How often do you send an email, write a quick report or briefing for someone, or write to a client or customer to explain, apologise, or persuade them?
Do you ever find yourself staring at a blank page wondering, how to start? Or find you’ve written dozens of pages but aren’t sure what needs to be edited out?
Before you start to write anything, the first question to ask yourself is, ‘what is the purpose of my writing?’
You are highly unlikely to have the luxury of spending all day uninterrupted when you have a lengthy document to write. It’s more likely that you will face frequent interruptions and distractions. When you have a clear purpose written down, it’s much easier to return to your document, refocus your thoughts and continue writing.
So is your purpose in writing your document to inform, persuade, enquire, explain, confirm, instruct or build relationships? What other purposes do you have?
These are some of the purposes people may have when they start writing:
- Inform – you need to write a notice and an email to tell people that the canteen will be closed for maintenance next week
- Persuade – you want your boss to let you attend a conference that she normally goes to, but she’s out of the office this week so you can only communicate by email
- Enquire – you want to know whether the information you’re waiting for will be ready in time for you to add it to your proposal
- Explain – you need to write a short report to explain why you took a particular decision
- Confirm – you are arranging a senior management meeting and need to make sure the venue knows dates, numbers and lunch arrangements
- Instruct – someone new has joined the team and it’s your job to make sure they have instructions for all the systems they’ll use
- Build relationships – you know you’re going to have to work closely with someone in a different location and want to start off on a good footing
When you know what your purpose is, writing becomes easier because you know what key messages you need to focus on. Once you have identified your purpose, what you write will be more obvious to your reader and your message is more likely to be read and acted upon.
Writing a statement of purpose gives you a clear idea of what you want to write, how you want to write and what you want people actually to do after they’ve read it.
To inform staff about the new flexi-working scheme and to explain how to enrol on the new system by 20 December.
To write an email to persuade our most valued customers to complete an online survey about our key product lines, including a testimonial, before the end of the month.
A statement of purpose has three parts: what I want to achieve, what I want the reader to do, and when.
Now decide your statement of purpose for the next document you need to write. Even a quick email needs to have a clear purpose.
If someone else has asked you to write something and you’re not sure of their purpose, then you need to go back to them and ask them to clarify it. Don’t start writing until you are both sure of the objective and scope of the communication.