Posted by: wordsmithsuk | December 6, 2010

Why you need to be clear about your document’s purpose

Being clear about your business document’s purpose is really important because it keeps you on track. As you build your message you can check that everything that you write, and the way you write it, relates to this central purpose. Surprisingly, a lot of people start to write without being entirely clear about the desired purpose of the item they are working on. This means that they risk  including irrelevant information or failing to include vital details.

You may have many reasons for writing:  informing someone about something, persuading someone to do something, asking for something, complaining about something or making recommendations.

It’s usually a good idea to explicitly spell out your purpose at the start of the message – and you can do this in a number of ways. For example, you might say:

  • The purpose of this email is to confirm (arrangements for ….)
  • The aim of this report is to record (the outcomes of ….)
  • This paper aims to demonstrate (that ….)
  • My intention in writing this memo is to ask (members of the team …)

The purpose is always written as a verb – a doing word. Here are some more examples:

  • Ask
  • Complain
  • Highlight
  • Recommend
  • Summarise
  • Inform
  • Propose
  • Invite
  • Explain
  • Outline
  • Confirm
  • Respond

If your document seems to have more than one purpose, identify the most important one and regard this as the document’s overall task. All other purposes will contribute to this principal objective. If the other purposes that you identify don’t seem to support or relate to your main message, including them may weaken the impact of what you want to say. You should consider making them the subject of a separate message or messages.

You will also use verbs when you are specifying the action that you want your recipient(s) to take in a letter or email. You could say, for example:

  • Please reply by 4 December
  • Please contact me again if you need more information
  • Please select one of the following options
  • Please read the enclosed contract
  • Please complete the form and return it in the envelope provided
  • Please attend a meeting at 24 Maxwell Street on …
  • Please send your feedback by…
  • Please arrive by 10.30
  • Please give me a call.

Once you have profiled your readers (as described in the previous post) and clarified your purpose for writing, you’ve identified the core message of your document. Try to write down this message as simply and as clearly as possible in a full sentence of no more than 15 words. If you take time to formulate a message which expresses exactly what you want to say, you will be better prepared to find and structure the information needed to support your purpose.

You will find a number of model documents which demonstrate how to put these points into practice in the online documents which accompany our audio self-study package ‘Effective Business Writing for Success’. Buy it now from Amazon at less than £10 or get the download version (even cheaper) from the Word Smiths’ website uk.


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