3-part formula for better business writing

Before you put your hands on the keyboard and start typing, ask yourself:
  1. Specific – what’s the one thing I want this person to understand?
  2. Response – what’s the response I want from this person?
  3. Incentive – what incentive can I give this person to reply as fast as possible?

#1 What’s the one thing I want this person to understand?

  • Zero in on the most important point.
  • Make this the subject of your email.
  • Be very specific.
  • Avoid throat-clearing
  • Avoid flowery words and phrases. Be direct but not curt.

#2 What’s the response I want form this person?

  • What action do you want them to take? State this clearly, eg I need the status report BECAUSE I have to complete the annual review.
  • Use the ‘I need you to do X because’ structure. This helps the reader understand why you’re asking for their contribution. Research has shown – sorry, lost the link but it was on Harvard Biz Review – that adding because increases the response rate. It also works in customer support and contract negotiations.
  • Don’t mix two points. If you have to add more than one point in the email, put the most important one first.
  • In the last paragraph, remind them of this. Why? If the email is long, we skip to the end.

#3 What incentive can I give this person to reply as fast as possible?

Tricky one, but try this:
  • If they respond to the email, you won’t have to badger them any more. You can phrase this in PC terms, of course.
  • Remind them that senior management are waiting for this report. ‘You don’t want to hold up the show, do you?’ Again words to this effect.
  • Confirm a due date. State when you need the answer. Don’t expect the person to drop everything and get back to you. But be clear. State when YOU have to submit the report, for example, so why it’s vital you get his or her feedback before then.
  • Don’t nag. Don’t follow-up with a reminder email. Instead, highlight in the email that feedback is necessary  by a specific date, and then remind the person that you may have to state that feedback was not supplied in time or words to that effect.