In our ‘Communication Skills’ courses we often include the ‘how to’ of written and verbal business communication. Developing a checklist for editing draft business documents is an important aspect.
But first we need to look at the basic steps in writing a business letter or preparing a document:
- Check the purpose of the document and any instructions that may have been given.
- Gather relevant information.
- Make sure it is easy to access the information when needed.
- Decide on the structure into which you’ll put the information.
- Outline your message in a way that suits your style – Mindmap, keywords etc.
- Check that the information is organised in a logical order.
- Compile the first draft.
- Produce the final version.
In this article we are dealing mainly with Step 8, the editing process. This checklist was developed from the consolidated input from various facilitated group discussions over a period of time. These include the contribution of groups in a recent Treverton Post-matric course covering a total of twelve four-hour workshop modules.
Checklist for editing your draft
Questions you should ask yourself are:
- Are you authorised to write and send this letter or is permission required?
- Is the letter (or other document) in line with the expectations or instructions of those requesting the letter or being responded to?
- Professional and appealing are two words that would describe your draft?
- Grammar, spelling, font and page size are in line with corporate specifications? For example, there is no ‘slang’, the spelling is South African English, the font is Arial 12 and the page size is set at A4 if that is what is specified?
- The above are not only in line with expectations, but have been checked and corrected?
- The appropriate letterhead has been used? (Some businesses use different letterheads for various communities or sectors of their business.)
- Page numbering is in the correct place, correct font and size?
- The letter is dated and will be sent as soon after that date as possible? (Not dated March and sent in May?)
- A logical structure is evident but the information flows?
- The message is clear from the beginning and it will capture the reader’s attention?
- There is no ambiguity? You are clear on your intended purpose and the letter reflects this?
- The tone is professional yet respectful?
- Where possible and appropriate your have included evidence that brings your message to life?
- The source of information or quotes has been credited (correctly!)? For example, never include ‘the experts say …….’. Who are ‘the experts’? What qualifies them or makes them credible?
- Wherever a date or statistic appears, it is correct?
- Does this document cover only relevant information but in sufficient detail? There are no irrelevant points?
- Unnecessary words and phrases have been eliminated?
- If possible, the content has been reduced to one page (without prejudicing the font size or layout)?
- Are you following protocol? It has been addressed correctly and is being sent to the appropriate person?
- However, are you sending the message to the right person – the person who required the information or has the ability to make the decision? Have you taken the time to find out who has the authority to handle your issue? It is often a waste of time sending to the wrong person.
- You have assumed the right level of knowledge and are using the level of communication appropriate to that recipient?
- Even although it may not be necessary to address these issues at the time, you have thought of all possible arguments when compiling the letter?
- Indicate who has been copied on the letter.
- It conveys a polite and unemotional impression?
- Ask yourself how you would react or respond on receiving this letter?
- Is it likely to achieve the desired results?
- If the letter requires a response, have you said so, and given a date? (Your expectations may be for the person to reply soon, or ‘at your earliest convenience’. In your mind, you anticipate receiving the reply by the end of this week. The recipient may interpret ‘at your earliest convenience’ as being by the end of next month.)
- Have you clearly indicated any other action that you are suggesting or requiring?
- Have you done whatever you can to close the gap between your intention in sending the message and the recipient’s possible perception of your message?
Although the above checklist applies primarily to letters, it is useful in checking any business document.