Effective business communication (spoken and/or written) really is simple. Not necessarily easy. Just simple. As in, keep it simple, direct, to the point.
My colleague Karl Krayer leads a terrific writing skills training session for people who have difficulty writing clear e-mails. And, sad to say, this is a universal problem. For this training, Karl developed the PACE format:
A – (Action)
C – (Content)
E – (Evidence)
Get to the POINT;
What is the expected/needed ACTION;
What is the CONTENT that elaborates on the point and the needed action;
What is the EVIDENCE that backs up the need for the Point and the needed Action.
It is a simple approach. It puts the intended message of an e-mail right at the beginning of the e-mail, which is about all the “focus” many readers actually give. And, it works!
Well, this weekend, as our son and his wife visited (and our one and only grandchild, a wonderful little girl – I tend to forget how one baby can leave four grown adults so exhausted at the end of the day!), I stole a look at my daughter-in-law’s book Better Legal Writing: 15 Topics for Advanced Legal Writers, by her professor at the University of Texas School of Law, Wayne Schiess. She especially wanted me to see the sections on rhetorical strategies and persuasion. Those sections were good, and I enjoyed them both.
But it was this section that jumped out at me: Better email: E-writing like a pro. This chapter had some great advice, like: Think. Pause. Think again. Send. This is a reminder that what you first write may not always be exactly what you intend to, or should, actually send. Really good advice!
But I especially appreciated this, and it affirms what Karl has been teaching for so long:
Put the question or point up front. If you ask the question up front, you’re more likely to get an answer… Sure, the recipient can scroll down and reread what she asked you, but you make things clearer and easier by restating the question up front.
If you’re not asking a question but instead making a point, use the first sentences of the email message to summarize your point… You’ll get better results if you summarize the point first and give the background or support later.
Professor Scheiss may use slightly different terminology, but this sounds like a solid affirmation of Karl’s PACE format. And, needless to say, I agree.
And Professior Scheiss has the clearest counsel for us all with this phrase: make things clearer and easier.