Plow Through Your Writing Tasks

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This winter, as you no doubt know, New England got way too much snow, and Boston set several snowfall records. While I was shoveling the six feet of snow off my deck, I ruminated about how the snow related to both writing and conducting a business.
Plow Through Your Writing Tasks
Decide What Information Is Useful
When faced with a blizzard of information, you have to identify what will help you achieve your goal. Often, knowing what to leave out is just as important as knowing what to include.

In business, there is always more information than we need, and like the snow this past winter, it just keeps on coming. Get straight to the point, and make your message as easy to understand as possible.

Clear a Path for the Reader
When you're surrounded by too much information, you can think of yourself as clearing a path for the reader. You can do this by saying up front where you're going and by logically organizing your material. You should also use language that is appropriate to your audience.

Emphasize Your Key Points
The storms this winter interfered with the transfer of information. In the melting snow, we didn't discover our newspaper for January 28 until late March, and the paper for January 24 until April 1.

By analogy, you shouldn't bury your important information in the middle of long paragraphs, but put it at the beginning or end, where it will receive more emphasis. And once again, saying up front where you're going with your argument will help the reader get at your message more easily.

Don't Snow the Reader
Don't try to blow one by the reader by writing something that is obscure or hard to understand. I once wrote some brochures for a manufacturing company, and in reading over their existing materials, I came across a few sentences that made no sense at all, so I asked the woman who had written them what they meant. Her response: "They don't really mean anything, but they sounded really good."
This caution also applies to using jargon or other terms your audience may not understand. As always, your job is to communicate.

Build Relationships
When we were buried in snow this winter, I was glad that I had built a good relationship with the snow removal people. When I called them, they always called back right away and came out when I needed them. They understood the problems we had on our property, and I understood the constraints they were working under. They did a good job, and I will no doubt call them again next winter.

This demonstrates that by building relationships in business you can achieve two things. First and most importantly, you can better understand your client's problem and therefore help them to communicate more effectively. And second, the better your rapport with the client, the more likely they are to bring you repeat business.
I used to do the communications work for an HR consulting firm that did international placements, and on one occasion, we placed a senior manager in a Japanese and American joint venture. Initially, however, we were stymied by cultural differences.

The people in Japan rejected everyone we proposed but would never tell us exactly where we had gone wrong. Finally, however, we were able to build a strong enough relationship that we could ask them point blank what they really needed. After that, everything went smoothly, and they ended up referring us to other institutions.

Be Specific
Last fall I had the snow removal people out, and we agreed on a clearly defined scope of work, so both parties knew what to expect. This is something we should all do, whether we are providing or purchasing services.

Similarly, we should be specific in our communications. If we are writing, for example, about an order we placed, it's not enough to say, "I'm writing about my order." Instead, we should say something like, "I'm writing about the order I placed on April 3 for 100 pieces of X-3 luggage." We have to decide what level of specificity is appropriate to our message.

All the best,
P.S. Remember: a selection of my past newsletters is available online at