Introduction: The Seven Traits of Business Writing

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The Seven Traits of Business Writing

Effective writing is clear, concise, and compelling. It communicates the writer’s ideas to the world. Ineffective writing is confusing, long-winded, and unconvincing. It clouds the writer’s ideas. But what makes writing effective?

Effective writing exhibits seven traits, or qualities: ideas, organization, voice, words, sentences, correctness, and design. This chapter introduces you to the seven traits, and the chapters that follow outline specific strategies for improving each trait in your writing.

In this chapter

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The Seven Traits

What makes writing effective? Ask that question, and you’ll receive a hundred different answers—clear sentences, correct spelling, good details, a professional voice, no dropped words, nice-looking letterhead, no logical errors, a great anecdote. . . . Effective writing is subjective, right?

Wrong. The hundreds of things that make writing effective are summed up in the seven traits. Here is the trait-based profile of writing that works:

Traits

Ideas

The writing focuses on an important subject, has a clear main point, provides effective details, and achieves its purpose.

Organization

The writing has a strong beginning, middle, and ending and orders information well.

Voice

The tone is appropriate for the subject, purpose, and audience, reflecting well on the writer and connecting with the reader.

Words

The writing uses precise nouns and verbs, avoids slang expressions and colloquialisms, and defines technical terms as needed.

Sentences

The sentences read smoothly, varying in length, pattern, type, and beginnings.

Correctness

Punctuation, capitalization, spelling, usage, and grammar are correct.

Design

Typography, color, white space, lists, visuals, and other elements convey the message clearly and suit the subject and purpose.

The Seven Traits in Write for Business

Write for Business and all materials from Thoughtful Learning use the seven traits to improve writing and communication. In this book, you’ll find the seven traits in

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How the Traits Can Work for You

Understanding and employing the seven traits will give you an advantage in all of your business communications. The traits can guide writing projects, diagnose and solve problems in writing, and give you a platform from which to discuss writing (reports, bids, fliers, and so on) with your coworkers.

To Guide Writing:

How often do you get writer’s block? It may happen because you are overwhelmed, thinking about everything at once instead of taking it a step at a time. The trait-based guidelines throughout Write for Business allow you to focus on one thing at a time.

To Diagnose Problems:

How can you tell whether a message is working? The traits remove the guesswork. They zero in, telling you what works—and what does not work—in writing. The trait workshops and checklists throughout Write for Business help you pinpoint problems in every form of communication.

To Solve Problems:

When there’s a problem with a message, how do you fix it? The traits provide specific, concrete solutions for everything from clarifying your main point to putting modifiers where they belong. The first section of Write for Business features over 60 trait-based solutions for common problems.

To Discuss Writing:

The traits provide a common language that businesspeople can use to discuss writing. Whether you need to advertise a product in a flier, convince a client to give your company some repeat business, break bad news to valued employees, or deliver some other important message, the traits can help you work with others to produce effective communications.

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Using the Traits To Guide Writing

The traits can guide you as you start a writing task.

  1. Plan: When you begin writing, focus on ideas and organization.

    • Ideas: Decide on a main point and gather ideas to support it.

    • Organization: Decide on the best order for your ideas.

  2. Draft: When you write a first draft, continue to focus on ideas and organization and also consider voice.

    • Voice: Use a tone that fits your subject, audience, and purpose.

  3. Sample Guidelines for Planning and Drafting

    Guidelines Writing Letters

    In a letter, your goal is to communicate your message and give a positive impression of yourself and your organization.

    1. Plan: (Ideas and Organization)

      • Ask yourself what you want the letter to accomplish.

      • Consider the reader’s concerns about, knowledge of, and history with your organization.

      Gather information.

      • Gather files and other necessary resources.

      • Jot down your main points in a logical order.

      • Use the letter format (full-block, semiblock, or simplified) that your company prefers.

    2. Draft: (Ideas, Organization, and Voice)

      Opening State the situation (reason for writing, background).

      Middle Give the full explanation, supporting points, and details. If your message is good or neutral news, make your key point early. For a bad-news or persuasive message, build up to the main point.

      Closing End with a call to action (who should do what, when), and, if appropriate, mention future contact.

    Sample Planning Notes

    Invite sales reps:

    • Welcome

    • Rankin's 25th anniv.
      – open house (June 1)
      – ribbon-cutting ceremony
      – refreshments

    • Directions

    • Contacts

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Using the Traits To Diagnose and Solve Problems

After you write a first draft, the traits can help you diagnose problems and implement solutions.

  1. Revise: When you review your first draft, continue to focus on the first three traits and also consider words and sentences.

    • Words: Replace general nouns and verbs and cut wordiness.

    • Sentences: Adjust sentences until they read smoothly.

  2. Sample Guidelines for Revising

    Guidelines Writing Letters

    In a letter, your goal is to communicate your message and give a positive impression of yourself and your organization.

    1. Revise: (Ideas, Organization, Voice, Words, and Sentences)
      • Are all names, dates, and details accurate?

      • Is information presented in a logical order?

      • Do you use a conversational but professional tone?

      • Do you emphasize the reader’s perspective?

      • Have you used precise wording?

      • Have you used personal pronouns in a positive way?

      • Do you have smooth sentences that pass the “read aloud” test?

    Sample Revising

    May 28, 2019

    Ms. Lorraine Scott
    Sales Representative
    206 West Dundee Street
    Chicago, IL 60614

    Dear Lorraine:

    Ideas: I need a clear main point and better details.We are celebrating Rankin’s 25th anniversary. Our office expansion is finished, and sales grew by 16 percent. On Wednesday, June 1, there is an open house from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with hourly tours of the new office, engineering, and manufacturing facilities. Organization: I need a better beginning.There is a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4:00 p.m. on the west lawn, with refreshments served at 4:30 p.m.

    Voice: I'll make this sound friendlier.It would be a shame to put all this effort in and find out you are too busy.

    If you need directions, transportation, or other information, speak with Rebecca Wright or call Matthew Nicolai at 555-1980, extension 4, or send him an email at mnicolai@rankin.com.

    Sincerely,

    Signature Sydney George

    Sydney George

    Vice President of Sales

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Using the Traits To Discuss Writing

After the letter is revised, it needs editing. Then you can prepare a finished piece like the one below. The traits help you discuss the writing with other team members.

  1. Edit: When you edit your work, focus on the last two traits.

    • Correctness: Check punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and grammar.

    • Design: Present your work in the accepted format.

  2. Sample Guidelines for Editing

    Guidelines Writing Letters

    In a letter, your goal is to communicate your message and give a positive impression of yourself and your organization.

    1. Edit: (Conventions and Design)

      • Have you checked spelling (especially double-checked names)?

      • Have you checked grammar, punctuation, and mechanics?

      • Have you checked format and design?

    Sample Editing

    Design: I'll print on letterhead.May 28, 2019

    Ms. Lorraine Scott
    Sales Representative
    206 West Dundee Street
    Chicago, IL 60614

    Dear Lorraine:

    Welcome to the Sales Seminar! I hope that you will have a productive week. While you are here, please help us celebrate Rankin’s 25th anniversary.

    Correctness: I'll have Jack check dates and times.This year, we have a lot to celebrate. Our office expansion is finished, and sales grew by 16 percent. On Wednesday, June 1, we would like you to be our guest at the following events:

    • An open house from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with hourly tours of the new office, engineering, and manufacturing facilities

    • A ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4:00 p.m. on the west lawn, with refreshments served at 4:30 p.m.

    You are a big part of Rankin’s success, Lorraine. I hope that you can take a break from your busy seminar schedule and join us. If you need directions, transportation, or other information, please speak with Rebecca Wright or call Matthew Nicolai at 555-1980, extension 4, or send him an email at mnicolai@rankin.com.

    Sincerely,

    Signature Sydney George

    Sydney George

    Vice President of Sales

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