8 Unique structures for better business writing

Writing well at work is about clarity, efficiency and coming across as a professional who can articulate an idea effectively. That’s why it’s paramount to be able to structure your thoughts in an easily understandable manner. Here are some structures that clients have found useful when trying to write everything from a proposal to a strategy for the future of their role.

Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them

This common structure is useful to layout a presentation. It gives you a structure for a beginning, middle and end.

Previous state - current state - future state

This is a good one for talking about goals - where we were, where we are and where we want to go. A good way to phrase the goal itself is to write it in the form “from X to Y by Z”. In other words, to go from “45 clients to 80 clients by January 31st”.

If this, then that

When there are many variables to deal with - make it clear what happens in each scenario. “If A happens, we will do B. And if C happens, we will do D”. This will give you and your colleague/client clarity over what will happen next.

List of their questions with answers

Sometimes people will write a paragraph of questions in an email. It’s confusing to answer them in another paragraph - so it’s best to separate them into separate lines and answer them all individually. This will give the reader more clarity on the answers.

Overview - details - challenges - risks / rewards - timeline - responsible parties - next steps

This is a good format and structure if you’d like to go to your manager with a proposal for a new project/innovation or a new type of role you’d like to do. The areas listed above will help you structure your thoughts, deal with any risks there might be in terms of time/money and highlight how the project will be rolled out if it goes ahead. The beauty of this structure is that it allows you preempt what the questions from your manager could be or any downfalls of your proposal. That way, you can deal with them before he/she asks you about them.

Experience - responsibilities - achievements - technical skills - soft skills - IT skills - qualifications - abilities

Do you need to sell yourself in an email, proposal or presentation. Try to use the list above to highlight the best parts of your career and experience to date and give three points on each. It can be a difficult exercise for many people to do, so get help from a friend, colleague… or me!

Who - what - where - when - why - how

This is a nice way of eliciting what you do in your job on a daily basis. So many times I hear people say “I help clients and that’s all I do”. Yes, but HOW do you help clients, WHY do you help them, WHEN do you help them, WHERE do you help then and WHAT do you help them with. Answering these questions will give you much better and clearer description of your role.

One sentence - one paragraph - one page

Can you explain the idea/topic/proposal well? This is a good exercise because it forces you to write down what you do 1. simply, 2. with more detail and then finally, 3. in great detail. Firstly, start off by writing it out in one sentence, then elaborate it into one paragraph, and finally flesh it out into a whole page with all the details. This will help you to really clarify what you mean and how you explain it.

How to destroy a working relationship: Ego

How to destroy a working relationship: Ego

I recently read Ryan Holiday's book 'Ego is the Enemy', which I found very thought-provoking. If you're like me, you'd expect to understand the content of the book just by hearing the title, however, according to Ryan, that would be your ego talking.

Listing to all the stories of clients over the past few years, and thinking back over my own personal career challenges, disagreements with colleagues and growth struggles, I was struck by how much of it can relate back to ego being a central component. 

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"What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” Well, while that’s not quite true, we all get the idea. That’s also the premise of Nassim Taleb’s book ‘Antifragiel’ which talks about how various stress on different systems (from the human body to the financial markets) actually benefit from temporary stress because it allows them to develop great resilience and long-term strength. For example, going to the gym to put your body under temporary stress will ‘weaken’ your muscles for the day but strengthen them overall. Dealing with challenging new situations in work is often stressful, but prepares us for doing that in the future.

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Learning to say 'no'

Learning to say 'no'

You might be surprised to find out that some people find it difficult to say 'no'. Perhaps they think it's rude, impolite or inflexible. It's not. Of course, it's always good to show a collaborative spirit, to be open to change, constructive criticism, and to do things that are in the best interest of the group (within reason). 

However, if something is clearly negative for the person involved, it's important to be able to have the difficult conversation; to say 'no'; or ask for what you really want (e.g. more money, time, responsibility). With that in mind, you have to find your own comfortable way of saying it but here are some examples:

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