Don’t Leave Your Readers Guessing

Whether you’re writing an email, an article, a report, or a proposal, never leave your readers wondering what you actually want.

Specifically, they shouldn’t have to wonder about these critical components of communicating:

  • Why have you told them this information?
  • What are they are supposed to do with it?

It’s easy (and lazy) to say, “Give clear instructions and point readers to their next action.” But here’s a more concrete method.

Use a planning tool called Setting Your Objectives that echoes the traditional journalism basics: Who, What, Why, Where, When, and How.

Before you write the first sentence, answer each of these questions on paper as they apply to the written piece you’re crafting. The more detail the better . . .

WHO: Target audience—Who will read this? What do you know about them already? Who will be affected by what your message says?

WHAT: Message or takeaway, including call to action—What do you want the reader to do, think, believe, or remember as a result of reading your piece? E.g., Attend this important meeting. Consider this point of view. Review this proposal.

WHY: Purpose and benefits—Why do the readers need this information? What’s in it for them? Why should they care?

WHEN & WHERE: Logistics—What details need to be spelled out? If it’s an event or meeting, specify the time, location, and other essential facts.

HOW: Style and tone—How do you want your reader to “hear” you? This is the most important one of all. Be intentional! E.g., polite, apologetic, excited, firm, demanding, laid back, urgent, or something else?

Once you’ve thought through all of these, it’s smooth sailing. Why? Because your brain has already included the critical points and especially the two we started with:

  • WHY you have told them the information
  • WHAT they’re supposed to do with it.

By consistently using this planning tool Setting Your Objectives, you’ll find you can craft your pieces more quickly and more completely than ever.

Barbara McNichol is passionate about helping administrative professionals add power to their pen. To assist in this mission, she has created a Word Trippers Tips resource to quickly find the right word when it matters most. It allows you to improve your writing through excellent weekly resources in your inbox, including a webinar, crossword puzzles, and a Word Tripper of the Week for 52 weeks. Enjoy a $30 discount at checkout with the code ODI at



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