Writing to Win: Consider the Data
If you asked a room packed full with one-hundred college level sophomores, what is the value of detail? What do you think would be the response? But let’s make this more interesting. Ask those same college sophomores what is the value of detail if their political science final exam will consist of only three essay questions? Chances are you would get a highly respectable response to the value of detail. No doubt, you would more than likely hear shouts of words, words, and more words.
If you asked a room packed full with one-hundred investment bankers, what is the value of detail? What do you think would be the response? Again, let’s drill down to specifics. Ask those same investment bankers what is the value of detail when a three-billion dollar merger is resting on a conversion of stock plan? No doubt, you would surely hear shouts of numbers, numbers, and more numbers.
Words and numbers, numbers and words, it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out ‘when a big lot of something’ is riding on a single document, to lead with all the support you can muster is the best way to go to meet your goal. But, remember the last post? It was all about length, correct? It explained the importance of decision making when considering length. Now, consider the importance of judging the quality and magnitude of detail.
Just as length of a document is an important consideration, the same goes for detail. Let’s simplify and call it data or support. Whichever word catches your attention, both mean the same. The bottom line, data and support can work for or against you. Too much, too little, too weak, too irrelevant, too ambiguous, it all matters. So, pay close attention to the ‘kind’ of detail.
- Think Quality
- Think Usefulness
- Think Relevance
Giving attention to these areas with which to judge your data will help you select the most effectual means to sell your solution to the problem or your idea for a better process.
If you fancy yourself a great business writer, always consider the length of your documents. If you fancy yourself a shrewd business entrepreneur with aspirations of climbing the corporate ladder, consider the type of data that would be most effective in putting together a successful:
- executive summary
- progress report
Figuring out how to present your data in the most compressive, concise, and readable way is an art.
THE HOW TO’S
- Light on Text, Heavy on Visualization – Text is okay, but try to use PowerPoint Slides, Tables, Charts as much as you can. Too many words will lose your reader even if there are numbers embedded. This is where ‘quality’ ‘comes into play. Pick the best presentation mode so as not to distract your audience. Keep it simple and clear. It is important to interpret what the numbers are saying, ‘sales are up 12% because…’ Communicate this with the ‘least’ populated visual that will get your point across.
- Merge Your Data– You must always strive to be concise. Yes, detail matters, but you must be the judge of how much is too much. As the case with length, how long is too long? My best advice is to narrow to the most essential for making your case. This is where ‘relevance’ comes into play. For instance, ‘call volume is down 6% due to the month being two business days shorter than the prior month’. Gather all your data and judge it according to the most relevant, then eliminate the rest.
- Scrutinize for Accuracy – Researching and gathering data is no simple task depending on your project or goal. It is easy to accumulate and accumulate. But as I said earlier, it must be relevant. Not only must your data be relevant, it must be correct. This is where ‘usefulness’ comes into play. Seek to find the most reputable sources or experts in the field to make your case. If your office setting is somewhat unique and you wish to make a more local case for change with local support, test it as you would a scientist. Opinions and general story telling of what transpires during the day in a certain situation is not strong. Be ready to observe, measure, and take detailed notes that can be translated into hard statistics.
Next time, we’ll look at the third and final consideration for effective business communication, ‘consider your audience’.
For an expanded discussion on effective business writing and workplace etiquette, see my book:
Royce Murcherson, Ph.D., The Guide to Persuasive Business Writing: A New Model that Gets Results. Iowa: Kendall-Hall, 2013
Clip Art, provided by Microsoft Office Professional Academic, 2010
If you want to develop or enhance your business communication skills, consider enrolling in the Business Office Systems & Support (BOSS) program at Richland College.
Richland College is located in northeast Dallas at 12800 Abrams Road. For more information, please contact Angela Nino at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-238-6215.
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