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Responsible Writing: 8 Ways To Save Time And Get Results 8 Ways To Save Time And Get Results
By Jane Watson   Printer Friendly Version

Sam, the manager, was upset. "I sent that guy a memo telling him what I wanted and he still didn't do it. What a loser!"

This scenario is not unusual. In today's workplace, there are a number of writers who blame the reader for not responding correctly to their messages. But often the fault lies with the writer, not the reader.

A writer must take responsibility for the communication process. You must know exactly what you want to accomplish. Do you want to inform, persuade or request action? What do you want the reader to do after he reads your message? This must be clearly spelt out.

In addition, your goal should be to enable the receiver to read your documents quickly - from left to right, top to bottom - and immediately know what you want. Any time the reader has to stop to interpret a word or sentence, then you - the writer - have failed to communicate correctly. You have wasted your own time and the reader's.

Think about your reader before you write and choose words matching the reader's vocabulary level. If your reader is a "jargoneer," then jargon is appropriate. If the reader does not have a technical background, or you are uncertain about his level of understanding, choose simpler words.

Here are some other tips to ensure that your message is easy to understand:

1. Start request for action letters with what you want the reader to do. Don't bore the reader with "once upon a time" openings.

Weak Opening

Last week I attended a meeting with John Jones and Betty Smith at our headquarters in Toronto. We put together some recommendations to speed up the production of the new manufacturing line.

Strong Opening

I would like your response on our recommendations to speed up the production of the new manufacturing line.

2. Tell the reader what he wants to know and needs to know. Omit anything else. If this is the second or third time you've written about a topic, limit the background information. Don't clutter your documents with irrelevant material.

3. If your opening paragraph is longer than six lines, the receiver will hesitate to begin reading. Keep opening paragraphs short. (Electronic mail is harder to read than hard copy; keep opening paragraphs in e-mails under three lines.)

4.If you have a series of three or more ideas, place them in a list with bullets or numbers. It is much easier to read.


At the meeting, we will discuss forecasting, budgets, bonuses, and vacation schedules.


At the meeting, we will discuss:
· forecasting
· budgets
· bonuses
· vacation schedules

5. White space is crucial. It makes the page or screen more inviting to read. On paper copy, keep the margins at least one inch wide and use sub-heads to break up long blocks of text.

6. End all correspondence with the action you want the reader to take. Business writing is psychological. If the last word grouping on the last line of a letter, memo or e-mail is a date or phone number, the reader is more likely to follow through.

Weak Ending

Thank you for your anticipated co-operation.

Strong Ending

To produce the report on time, I need your figures
by October 1.

7. When sending a memo or e-mail, make the subject line as descriptive as possible. This helps the reader decide whether or not to read it. It also assists the reader, if the file has to be retrieved at a later date.

Weak Subject Line


More Descriptive Subject Line

Rising Costs of Municipal By-elections

8. Consider your reports. Many busy readers read the sub-heads and just skim the text. To ensure your reader understands the major points, include them in the sub-heads. A two-line sub-head is permissible.

If you dash off a memo to 25 of your employees and don't heed these guidelines, it may take your staff at least five minutes extra (per person) to interpret what you want; some may even interpret it incorrectly. Regardless, you have just cost your company 2 hours of productivity. Be a responsible writer!

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