I’m currently running writing skills workshops to assist people with the overall persuasiveness of their business documents. During the first session one point came up repeatedly.
The issue was, how did employees know if their documents were well designed, and whether they were successful? Phrased another way, how did they know whether their readers had been successfully persuaded?
The answer, of course, is to seek feedback. But how often really do any of us first try and see the world from our readers’ perspective? And even after we have an idea of what will press our readers’ buttons, how much effort do we put into finding out whether our written efforts actually made any difference?
You may require some key information about your readers before putting finger to keyboard:
who are your readers?
what are their wants and needs?
why is this subject important to them?
what are your readers’ communication preferences?
where do they work?
what questions do they want answering?
what timing issues exist?
This is all about context and the list is far more extensive than can be adequately captured here. Very often you won’t know the answers to a lot of these questions unless you ask your readers first, or find out indirectly.
Given what you know about your readers you can then start looking at how to position your document. You might ask yourself, how is the structure, argument, content, tone, style and format best presented to persuade?
After you have written and sent your document further feedback is required, the most basic of which must be, did they read it? Perhaps they gave up half way through, or maybe someone else read it for them? What was the outcome of it having been read? What did they think, feel or do differently as a result? Again, you need feedback.
But how are you realistically going to get that feedback? If you’re sending a high volume of documents around your company it may make more sense to set up a standing arrangement to review what is working and what isn’t.
You might choose, for example, to obtain aggregated feedback from managers, perhaps face-to-face which will further enable you to ask probing questions. And if you ask a manager for feedback, don’t settle for the answer that they just liked it, or didn’t like it. What didn’t they like, and what didn’t they like specifically? How did it make them feel? If they were to feel differently, what would you have to change, or do differently? Probe away.
When you have that all-important feedback you end up with a better understanding of your readers, their situation and what works for them, whether they were persuaded, and what to do differently next time.