Monday, February 13, 2006

Be sure the structure reflects the purpose

A firm recently showed me a two-page bulletin they planned to send their clients. The title of the document indicated that the purpose was to give the firm's perspective on a proposed change in a regulation that could have an impact on its (the firm's) clients.

The piece had been reviewed and worked on by a number of subject-matter experts within the firm, including a few who are regarded as "pretty good writers". The piece was jargon-free and very much written as though someone was speaking, which is why it had passed muster internally and was about ready to go to print.

Though there was nothing wrong with the writing grammatically, structurally the piece did not hang together -- it didn't tell a story. More importantly, from an outsider's perspective, the point of the document was not clear.

The first page featured a number of paragraphs with information generally related to how the proposed regulation came to into being. But the paragraphs on that page were disjointed and the reader was left with more questions than answers -- the most important question being: why do I need to know this? Or, how is this relevant to me?

I knew the firm's reason for putting out the publication was to help sell consulting services to clients trying to decide what steps they should be taking in light of the proposed regulation. But the approach the firm was recommending for dealing with the regulation was buried on page two. Given that the purpose of the document was to tell people about the firm's innovative approach, why bury that information on page two? (Another way of looking at it is: why take the risk of assuming the client will even continue on to the second page, especially when the relevance of the document is not clear to the reader from the outset?)

The bottom line regarding business communication is that it's not enough that it be grammatically correct. The structure of the document is equally important. The structure should reflect the purpose of the document and every piece of information should be clearly relevant to the reader.


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