In his best-selling book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek notes that the most successful people in any field are those who start by knowing why they are acting as they are.
They answer why before they progress to how and what. Knowing their intention powers them forward, and they often surpass those who were too busy figuring out what to do instead of determining why they were doing it.
While there may be some exceptions to Sinek's theory, the idea of starting with why definitely applies to writing.
You need to know why you are writing, that is, your purpose or intended result, before you drill down into niggling questions about punctuation and grammar. What is the purpose of your document?
Once you know that, other elements come clear.
Business documents may have many purposes.
The most common purposes, however, are:
Information just tells what is. It’s Tuesday. It’s 70 degrees. Informing is the least powerful of purposes, as it does not demand anything of the reader. Information is only interesting when the reader knows what he or she is supposed to do about it.
“If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” If you want a person to do something and are in a position to ask for it, make a request. Don’t assume that if the person had half his wits he would know what you want him to do. He doesn’t. Ask for what you want, and put a deadline on the request.
If you want a person to think or act differently, remember that people are motivated by the desire to gain pleasure or avoid pain. Point out the benefits to the reader of doing as you wish, or warn of the dreaded consequences that will follow from ignoring you. Analyzing your reader’s needs and emotional “hot buttons” is crucial to effective persuasion.
Before you begin to write, you must know which of these purposes you intend, as surely as an archer must know where he wishes his arrow to fall.
© Elizabeth Danziger 2015
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