Chapter 7 Strategic Business Writing – Strategic Thinking and Writing

CHAPTER 7

Strategic Business Writing

Assessment Rubric

Enabling an organization to take action remains the goal of any strategic thinker and writer. To do that, however, you need to ensure that your six-page memo contains the necessary elements of a persuasive memo. To that end, I have included a rubric to serve as a reference guide in your writing process. A rubric is a coherent set of criteria for evaluating work that includes descriptions of levels of performance quality on the criteria. The genius of rubrics is that they are descriptive and not evaluative. Of course, rubrics can be used to evaluate, but the operating principle is that you match the performance to the description rather than simply “judge” it.

A rubric consisting of the following six criteria outlines the specifics related to four different classifications of work: exemplary, accomplished, developing, or unsatisfactory. As you draft your memo, take time to review the details of exemplary work in each of the six criteria. Doing so will help you develop the skills required to be an advanced strategic thinker and writer.

  1. Paper Focus/Introduction (20 points)

  2. Strategic Writing (30 points)

  3. Evidence (20 points)

  4. Organization (10 points)

  5. Writing Style (10 points)

  6. Timeline and Length (10 points)

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Paper Focus/Introduction (20 points)

Exemplary: Identifies a relevant topic and a strategy that provides direction for the entire paper that is engaging and thought provoking. The author persuasively defines the problem, identifies its causes, and explains the extent of the problem. The strategic solution is clear, concise, and compelling and remains the focus point throughout the paper. The author clearly articulates who the memo is written for. (18 or more points)

Accomplished: Identifies a relevant topic and a strategy that provides direction for the paper that is somewhat engaging. The author defines the problem, identifies its causes, and explains the extent of the problem. The strategic solution serves as the focus point throughout the paper. (12–17 points)

Developing: Partially identifies a problem and lacks any sophisticated discussion of a strategy. The information provided requires substantial development, research, and revision. Focal point is not consistently maintained throughout the paper. (7–11 points)

Unsatisfactory: The memo fails to identify a problem and/or a strategy, and, therefore, the entire paper lacks focus. (6 or less points)

Strategic Writing (30 points)

Exemplary: Demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the issue, goal, strategy, and tactics. Strategic writing involves an original thought or a blue ocean strategy that illustrates a high level of strategic thinking. The work signifies a strong piece of thinking, strategic thinking, and strategic business writing. The author commits few, if any, fallacies, or cognitive biases. (26 or more points)

Accomplished: Demonstrates an understanding and some critical discussion of the goal, strategy selected, and related tactics. Partially discusses the decision-making process involving the goal and strategy. Limited strategic thinking is apparent. (17–25 points)

Developing: Demonstrates general understanding with limited description of the goals, strategy selected, and related tactics. A limited amount of strategic thinking is included. (9–16 points)

Unsatisfactory: Demonstrates a lack of understanding and inadequate analysis of the research topic and thesis. Analysis is superficial based on opinions and preferences rather than critical analysis. Strategic thinking is limited or nonexistent. (8 or less points)

Evidence (20 points)

Exemplary: Provides compelling and accurate evidence to support a sophisticated level of strategic thinking. Includes more than the required seven different sources. Research sources are highly relevant, accurate, and reliable and add to the strength of the argument and are effectively referenced and cited throughout the paper. References are included within the text. For example: “As The New York Times reported, “For nine days, Mr. Scott arrived at filming locations by 6:30 a.m. to eat a quick breakfast and finalize planned shooting angles with his longtime cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski.” (18 or more points)

Accomplished: Provides essential, accurate evidence to support the proposed strategy and related tactics. Includes the minimum of seven different sources utilized as supporting evidence throughout the paper. Additional supporting evidence would have presented an even more compelling narrative. (12–17 points)

Developing: Provides some evidence to support the central position with only a few research sources. Some sources may not be relevant, accurate, and reliable and/or appropriately referenced and cited in the paper. (7–11 points)

Unsatisfactory: Lacks sufficient research sources to support the central position and/or, if included, are generally not relevant, accurate, or reliable. Contains numerous factual mistakes, omissions, or oversimplifications. Sources, if included, are not properly referenced and cited in the paper. (6 or less points)

Organization (10 points)

Exemplary: Paper is effectively organized and easy for the reader to follow from beginning to end. Ideas are arranged logically, flow smoothly, with a strong progression of thought from paragraph to paragraph connecting to the central strategy. The writer clearly articulates one or more of the three methods of appeal: ethos (authority), pathos (emotion), or logos (logic) and leverages such approach to compel the reader to take action. (9–10 points)

Accomplished: Paper is adequately organized. Ideas are arranged logically with a progression of thought from paragraph to paragraph connecting to the central position. (6–8 points)

Developing: Paper is somewhat organized, although occasionally ideas from paragraph to paragraph may not flow well and/or connect to the central position or be clear as a whole. May be missing a required component and/or components that make it less than complete. (4–5 points)

Unsatisfactory: Paper lacks logical organization and impedes readers’ comprehension of ideas. Central position is rarely evident from paragraph to paragraph and/or the paper is missing multiple required components. (3 or less points)

Writing Style (10 points)

Exemplary: Paper is well written and clear, using standard English characterized by elements of a strong writing style. Basically free from grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, or formatting errors. (9–10 points)

Accomplished: Paper shows above average writing style and clarity in writing using standard English. Minor errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, and/or formatting. (6–8 points)

Developing: Paper shows an average and/or casual writing style using standard English. Some errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and/or formatting. (4–5 points)

Unsatisfactory: Paper shows a below average/poor writing style lacking in elements of appropriate standard English. Frequent errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, spelling, usage, and/or formatting. (3 or less points)

Timeline and Length (10 points)

Exemplary: Paper is submitted by the deadline and meets the required length of six pages, single spaced text, size 11 Times New Roman font, one-inch border, and is between 2,200 and 2,600 words. No cover page. Name and title go in header, page numbers in middle bottom. (10 points)

Accomplished: Paper is submitted within 1 day (24 hours) after the deadline and meets the required length. (8 points)

Developing: Paper is submitted 1–2 days (25–48 hours) after the deadline and/or is somewhat lacking (or exceeds) the required length. (6 points)

Unsatisfactory: Paper is submitted 2–3 days (49–72 hours) or more after the deadline and/or substantially lacks/exceeds the required length. (2 points)

A Note on Critique v. Criticism

A key element of the Amazon six-page memo is that everyone has an opportunity to critique it during the meeting. The operative word being critique. Criticism has no place in the professional environment. Critiquing the work of others provides a more professional approach. Criticism does more harm than good. Therefore, practice critiquing the work of others and have people critique your work.

As a strategic writer you need to commit to using critique in your writing as opposed to criticism. A critique is a detailed evaluation of something. The formal way to request one is “give me your critique,” though people often say informally “critique this”—meaning “evaluate it thoroughly.” But “critique” as a verb is not synonymous with “criticize” and should not be routinely substituted for it. “Josh critiqued my backhand” means Josh evaluated your tennis technique but not necessarily that he found it lacking. “Josh criticized my backhand” means that he had a low opinion of it. Here is another example of why maintaining a distinction between critique and criticism matters: On the one hand, “The ballet instructor critiqued the dancer’s pirouette” could mean that the ballet dancer performed an excellent pirouette but that the teacher gave the dancer pointers to make it dazzling. On the other hand, “The reviewer criticized the dancer’s pirouette” means that the reviewer regarded the dancer’s performance unfavorably.

As you review the work of others, remind yourself to focus on critique. Doing so will demonstrate your professionalism and, in turn, help others. Criticism will most likely alienate you from your colleagues and possibly insult them in the process.

Blank Rubric

Use the following blank rubrics to see how closely your memos, or those of your classmates or colleagues, match each category.

The Writing Process

The process of writing requires one to understand three things:

Writing takes time and good writing takes even longer.

Strategic business writing demands substantial thought prior to writing.

Remember your three Rs: rough draft, review, and revise.

Iterative by nature, strategic business writing demands that you respect the process. Give yourself enough time to engage in the level of strategic thinking necessary. Waiting until the night before to write the six-page paper often results in a less than stellar attempt. Respect the writing process and help yourself present a clear, concise, and compelling paper.

Find out when the assignment is due and devise a plan of action. This may seem obvious and irrelevant to the writing process, but it’s not. Writing is a process, not merely a product. Even the best professional writers don’t just sit down at a computer, write, and call it a day. The quality of your writing will reflect the time and forethought you put into the assignment.

Time: Success writers work backwards from their deadline. The example that follows works backwards from the deadline of May 2. Each stage is then described in greater detail. The most important thing to remember during the process is to focus on the objective for each stage, one at a time. Do not look ahead in the process. For example, in the draft phase your only objective is to create a draft. Therefore, you do not worry about grammar, word choice or sentence structure. There will be plenty of time for editing in the next phase.

May 2: due date

May 1: submit paper

April 28–30: continue to rewrite, edit, and revise

April 25–27: create first draft and revise

April 22–24: pre-writing and additional research and strategic thinking

April 19–21: research and strategic thinking

April 18: assignment given

Working on the premise that you have two weeks to prepare a piece of strategic business writing, here is a recommended timeline to prepare accordingly. While everyone uses a slightly different writing process, most include these steps somewhere along the way. The stages are created in blocks of time, usually three days. Doing so allows you to be productive, take a break for a while, and then come back later to make changes and revisions with a fresh mind.

Assignment date: April 18: Make sure you clearly understand the assignment. Making assumptions will only jeopardize your final product. The last thing you want to do is to submit a paper off-topic and irrelevant. It is your responsibility to understand the assignment. Ask questions. Are you trying to answer a question, resolve a problem, or address an issue? Be clear on your intentions. Only then can you begin the next stage of research and strategic thinking.

Research and Strategic Thinking: April 19–21: The foundation of any strong piece of strategic business writing stems from this stage of the process. You must spend a substantial amount of time conducting research during this three-day period. As you conduct research, take notes and organize them in some fashion that makes sense to you. Note taking is personal, so what works best for one person may not necessarily be the right approach for you.

Take the time necessary to come up with a new idea, answer, or solution. Do not rush the process but recognize that you do have a deadline. Time management is absolutely critical for anyone engaged in strategic business writing.

Critical questions to ask during this phase include:

Who are the current competitors?

What factors drive the market currently?

Who are the key players?

How have issues been addressed in the past?

Where are the catalysts driving change?

What new ideas will you present?

Are you relying on ethos (authority), pathos (emotion), or logos (logic)?

Pre-writing: April 22–24: Since this book provides an outline on the strategic business writing process, use it to your advantage.

The problem: Did you define the problem? Does the reader understand the causes of the problem? Did you explain the extent of the problem?

The strategy/ies: What strategy are you recommending? Is this a blue ocean strategy? Why did you select this strategy?

The tactics: What tactics are involved in implementing this strategy? How much will it cost in time, money, and resources?

The conclusion: Does your conclusion succinctly summarize your strategy and approach?

Draft completed: April 25–27: Take your pre-writing notes and spend three days organizing them into a six-page paper. At this stage of the writing process, do not worry about grammar or sentence structure. Remember, you have three days after this to work on revising and editing, so focus on the immediate task at hand which is to complete your draft. Nothing more. You are not looking for a perfect paper here.

Revisions: April 28–30: Make sure that you leave plenty of time after you have finished your paper to walk away for a brief period of time (e.g., a few hours). This will allow you to approach proofreading with fresh eyes. Reading from a computer screen is not the most effective way to proofread. Print out a hard copy and have your pen handy. Use the rubric included in this publication as a reference point. This will help you manage your time and not feel overwhelmed by proofreading.

Don’t rush. Many mistakes in writing occur because we rush. Read slowly and carefully to give your eyes enough time to spot errors.

Read aloud. Reading aloud helps you notice run-on sentences, awkward transitions, and other grammatical and organization issues that you may not notice when reading silently. Reading a paper aloud encourages you to read each word and can help you notice small mistakes.

Read from the end. Read individual sentences one at a time, starting from the end of the paper rather than the beginning. This forces you to pay attention to the sentence itself rather than to the ideas of the paper as a whole. Have a friend look at your paper after you have made all the corrections you identified. A new reader will be able to help you catch mistakes that you might have overlooked.

Submission: May 1: Even though the due date is May 2, your goal is to submit it one day early on May 1. Doing so gives your boss an extra day to review your paper. It also demonstrates your ability to complete an assignment on time and even early. Never ask for an extension. The business world is very different from college. Managers may ask for a report a day early. Be prepared. Have your report ready to go as least one day early if this happens. Be sure to use a watermark and write “DRAFT” on each page of your report. Doing so will help readers understand that the paper remains a work in progress. If the reader encounters a typo, error, or some other mistake, the watermark will remind them that the paper is in draft form. A draft is still a polished work that others will judge you on. Again, college and the business world are very different. Manage your expectations and be ready to submit your work at a moment’s notice.

Timeline Templates

Below are two blank templates for you to use as you work on future six-page memos.

Timeline #1

Due date __________________
Submit paper (one day prior to due date) __________________
Continue to rewrite, edit, and revise (3 days) __________________
Create first draft and revise (3 days) __________________
Pre-writing/add. Research/strategic thinking (3 days) __________________
Research and strategic thinking (3 days) __________________
Assignment given __________________

Timeline #2

Due date __________________
Submit paper (one day prior to due date) __________________
Continue to rewrite, edit, and revise (3 days) __________________
Create first draft and revise (3 days) __________________
Pre-writing/add. Research/strategic thinking (3 days) __________________
Research and strategic thinking (3 days) __________________
Assignment given __________________

Grammar Tips

Strategic business writing is precise. For our purposes you have only six pages to express your message. Therefore, if you like to write using a lot of words, when completing your assignments, you will need to learn how to think and write differently. (26 words) Let’s rewrite the previous sentence as an example. Therefore, if you use too many words, you will need to think differently. (13 words)

The Elements of Style is a prescriptive American English writing style guide in numerous editions. The original was composed by William Strunk Jr., in 1918, and published by Harcourt, in 1920, comprising eight “elementary rules of usage,” ten “elementary principles of composition”, “a few matters of form,” a list of 49 “words and expressions commonly misused,” and a list of 57 “words often misspelled.” E. B. White greatly enlarged and revised the book for publication by Macmillan in 1959. That was the first edition of the so-called Strunk & White, which Time named in 2011 as one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923. Here are just a few of the many tips to improve your strategic business writing, courtesy of Strunk and White.

  1. Use the Active Voice: Active voice is used in a clause whose subject expresses the main verb’s agent. That is, the subject does the verb’s designated action. Many languages have both an active and a passive voice; this allows for greater flexibility in sentence construction, as either the semantic agent or patient may take the subject syntactic role. For example: Active voice “The dog bit the postal carrier.” Passive voice “The postal carrier was bitten by the dog.” Using the active voice often helps the writer subscribe to Strunk and White’s other theme of omitting unnecessary words. In this example of the dog biting the postal carrier, the passive voice sentence contains eight words while the active voice sentence contains only six. 1

  2. Limit the Hyperbole: Hyperbole is defined as “exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.” Unfortunately hyperbole has become a mainstay of modern writing. Excessive overstating, however, benefits no one. Hyperbole is the simplest way to lose the confidence of your readers. Think about the headlines enticing us in emails and news feeds, guaranteeing “instant weight loss” or “the funniest cat in the universe.” We’re almost always disappointed when we click through to find content that’s far from the promised superlative. While clickbait might be a popular marketing ploy, it’s the quickest way to lose your reader’s trust and annoy them immensely.

  3. Focus on the Positive!: This is much more than a daily affirmation. One of Strunk and White’s most concrete rules is to avoid hesitant language by opting for positive statements. Start by searching for the word “not” in your sentences—it’s good when it’s denying something, but bad when it’s hiding from something. If you need to depict negative feelings, you can do so with confidence and clarity. Take, for example, this line: “She does not think vintage shopping will be fun.” In this sentence, the speaker is hiding the truth—that this girl hates vintage shopping. No one will benefit from vagueness, so it’s best to shout from the rooftops! Or, better yet, try this: “She thinks vintage shopping is boring.” Three fewer words and it’s 100 percent more assertive.

  4. Simplify Language: Fluff remains unnecessary. Many of us like to pad our language with fluff to sound smarter or even more politically correct. Fluff does none of these things; it clogs up your writing with evasive and cluttered language, and in the end it makes you sound guiltier, less knowledgeable, and way more dull. Be concise. Why use five words when three will do? For example, instead of writing “owing to the fact that” use “because.” Simplicity wins the day. 2

  5. Nouns and Verbs Are the Fuel: Adjectives and adverbs have a place in writing as they add detail and flair to language. The air freshener in your car resembles an adverb. Without gas in your tank, however, your air freshener has no purpose. Nouns and verbs should do the heavy lifting in your sentences, creating most of the meaning. This rule coincides with the common “Show, Don’t Tell” rule. Nouns and verbs show the doers, the actions, and the objects—the verb “talk” and the noun “flower” paint very distinct images in our minds, for example. Instead of elaborating on these with adjectives and adverbs (“talked loudly” or “white flower”) you should exhaust your noun and verb options. Show us “talked loudly” with the much more specific “yelled,” “scolded,” or “harangued.” And describe your white flower with a specific noun—is it a daisy, a lily, or a rose?

  6. Eliminate Qualifiers: Avoid qualifiers such as little, rather, somewhat, really, and very. They do nothing for your writing and are so overused that they have lost their significance. Think of your sentence as a thick beef fillet; every qualifier is another minute of overcooking your meat on the grill, sucking it dry of its tasty, juicy meaning. Qualifiers can be replaced with more concrete and assertive language to amplify your descriptions. Instead of “I’m really rather fond of steak,” try, “I love steak.”3

Strategic Writing Outline

Before writing your draft, create an outline using the following template.

Issue: What is the larger issue? If you are trying to end hunger in your town, then world hunger is the larger issue.

Goal: Be specific. Review the section on goals in this book.

Strategy: Select one. You only have six pages, so one strategy is all that space will allow. Review the section on strategy canvas.

Tactics: With six pages you will have space for no more than three tactics. If you have two tactics, that’s fine as well.

Your six-page memo would then detail the reasons behind the issue, an explanation of the strategy, and a thorough accounting of how you would implement each of the three tactics involved. A sample structural outline of your six pages might look like the following BUT IT DOES NOT NEED TO FOLLOW THIS EXACT FORMAT.

Page 1: Introduction

Page 2: Explanation of Strategy

Page 3: Tactic 1

Page 4: Tactic 2

Page 5: Tactic 3

Page 6: Conclusion

1https://www.shutterstock.com/blog/5-timeless-rules-of-business-writing-from-strunk-and-white

2https://www.shutterstock.com/blog/5-timeless-rules-of-business-writing-from-strunk-and-white

3https://www.shutterstock.com/blog/5-timeless-rules-of-business-writing-from-strunk-and-white