For business correspondence that gets results, think carefully about what needs to be said and how it needs to be said before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

While technology may be helping people communicate more frequently (some might say incessantly), there’s little indication that people are communicating more clearly. In the business world, lack of clarity often translates into lack of results–which, in today’s competitive environment, can have disastrous results on individuals and companies. Clear writing begins with clear thinking. The following tips can help insure that clarity before writing that next business email, letter, report, or proposal.

Think Outcome

Ask, “What’s the objective of this email (or letter)?” An answer? An agreement? An appointment? If the purpose isn’t clearly defined, the chances of getting the desired outcome is greatly diminished. So before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, identify the purpose of the correspondence. Examples:

  • To get our customers excited about the new product enhancement.
  • To gain additional pricing information in order to complete this report.
  • To inform the Board of Directors of first-quarter earnings.
  • To demonstrate that we appreciate the customer’s business and to check for additional opportunities.

Knowing the objective before the first word is written keeps messages on track and increases the chances of getting the desired results faster and more efficiently.

Think Tone

After identifying the objective, decide on the appropriate tone; in other words, how the message, information, or request will sound. Is a light, conversational tone appropriate, or is there the need to be more formal?

Be careful about being too chatty and informal. Readers might form the impression that the message or request is not all that important. By the same token, avoid sounding too “corporat.” Even the most formal letters, reports, and presentations can have a friendly tone. Forget about trying to dazzle that person with literary style and command of business jargon. Just talk to that person.

Think Reader, not Writer

To influence someone to act, appeal to what that person cares about most. A fail-safe way to grab readers’ attention is to include them in the very first sentence. Whether offering information, making a recommendation, identifying a potential solution, or simply asking a question, involve the reader from the start. Examples:

  • “I think I can help with the delivery problem you mentioned yesterday.”
  • “There’s a seminar coming up that I can help you generate more revenue.”
  • “I’m disappointed you turned down our proposal, I’d like to offer one last suggestion before I wish you well with our competitor.”

Think Draft

There comes a time when the actual words must be put on paper or computer screen. Go for it. But don’t plan to send a first-and-only draft. Check to make sure the message is clear, the tone is appropriate. Correct the misspellings and typos. And remember that 99% of writing is re-writing. Don’t use the excuse that there’s no time to re-write. That’s like saying there’s no time to dress properly for a meeting.

Think Reputation

Remember that every piece of writing–be it an email, letter, instant message, or Twitter “tweet”–is a reflection of the writer and the writer’s professionalism. Smart professionals pay as much attention to their written correspondence as they do to any other aspect of their careers.