WRITING TO WIN: HOW LONG IS TOO LONG?
One of the greatest realizations seasoned professionals come to find out is the fact that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’, meaning, you may not realize that even though you have years of experience in the office, this does not necessarily mean you are a great business writer.
Business writing is an art and a skill. It is artistic because a well put together business document can be a beautiful thing when it accomplishes your purpose. It is a skill because it takes practice and the knowledge of three key considerations essential for effective business communication. I will discuss each of these over the course of three posts, the first being this one which is dedicated to LENGTH.
CONSIDER THE LENGTH
CONSIDER THE DATA
CONSIDER THE AUDIENCE
To be effective is to produce a win. What is a win exactly? A win is getting the recognition you deserve after having your idea, solution, or process improvement acknowledged and accepted. Therefore, it is important that you be well acquainted with these areas that will have everything to do with accomplishing your goals.
CONSIDER THE LENGTH of your document. This is very important because a reader can easily become distracted, disengaged, or outright bored if there seems to be no end in sight. What is an acceptable length? It depends on the document. Email, interoffice memos, letters, reports, and internal proposals have different objectives. The objective drives the length, that is, the reason why you are writing the document. But it doesn’t just stop at its reason for being.
YOU MUST ALSO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION:
- The Recipient – Have some knowledge of the individual to whom you are writing. Is this person a stickler for detail? Or does this person prefer ‘broad brush strokes’ rather than getting bogged down in the minutiae?
- The Subject – Some subjects require more length than others. Longer topics should be summarized in an executive summary and detail can be provided in an attachment or appendix, satisfying the person who wants details, but not overwhelming those that want broad brush strokes. Always remember, LENGTH IS CONTINGENT ON THE TYPE OF DOCUMENT.
- The Type of Document – Different types of documents have varying lengths. Below, are a few examples.
- EMAIL – [200 – 250 words] Email is considered a ‘brief’ form of communication. Be concise. They should be no more than three paragraphs. There are basically two types: informational and promotional. Informational email can be exactly what it is, a means of imparting information. They can also be persuasive, meaning, they are small arguments that are meant to sway opinion. Persuasive email tends to be longer than informational because you must be careful to include such persuasive elements such as a claim, support and considerations of audience. Informational email should absolutely be no longer than 200 words.
- INTEROFFICE MEMOS – [300 – 350 words] it can be hard to tell the difference between the traditional memo and an email message. Memos frequently do not have the ‘MEMORANDUM’ banner at the top anymore. They are frequently sent in the form of an email or as an email attachment. So, is it email or what? No, memos are not email. They are longer. They can use various techniques to layout information such as: bullets, sub-headings, and the occasional table if it is very small. In short, memos include much more detailed information. They are a more formal document.
- LETTERS – [250 – 300 words] Letters have an inherent amount of power that sets them apart from email and memos, but they must not exceed one page. They may be composed to gather information or show appreciation. They can solicit new business or convey bad news. They can announce promotions or terminate employment.
- REPORTS – [up to 500 words] Reports have the luxury of added length. Because there are several types of reports: progress, term projects, activity, and feasibility to name a few, the length can vary. Five-hundred words would more than likely be a business progress report. Feasibility reports would be appropriate at this length. Activity reports can top out at 300 words depending on the activity.
- INTERNAL PROPOSALS – [500 – 600 words] Proposals come in various shapes and sizes. They can be either internal or external. They can be either solicited or unsolicited. They can be as short as an email and as long as a ten-page document. They have the luxury of being longest document you might every write. They are always persuasive in nature. In short, proposals are arguments which require length to be truly effective.
What is important to note when it comes to length of business documents is to keep the meaning of the word, concise, firmly rooted in your mind. When you are in the workplace, you are not in a classroom. You are not writing research papers, essays, responses, or summaries. You are crafting a message that your reader must realize quickly and clearly.
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 email@example.com or call 972-238-6215.
**Richland College is an authorized Microsoft Testing Center.
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