

Logic, organization, and persuasion are the three pillars of good business writing.

Logic

Clarity, relevance, consistency, use of appropriate form, variety, and adequate information are important elements for effective writing, and the proper use of logic helps writers achieve them. Logic is the study of arguments: sets of statements in which some members offer support or evidence for their thesis. Every argument has a main point, called the conclusion, which is supported by other statements. The argument's conclusion, in terms of writing, is based on the topic sentence or thesis statement, depending on the nature of the written work.

There are two types of logic: deductive and inductive.

Deductive Logic

In any kind of communication, written or spoken, the sender must be able to justify facts, inferences, and conclusions by presenting clear arguments. Often the practice of “syllogism” is followed, where there is a major premise followed by a minor premise, which leads to a conclusion by the process of deduction. An example is the following deduction:

 

Exhibit 11.14 Example of an Effective Conclusion

Introduction

This paper examines the trends relating to the increased use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) at the workplace especially in the Indian context. A research study on the use of e-mail by Levitt and Mahowald in 2001 concluded that more than 10 billion e-mails were being exchanged daily, worldwide, and predicted that the quantity would increase to 35 billion by 2005. The momentum of growth is expected to continue further. Statistics, counting, and extrapolations by the Radicati Group, Palo Alto, a California-based technology market researcher, estimates that the number of e-mails sent per day to be around 210 billion (August 2008). Radicati predicts that in 2009 workers will spend 41 per cent of their day handling e-mails. Stimulated by decreasing cost, increased accessibility of information, and the rapid exchange of information (Siegel et al. 1986), the increased use of CMC has resulted in the decline of other forms of communication such as face-to-face meetings and one-on-one conversations (Thomson and Feldman 1998).

Conclusion

The present challenge for organizations using CMC is to capture the essence of face-to-face interaction (social and emotional cues, non-verbal gestures, facial expressions, reciprocity, social interaction, shared understanding) and, at the same time, eliminate the disadvantages inherent in asynchronous mediums (only one-on-one interaction, delay, spatial and geographical distances). Media satisfaction impacts the adoption, application, and use of CMC at the individual level. To facilitate effective workflow and task completion, familiarity with the media must be developed among participants. This is especially true for the government-owned enterprises in India where media familiarity is abysmally low. Teams and individuals must learn to use new media in a much better way. In reality, senders are often forced to use less rich methods of communication with limitations on feedback, multiple cues, message tailoring, and emotions. Media accessibility by itself does not imply media satisfaction, task satisfaction, and job effectiveness. The processes for group cohesion must be developed and here the intervention of a skilled leader is necessary to facilitate a smooth communication interface.

  1. All parents must set ground rules regarding courtesy for their children.
  2. Ria is a well-mannered child.
  3. Therefore, her parents must have set ground rules for her child to follow.

For an argument to hold true, the general statement should be valid, the minor premise should be true, and the application should be based on preceding statements. The conclusion is then valid, as it is deduced from an orderly and coherent set of relationships.

Consider the following example:

  1. Every parent must set ground rules regarding courtesy for children to follow.
  2. Gita is a parent.
  3. Therefore Gita must have set ground rules for her child to follow.

This proposition is fallacious because the minor premise is not an application of a general rule. Gita may or may not have set ground rules for her children.

Other arguments that are fallacious fall in the following categories:

  • Non-sequitur: This is when the conclusion does not follow logically from the premise. Example: Hillary Clinton looks like the no-nonsense type. India will benefit greatly from that.
  • Ad hominem: This is when someone argues against the person opposing them instead of discussing the issue. Example: She is too glamorous…we can't elect her as the president.
  • Red herring: This is when someone distracts the attention of the audience by focusing on a minor or irrelevant issue. Example: The product did not work as the packaging was too bright for the general public.
  • Post hoc ergo propter hoc: This is when someone assumes that a certain event is the cause of something unrelated. Example: She got the job because she wore the pink dress.
  • False analogy: This is when someone wrongly assumes that because two things are alike in some way, they must be alike in all ways. Example: X and Y are from the same college. Therefore, Y must be as aggressive as X is.

Inductive Logic

Where the process of conclusion about an event or activity is based on specific evidence or premises that are closely linked together, the argument is said to be inductive in nature. Unlike the deductive process, this requires evidence to arrive at a conclusion. Consider the following example:

  1. Japan's unemployment rate has increased to 5.7 per cent.
  2. Massive deficit driven government stimulus spending.
  3. Consumer prices continue to fall, continuing Japan's dangerous deflationary spiral.
  4. Therefore, Japan is showing evidence of an approaching recession.

Organization

Effective organization helps the reader see the main point of the writer and the logical arguments that help arrive at the conclusion. There are many types of organizations plans:

  • Sequencing: This is when the ideas are arranged in a sequential plan, one after the other. The events can be described chronologically or as a process.
  • Categorical: This is when the ideas are placed as parts and sub-parts. There is a main category and sub-categories. This could include divisions, functional areas, functions, and so on.
  • Causal: This is when the ideas are placed as cause and effect, where reasons are given for each phenomenon. For instance, lower wages result in the strike of pilots.

Communication Bytes 11.1

In persuasion, start with the prospect, not with the product. Stress the benefits, prove your case, establish credibility, and appeal to the feelings, beliefs, and values of the audience.

  • Spatial: This is when ideas are divided along geographical lines instead of events; examples are eastern and western divisions.

Persuasion in Writing

Logical arguments along with a clear organization provide a sound basis for persuasion. Experts recommend that to be persuasive one has to first establish credibility (what the Greek philosopher Aristotle refers to as “ethos”) and then provide sound reasoning supporting the main arguments (“logos”). The reader must be persuaded to draw a conclusion by deduction or by induction. Finally, the writer must convince the audience to take a decision or an action based on the arguments.

To be persuasive, one should present the problem in brief, include the reader's stake in the solution of the problem, and supply arguments in support of the same.

Typical persuasive writing has the following structure:

  • Attention
    • Relating to the audience; involving the audience
    • Illustrating the importance of the topic
    • Employing creative opening strategies (useful in marketing of products/services)
  • Need
    • Describing the problem/need for change
    • Giving examples
    • Analysing data
    • Giving testimony
  • Satisfaction
    • Stating the action/change to be induced
    • Discussing the implement plan; Giving many or one solution
    • Providing a theoretical demonstration
    • Giving examples
    • Examining facts/testimony
  • Visualization
    • Positive method: describing the situation if change is accepted; vividly illustrated
    • Negative method: describing the situation if change is not accepted; vividly illustrated
    • Contrast method: combining the negative and positive approaches
  • Action
    • Making a call for action
    • Making the call urgent and immediate

The amount of background detail given is dependent on the purpose and the audience. For example, a new product or service would require considerable background detail, but a supplier who has been dealing with the company for considerable time need not provide as much detail.

SITUATION STATEMENT

Writing a situation statement helps to focus on your writing. Exhibit 11.15 gives an example of “pre-writing,” which will help you draft a persuasive letter/memo or report.

Here are some examples of situation statements:

  • I want to argue in favour of reduced lecture hours in MBA classes.
  • I want to argue in favour of doing away with the lecture pedagogy in MBA classes.

You have to convince the reader who might not be favourably inclined towards the proposition. In order to write an effective, persuasive message, anticipate and overcome objections that the reader might raise. In thinking about the reader, ask questions like the following:

  • What ideas do they have about the topic?
  • What arguments do they have against my idea?
  • What line of reasoning have they chosen?
  • What influences the reader most?

Making a pros/cons chart will help identify areas that can be addressed in the message. Exhibit 11.16 gives you an example of such a chart for the following subject: “Arguing in favour of shorter lecture hours in MBA classes.”

Now review the original proposition for possible revision. Try to also think about ways to refute the arguments that the reader might have.

 

Exhibit 11.15 An Example of Pre-writing

Purpose: I want to argue in favour of _______________. (What do I hope to accomplish? Why is it important? What benefits would be realized? What problems would be eliminated? What questions would be answered? How would other people be affected? What obstacles must be overcome?)

About you: Why do you want to argue in favour of ________________? What makes your opinion important? How would the decision affect you?

About your reader: I need to convince __________________________. (Who is the person that has the power to change the situation? Why would they want to listen to your idea?)

Exhibit 11.16 An Example of a Pros/Cons Chart

Pros (For) Cons (Against)
Students can concentrate better as their attention span is limited. Less than one hour is too little time for meaningful interaction in an MBA class.
Students can devote time to other academic activities. Exercises, activities, and case discussions cannot be carried out.
Students can finish lectures quickly and can accommodate one more lecture. Students already have the entire afternoon for doing academic and other work.
SUMMARY
  • Planning a communication strategy is imperative in organizations if one has to build and sustain relationships and get work done in the shortest possible time. A communication strategy has three elements: purpose, audience, and context.
  • Audience analysis is the process of gathering information about the people reading the document. It helps to create user focused communication and tailor the writing to the needs and expectations of the intended recipient(s).
  • A message is a thought or an idea expressed briefly with a definite beginning and an end. A good message has the ideal combination of correct words and meaningful sentences expressed in the form of coherent paragraphs.
  • Framing an issue means choosing the right way to influence the target audience so that they see the subject in the context the sender wants them to.
  • The mental map is a process that allows ideas to develop randomly at first. Later, these ideas are categorized, grouped, and regrouped according to the topic and the audience.
  • Barbara Minto's pyramid principle says that for effective, structured writing, the thinking process must be structured.
  • The introduction, the middle, and the close are the three parts of a document and logic, organization, and persuasion are the three pillars of good business writing.
ASSESS YOUR KNOWLEDGE
  1. Why is written communication considered a more difficult process than spoken communication?
  2. What are the three phases of the document life cycle?
  3. You have to inform your workers of a Diwali bonus and cash rewards to deserving salespeople. You have an array of media to choose from: e-mail, instant messaging, voice mail, the notice board, fax, and a memo. On what basis would you select the media for this message and why?
  4. Why is the ability to “frame” an issue considered an important skill for communicators? What are the merits of such an approach?
  5. Arrange the following information in the proper format of an introduction:
    • Scientific results of a study show that feral sheep move from east to west.
    • Movement mapping charts migration.
    • Migration theorists developed a number of tools in the nineteenth century
    • Migration theorists developed “movement mapping.”
    • Migration theorists in the nineteenth century conducted research on the movement of sheep.
    • Feral sheep move from east to west, rather than north to south.
USE YOUR KNOWLEDGE
  1. Read the following communication scenario and answer the questions that follow it.

    As the personnel manager of a software solutions firm, you have to draft a letter of refusal to an employee who is asking for sabbatical from the organization for a period of two years. The employee has been with the company for seven years now, but is rather indispensable. You are keen to retain her. She is excellent at software and data processing skills, and the company cannot afford to let her go for two years. You have to remind her that her promotion is due and that she may be elevated to a more senior position with corresponding remuneration.

    • Map the profile of the “audience” in this case.
    • What writing approach will you follow and why?
    • Draft a situation statement.
    • Frame the logic used in your writing.
    • Organize the document in terms of the introduction, the middle, and the close.
    • Compose the document.
  2. Study the following argument:
    • Marriott Corporation experienced employee turnover and lower productivity.
    • Gaurav is an employee of Marriott Corporation.
    • Therefore, Gaurav is planning to leave this organization.
      • What is the flaw in the argument?
      • Revise the argument according to the model of deductive logic.
      • Revise the argument according to the model of inductive logic.
  3. Your supervisor has asked you to prepare a report on exploring the feasibility of shifting office premises from the current location to an upmarket one (in the same city). Lay out an effective inductive argument based on this.
WEB-BASED EXERCISES
  1. As a Public Relations Officer in the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department, you have been entrusted with the responsibility of drafting a promotional brochure for Uttar Pradesh Tourism. This is in light of the Olympic Games scheduled to be held in New Delhi next year. You have to design a purposeful communication message that is sure to attract visitors from abroad. The state boasts the magnificent Taj Mahal, numerous historical buildings, and chikankari. For more details log on to the Web site: www.upgov.nic.in. Devise a communication strategy to promote Brand Uttar Pradesh.
  2. The Aditya Birla Foundation awards scholarships to deserving candidates for pursuing the two-year MBA programme. They follow a simple procedure. Each candidate has to fill in an application form accompanied by an essay or a statement of purpose (SOP). The SOP is a candidate's personal mission statement. A crisp document, it describes the candidate's personal as well as professional achievements. Assuming that you are keen to apply for the scholarship, frame a communication strategy for the essay. Also compose an SOP. For more information, refer to http://www.adityabirlascholars.net/about/The_scholarship.aspx
  3. Look up the Web site http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/544/01/ and check the resource on “Developing an outline.” The author lists four main components of effective outlines. In what ways do you think developing outlines is a useful strategy for writing?
FURTHER READING
  • Arthur H. Bell, A Business Success Guide: Writing Effective Letters, Memos, and E-mails, 2nd edition (New York: Barron's Educational Series, 2004).
  • B. Cunningham and J. Lischeron, “Improving Internal Communications: Issues Facing Managers,” Optimum (1990) 21(3):53–70.
  • Barbara Minto, The Minto Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing, Thinking and Problem Solving (London: Minto Books International, 2007).
  • D. Goleman, A. McKee, and R. Boyatzis, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2002).
  • Melissa Raffoni, “Framing for Leadership,” Harvard Management Communication Letter (2002).
  • Paul V. Anderson, Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach. 6th ed. (Boston, MA: Thomson-Wadsworth, 2007).
  • Richard Johnson-Sheehan, Technical Communication Today (New York: Pearson-Longman, 2005).