What if you could take one step before writing that would jump-start the writing process, cut your writing time in half, and double your results? My experience is that clarifying the Three Ps, which are Purpose, Person, and Point, before I start to write has doubled my effectiveness. Answer three questions before you begin to write, and your results will soar. The questions are:
- What is the purpose of this document?
- What person is going to read it, and what are the inner questions and hot buttons in that person’s mind?
- What is my point?
Clarifying the Three Ps is like organizing the DNA of your document. Get it right at this stage, and the rest of the writing process is just an extrapolation of what you did at the beginning.
I believe that purpose is the most important of the Three Ps, as it establishes your intention. The most common purposes of business documents are:
- To inform
- To request
- To persuade
When thinking about your purpose, think in terms of the result you aim for in the reader. Is she supposed to act or think differently? Then you are probably requesting or persuading. Just an FYI? Then your purpose is to inform.
In a recent Worktalk writing class, I asked Ed, a participant, to identify the purpose of his document. “To inform,” he replied. “What are you informing him of?” I asked. “To inform him that his purchase order is about to expire and that he needs to renew it within 14 days if he want to continue making purchases,” said Ed. There certainly was information in the document: the imminent expiration of the PO. But if the reader is supposed to take some action based on the information, the purpose of the document is to request action, not to inform. The information is the basis for the request. So the real purpose of Ed’s document wasto request that the reader renew his PO within 14 days. With this purpose in mind, he was much more likely to produce his desired result.
Nothing happens until the reader gets the message. She may agree or disagree, like or dislike, but unless she understands you, your efforts are in vain. How do you enroll the reader in understanding your message? These three elements make a difference:
- Speak the reader’s language.
- Answer the reader’s questions.
- Target the reader’s “hot buttons.”
How do you feel when you read something that contains words you don’t understand? Or something that sounds like it was written for a child? Probably, you are less receptive to the message when the language aims too high or too low, and does not treat you as a respected equal. Choose words and sentence structures that the reader will easily understand.
As readers read, questions form in their minds. They ask questions like, “Why did I receive this? Why should I care? What am I supposed to do about it?” and of course the most fundamental question, “What’s in it for me?” Anticipate the reader’s inner questions and address them.
Readers also have more specific questions that you must answer in your document. If you are responding to a complaint about a bill, the reader’s questions may include “Why did this cost so much? What did I get for my money? Will you negotiate a discount?” Anticipate and answer the reader’s substantive questions.
Each of us has “hot buttons”, topics of emotional importance that make our hearts go pitter-pat. For one person, a hot button might be cost or reputation. For another, it might be productivity or avoiding litigation.Whatever the person’s emotional makeup may be, you can be sure that there are topics that will cause her to jolt awake and pay special attention to your message. Consider your reader: What makes her tick? What topics can you allude to that will get and keep her attention?
The point is your essential message. Have you ever received a document that you read several times, and could still not discern the point? When the writer has not clarified the main point in advance, the reader will be hard pressed to see it. When identifying the point, ask yourself what you would say if you ran into your reader on the street and he said to you, “I didn’t have time to read your email. Just tell me what it said.” What you would say in 15 seconds to your reader is probably your main point.
Get to the point very early in your document, while your reader is still paying attention (and before he deletes your email from his phone).
Future Writamins will delve into the Three Ps in more detail. We want to start the year with an overview of this fundamental planning tool, which can transform your writing life. When you don’t know how to start, just write “purpose, person, point”. Ask yourself whether you are informing, requesting, persuading, or fulfilling some other purpose. Put yourself in your reader’s position and anticipate questions and hot buttons. And know your point before you start. You will be amazed at the results.
© Elizabeth Danziger 2016